Several states today proposed user charges on rural households for the piped water provided to them but Bengal avoided taking a stand.
The Centre supported the idea, proposed by states such as Gujarat, Odisha, Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar and Haryana at a conference of ministers for water supply and sanitation.
Most urban households in the country now pay water charges but water has always been a free commodity in the villages. That may now change in some states.
Bengal panchayat and rural development minister Subrata Mukherjee told The Telegraph he did not take a stand at the conference.
“I have to discuss it with our chief minister. I cannot say anything on this (user charges),” he said.
Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh welcomed the states’ suggestion but said the Centre would not frame a policy on user charges on water.
“I told the (state) ministers they were free to collect such charges,” he said. “The money should not go to the government’s coffers but to the gram panchayat, which will spend it for maintaining the facility.”
Ramesh said the tribals of Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district were paying user charges for piped drinking water.
“People are ready to pay for quality water. (It’s) the politicians (who) often do not agree with user charges. Every family in Gadchiroli district is paying one rupee a day for the drinking water supplied to them,” he said.
Only 35 per cent of India’s 16.7 crore rural households now have access to drinking water that is provided through pipelines after treatment. State-wise figures range from 80 per cent in Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh to 39 per cent in Bengal to 10 per cent in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Families that do not receive piped water depend on hand-pumps, wells, rivers and ponds.
The Centre wants at least 90 per cent rural households to have access to tap water by 2022, Ramesh said.
He said that about 10,000 villages in the 78 Maoist-affected districts would be provided piped water through a system fed by solar energy since electricity is a major problem in these areas.
Governments now supply 135 litres of water per day per person for domestic consumption in urban areas but only 40 litres per head per day in rural areas.
“This is discrimination and injustice. We are going to change the norm in the 12th Plan (2012-17) by increasing the per capita consumption from 40 to 55 litres per day in rural areas,” Ramesh said.
The conference was held to discuss issues relating to the implementation of two central schemes: the National Rural Drinking Water Programme and the Total Sanitation Campaign.