India's Prime Minister has promised his countrymen safe drinking water within a matter of four years. Comprehensive reforms in governance are being given priority to make this possible. Most people living in rural India do not have access to safe drinking water.
Inaugurating a conference of ministers in charge of rural drinking water supply and rural sanitation in states and union territories, the prime minister stressed the need for better civic amenities and linkages with health and environment to achieve the goal. Availability of safe drinking water to every single habitation in rural India has been identified as a key component to be delivered in the next four years, he said.
To achieve this objective, key areas need to be addressed, like provision of safe water to habitations which are either uncovered, or have slipped back from full coverage, addressing problems of water quality and entrusting the responsibility of water supply management to civic bodies. This requires building capacity for management of water supply and mobilizing communities to spread awareness of the linkages between good health and safe water supply. He admitted that there was substance in the criticism that the water sector suffered from the policy of build - neglect and rebuild'.
Urging the state governments to take up sanitation as a challenge for panchayats, educational institutions and campaigns for empowerment of women, the Prime Minister said the Government had increased investment in rural development by about 40% from Rs.29 billion last year to Rs.40.50 billion in 2005-06.The prime minister also urged early redressal of the problem of 280,000 habitations that have slipped out of full coverage for a variety of reasons.
In addition, there are over 200,000 habitations that are affected by a variety of problems flowing from poor quality of water supplied. These include excess fluoride, excess salinity and excess iron among others. For ensuring linkage of water with health and environment, Manmohan Singh said, that both linkages will be effectively addressed through decentralized participatory management. This is hoped to be achieved through development of local institutions, particularly the panchayat (village council) system.