'Slippage' is one of the main bottlenecks on the path to achieving full coverage of water and sanitation services in India. 'Slippage' often reflects unsustainable service delivery of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services, especially in rural areas. Of late, slippage is attracting attention at the policy level though it is as old as the coverage of water supply services. This paper makes an attempt to: i) assess the extent of slippage at the national and state levels; ii) identify the causes of slippage; and iii) provide some pointers for policy based on the analysis. The extent of slippage is quite substantial even at the aggregate level. In some states it is as high as 60 per cent. Our analysis at the national, state and habitation levels suggests strongly that policy-makers should look beyond the often-repeated supply side strategies. As evident from the experience of Andhra Pradesh, the demand side and governance factors play an equally, if not more, important role in addressing the sustainability issues. So far the experience shows that large investments in water sector would not automatically lead to increase in coverage. The sector also needs a sound policy and capacity so that money is spent effectively and leads to increased water security. The policy should also address resource sustainability and behavioural change goals instead of relying upon a one-sided target driven approach.
Water, sanitation and hygiene services are central to addressing poverty, livelihoods and health. They are also critical in addressing the needs of the poor communities and in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The efforts of the Government to reach these targets often face many challenges. Despite huge investments in the sector in India (more than $ 27,000 million in the last 60 years), the objective of providing access to water and sanitation for the entire population has remained elusive. According to Government publications (2), 94 per cent of the rural population of 741 million (2001 census) has access to safe drinking water through 4 million hand-pumps and 0.2 million piped water schemes. At the same time, waterborne diseases affect 37.7 million Indians annually: 1.5 million children are estimated to die of diarrhoea alone and 73 million working days are lost due to waterborne diseases each year. The estimated annual economic burden is about $ 600 million a year, which is more than the annual expenditure ($ 460 million) of the sector. In the case of urban population, the coverage is about 91 per cent. However, the systems often provide irregular and scanty water supplies. Besides, the appalling sanitation conditions in most of the urban areas cause severe health hazards. It is estimated that India needs to invest $ 6,700 million in urban drinking water and sanitation alone by 2015 in order to meet its MDG target (www.indiawaterportal.org).
While India has achieved almost full coverage in terms of water supply infrastructure provision towards the new millennium, the sustainability of service delivery is not maintained over the period (GoI 2008). Due to this,...