How Will Lockdown Affect India’s Water & Sanitation System

Every year, during summers, several regions of India face the issue of water scarcity

Sarvesh Kumar Shahi

A LIFE threatening disease named ‘COVID-19’ has effected millions all over the world. People of India, like rest of the world were not prepared for this type of pandemic situation. But there is resolve and dedication evident in India against this new challenge. The official result of the pandemic is ‘Lockdown’. The word ‘Lockdown’ means a kind of preventive method in which everyone is directed to stay inside their home and avoid public contact (popularly termed as “social distancing”).

India completed the first phase of lockdown on April 14, 2020. Now we are passing through the second phase i.e. Lockdown 2.0 and the current situation is that it will last up to May 03, 2020. In this column, I am basically discussing the increased consumption of water by the people of India leading to water scarcity during summers and how the corona virus lockdown is impacting the water supply in rural and urban areas and what are the assurances of government on domestic water supply.

Every year, during summers, several regions of India face the issue of water scarcity and making water available is always a serious challenge in the summers for all public authorities. The Union Health Ministry has confined itself to issuing only an advisory to states to ensure adequate supply of potable water during the lockdown period.

Impact on water in villages

There are several villages in Maharshtra, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh where people have to travel for digging out water but due to lockdown they cannot go to that far places. It is yet to confirm whether state governments have taken the responsibility of water supply in those regions or not.

The lockdown has implications for new municipal projects too. In the cities covered under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) of the total state annual action plan of Rs 77,640 crore, 92 per cent is allocated for water supply and sewerage projects. For 2020-21, this translates into providing 1.7 million new household water tap connections. All of these targets are under severe stress this year. Yet without the completion of these targets, the risks of disease control are magnified.

If we talk about water use in irrigation then we will come to know that during summers, agriculture sector needs more water for proper growth of crops and cereals. During Lockdown, It is the responsibility of village panchayats and administrators for adequate supply of drinking and irrigation water through reservoirs.

Impact on water in urban slums

After looking at corona virus cases in Dharavi, Mumbai, I can say that we are facing a double health crisis in the slums because when corona virus arrives, people will have big problems getting access to health-care, and also they lack the basics like access to water, to toilets, in many of the shanty towns, it’s very tough for them.

Getting water in Delhi’s slums is rarely easy. But an India-wide lockdown to stem the spread of the novel corona virus has left some fearing they won’t get access at all. Since the lockdown, most private water tankers have refused to come and when one does, it runs out of water fast because the entire locality is experiencing a shortage. Under lockdown, many families fear that supplies from private tankers may stop altogether, with strict police roadblocks preventing all but those with special authorization from the government from traveling on the roads. In these situations, a fear of water-mafias has also increased who pump water up from illegal boreholes and sell it to residents at higher prices. So, the authorities need to ensure that the slums still get water supplies from the tankers.

Impact on domestic use of water

Recently, Kerala government, dealing with highest number of Covid-19 cases, has urged the public to avoid misuse and wastage of water to curb possible drinking water scarcity with the strengthening of summer season. The water authority has warned that the drinking water supply will get affected, if the water level recedes drastically in coming days.

During Lockdown, excessive domestic usage of water is a worry. From making of food to washing clothes and cleaning of house, we need appropriate water and it becomes more difficult when all the members of house start using it 24×7. Since all the members are inside house during the lockdown, so water consumption has increased these days. The local bodies begin to receive complaints of water taps running dry, of leaking water pipes, of sewage contaminating the water mains, of blocked drains and other similar stress. It is heavy pressure on municipal corporation for continuous water supply. Municipal Corporations are facing shortage of employees due to corona virus lockdown and the remaining staff is facing heavy workload resulting improper supply of water for domestic use.

Water has its own significance for women who feed children less than five years of age. The government has committed in last two to three years to decrease death rate caused by malnutrition. So, proper water supply for those vulnerable sections is highly expected from the government.

So far it has been found that no specific guideline has been issued by the government. If the lockdown is extended in large parts of the country, even with breaks, this will be the first time for Indian municipal governance that this vital stress test will be missed. This has implications because few of them have spent time to keep their systems running even for one summer without constant supervision.

Thus, It is much expected from central and state governments to give priority to the issues related to increasing water demand in summers. I finally expect from ‘We The People of India’ that along with the government, it is our responsibility too to consume and manage the water as per need and avoid wastage especially during pandemic lockdown and stand together once again to make our India and Earth livable for all.

Author is Assistant Professor of Law at KIIT University, Bhubaneshwar. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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