J. Chem. En. Sci. A.

Accessibility of Water Among Scheduled Castes in Rural Punjab Issues and Challenges

Dr Bindu Duggal

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Water Availability and Accessibility, Scheduled collect Castes, Rural Health

PUBLISHED DATE September 6, 2017
PUBLISHER The Author(s) 2017. This article is published with open access at www.chitkara.edu.in/publications.

Access and availability to safe drinking water is not only an important gauge of the socioeconomic status of the household but is also imperative to the health of its members. Efforts have made for high coverage of water in Punjab. In spite of huge progress, the rural water sector still continues to face major challenges. The problem is more acute among Scheduled Castes as only 78 per cent households had drinking water source within the premises in Punjab as per Census 2011. The main objective of the study is to analyses the status and problems of water accessibility among this marginalized section of the society. The present research is based on both Secondary and Primary sources of data collected from SC households in rural Mansa in Punjab. Empirical data was collected through intensive field work using the survey method. Multi-stage sampling technique was adopted. A sample of 200 Scheduled Caste households from 10 villages was selected for the study. The present research unveils that Scheduled castes families face threats to all three prerequisites of an individual’s right to water i.e. there is insufficient water availability, lack of access to water and danger due to water quality, making them easy prey to a number of diseases.


Potable water and sanitation are explicitly recognised as important rights that are essential for the full enjoyment of life. Going by the principles of the international treaty on the rights of water, water is a fundamental human right and states must be willing and able to implement their respective obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right to adequate water. In light of the right to water framework, the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, states that an individual’s right to water includes “sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic issues.” Fulfilment of the right to water requires water that is available, safe and accessible. In brief, a person should have enough water for personal and domestic issues (including food preparation, sanitation washing clothes) and this water should be safe.

Water is a basic necessity for the survival of humans. Globally, the world is on track to meet the MDG on safe drinking water. India too is on track with 85.5 per cent population having sustainable access to safe drinking water (Census of India, 2011). Although, there have been improvements and it is felt that India is seriously targeting to achieve its aggregate level Millennium Development Goal for providing access to safe drinking water, yet nearly 130 million people in India still do not have access to clean water. Additionally, there remains a worrying discrepancy in access between urban and rural areas. About 91.4 per cent urban population in comparison to only 82.7 per cent rural population have access to safe drinking water. Meeting the drinking water needs of such a large population can be an intimidating task. Thus, lack of safe drinking water persists to be a major hurdle and a national economic burden.

Further, “About 37.7 million Indians are affected by waterborne diseases, 1.5 million children die of diarrhoea and 73 million working days are lost due to waterborne diseases annually. Further, 10.28 per cent of all habitations being affected by poor water quality. It is estimated that by 2020, India will become a water-stressed nation” (Water Aid India, 2017). Although, water is the most integral and inevitable part of each individual; however discrimination of Scheduled Caste in access to water is often cited. According to the Census of India 2011, only 35 per cent of the Scheduled Caste households had the main source of drinking water within the premises, whereas, a large 65 per cent were near or away from the premises. There were only 28 per cent households in rural areas in comparison to 57 per cent in urban areas having main drinking water source within the premises. Further, 41.3 per cent of SC households in our country has tap water from a treated source/untreated sources (29.4% from treated and 11.9% from untreated) as the main source of drinking, and the remaining draw water from rivers, canals, ponds, lakes or ‘other sources’ (not taps, hand pumps, wells, tube wells or boreholes).

Punjab ranks highest among States and UTs with 97.6 per cent households having access to safe drinking water. Safe water here means having taps, tube-well, hand-pumps as the main source for drinking water. The access to safe water supply in rural areas is estimated to be available in 96.7 per cent of the households in comparison to 99 per cent in urban households. In spite of huge progress, water in rural sector still continues to face major challenges. The problem is more acute among Scheduled Caste households. Punjab has the highest percentage of scheduled caste population in the country. There are 88.60 lacs SCs in Punjab which is 31.94 per cent of the total population (277.43 lacs) of the State. Punjab accounts for 2.3 per cent of the total population and 4.3 per cent Scheduled Caste population of India. Regarding the accessibility of water among Scheduled Castes in Punjab, only 78 per cent had drinking water source within the premises as per census 2011.These facts make it pertinent to study the plight of Dalits in Punjab who still face multiple deprivation and discrimination with regard to water facility.

Page(s) 1-11
URL http://dspace.chitkara.edu.in/jspui/bitstream/123456789/795/1/JCE%204-1-1.pdf
ISSN Print : 2349-7564, Online : 2349-7769
DOI https://doi.org/10.15415/jce.2017.41001

Access to safe drinking water is not only an indicator of the socio-economic status of the household but is also vital for the health of its members. Fulfilment of the right to water entails water that is available, accessible and safe. In spite of huge progress and highest coverage of water in Punjab; the water sector in rural areas continues to face major challenges. The problem is more acute among SC households. For many SC families in rural areas of Mansa, there are threats to all three elements of an individual’s right to water i.e. there was inadequate water availability, lack of access to water and potential danger to water quality, leading to a number of diseases. Thus, despite enormous programmes on drinking water, it is observed that access to safe drinking water remains a major challenge especially for the marginalized sections of society in Punjab. Availability of unsafe alternate water sources continues to remain the major blockade. Punjab has not been able to safeguard equal realization of the right to water for all. Upcoming programs in Punjab should take into account the problems the poor SC populations face in accessing the upgraded water supply.

In light of above, the following are some of the suggestions:

  • Giving villages 24x7 water supply should be the priority of the government. So, 100 per cent coverage of all rural households to have good quality individual potable water supply has to be ensured. It is therefore pertinent to provide free household metered water connections to all. It is also significant to develop service levels in schemes to 70 lpcd and transfer to communities for management.
  • Ensure a well-functioning system to register and address complaints regarding water access, quality and quantity etc.
  • It is imperative to curb wastage of rural drinking water. Provide regular and refresher training to members of GPs/VWSCs to reduce wastage and improve service quality. It is also important to sensitize the SC Community on the methods to curb water wastage.
  • It is important to formulate a State-Level and district level Empowered Committee to monitor and control water quality problems and a deteriorating availability of supply of drinking water.
  • To ensure the availability, quality and sustainability of domestic water supplies to SC households in villages it is important to check cracks and leakages in water, so it becomes pertinent that government repairs/replaces old and damaged pipes carrying water from water works.
  • Addressing water quality issues through monitoring and mitigation is pertinent: Emphasis has to be laid on improving the monitoring network and seasonal evaluation of all water sources. An immediate action plan, without any delay, for any contamination observed, has to be provided. It is pertinent to establish well equipped laboratories with well trained staff. Both field testing kits for a broader picture and laboratory tests for more accurate results are important.
  • It is pertinent to maintain water quality. To achieve this, the users and the communities at large, have to understand their responsibility and feel accountable to maintain hygiene near water sources. Emphasis should be on sensitising and mobilising through Information, Education and Communication (IEC) among the masses to improve the method of water collection and storage so as to avoid contamination while collection, storage and use. The feeling that the users too are responsible for maintaining the safety of water has to be instilled.
  • There is a need to promote community based water quality monitoring and surveillance at the grass root level as mechanism to spot problems and solve water related problems.
  • Emphasis has to be laid on the participatory approach for planning, implementation and monitoring with the involvement of multiple stakeholders(such as PRIs, NGOs and the wide community) and the participation of primary stakeholders like SCs (the would-be users) in the process of planning goals and strategies so that the water programme is user-friendly, need-based, effective and sustainable.
  • Promote Inter-Departmental Coordination. Water and sanitation programmes cannot be operated in isolation from programmes in health and education. Improved co-ordination amidst ministries and departments would ensure effective implementation.
  • Emphasis should be laid on maintenance of infrastructure. There should be stress on proper upkeep of rural water supplies by government/panchayat. It is equally important that the users also feel responsible and handle small repairs instead of depending totally on the government, if it is taking time. This calls for a change in their mind-set so that they share responsibility.
  • Exploring simple, low-cost treatment technologies is imperative. Once contamination is detected in a water source, there is need for treatment. In case of rural areas, government might not take immediate action and modern water purification technologies might not be viable at times. So, instead of consuming unsafe water, simple and cost effective traditional methods of water purification (if verified) like cloth filtration, boiling, chlorination etc. can be encouraged.
  • Since PRIs are being recognised as the nodal implementation agencies for water and sanitation, so sufficient emphasis should be laid on capacity building of PRIs. Training PRIs is also imperative to make decentralization become effective, both in terms of functions and resources and to encourage poor-friendly governance.
  • Efforts should be made to identify and prepare a compendium of best practices including nondiscriminatory practices related to safe drinking water for encouraging and replicating them for poor SCs in other areas also.
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