Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s opposition to all central schemes and her consistent refusal to extend the benefits of these schemes to Bengal’s populace is well known. And Bengal’s tardy implementation of the Centre’s landmark Jal Jeevan Mission is a prime example of this.
Mamata Banerjee’s anti-Centre stand has resulted in the state administration dragging its feet over the implementation of the countrywide scheme that aims at providing every household with potable water connection by 2024.
According to Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, it will take more than fifty years for all households in Bengal to get water connections if the mission progresses at its current pace in the state.
Of the 1.62 crore households in Bengal, 1.56 crore households do not have water connections. Just six lakh households have tapped and functional water connections. That places Bengal at the bottom of the rung.
“We gave the state government almost Rs 13,000 crore in 2017 to provide water connections to all households in the state by March 31 this year. But Rs 700 crore of that money remains unspent and even a fraction of the target has not been met,” Shekhawat told Swarajya.
Bengal’s performance, he said, was in stark contrast to that of all other states in the country. The minister said that in the last 15 months, 20 per cent of households in the country have been provided with water connections .
Goa and Telangana have already achieved the target of 100 per cent households getting water connections. As many as 52 districts in the country and 80,000 villages have also achieved this target.
But in West Bengal, not a single village has seen all households getting water connections.
Bengal has been able to provide water connections to a meagre three per cent households under the Jal Jeevan Mission over the past 15 months.
This was evident during a field visit to Chak Gopal and Buita villages at Budge Budge in South 24 Parganas.
The area is part of the Budge Budge Assembly constituency that is part of Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha constituency. The Assembly seat has been held by the Trinamool since 2001, while Diamond Harbour is represented by Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek.
About 65 per cent of households in both the villages have got water connections under the Jal Jeevan Mission, and the deliberate exclusion of the rest seems dictated by political considerations.
Sandhya Rani Mondal of Buita village says that while her neighbour Nimai Das got water connection to his house a year ago, she has been deprived since her loyalty to the Trinamool is suspect.
“I do not take part in the Trinamool’s rallies or programmes organised by that party out of compulsion. I am a widow and have my widowed daughter’s family (two toddlers and their bed-ridden mother) to look after. I do odd jobs. I just don’t have the time to take part in political activities. The Trinamool holds that against me and so the benefits of government schemes and welfare measures,” she lamented.
There are many like Sandhya Rani Mondal in Buita and Chak Gopal villages, and all over Bengal.
“Such discrimination is practised only in Bengal. When I visit Bengal and am told by an old lady living in a crumbling mud house that she has not been provided a pucca house under the Prime Minister Awas Yojana only because she is not loyal to the Trinamool, I feel that there cannot be a greater sin than that,” said Shekhawat.
Such discrimination, however, is working against the Trinamool. All those who have benefited from the central scheme are thankful to the Narendra Modi government and this gratitude is most likely to reflect in the electoral preferences of the beneficiaries.
Tulsi Charan Mandal, 75, of Buita is one such person. “The Modi government has given us this water connection and it has changed our lives. We got this connection a month ago and get clean drinking water for two hours every day. Earlier, we would have to travel two kilometres on bicycles to get water,” he said.
Chaya Sarkar is another grateful beneficiary who had to travel a couple of kilometres to Charial More every day to fetch water. “Now I get water twice a day and I am saving time and energy that I can devote to more productive pursuits. The water is clean and so I no longer fear contracting water-borne diseases that are so common in these parts,” she said.
Tulsi Charan Mondal and Chaya Sarkar were supporters of Didi (Mamata Banerjee) earlier, but are now vocal in their support for the BJP.
“We want more development and at an accelerated pace. We do not want our neighbours discriminated against on political considerations. We do not want to live in fear and face the intimidation and bullying by Trinamool goons everyday,” said Sarkar.
Arun Das, 38, who got a water connection two months ago, said that unlike state projects which remain on paper only, he actually gets water twice a day through the new connection. “And it's clean water,” he adds.
Asked about the forthcoming polls, he says there is no doubt in his mind who he will vote for. “I will vote for development and freedom from fear. So will the others in this village,” he said firmly.
Others are more open about their intentions. “We will all vote for Modi. I like the work that man is doing and I want Bengal to benefit from it. People of Bengal have been denied the benefits of central schemes for so long and the state schemes either don’t work or are implemented in a biased manner. That has to change and a BJP government in Bengal working closely with the Modi government in Delhi will be able to change that,” said Minati Sarkar.
While Minati Sarkar got a water connection two months ago, her sister who lives next door hasn’t. “That’s because my sister’s father-in-law is a BJP supporter,” she said. She says this blatant discrimination has angered people in the village.
Shekhawat says that the Jal Jeevan Mission is critical for West Bengal where water-borne diseases are common.
“There are thousands of habitations in Bengal whose residents are forced to consume contaminated groundwater. Groundwater contamination by arsenic, fluoride and other heavy metals is common in many belts in Bengal. As such, is it critical that households get potable water,” said Shekhawat.
“It is cruel on the part of the Bengal government to deprive the people of clean drinking water and thus play with their lives,” the Minister said.
The minister explained that quality and quantity of water being supplied to households, and the continuity of the supply, are integral parts of the project.
“We conduct third-party verifications on these critical aspects. The water supplied to households has to be clean, the supply has to be regular and the water connections should function in perpetuity,” he said.
The third-party verification is conducted after states provide completion certificates on implementing a project in a specified area.
But Bengal has not provided a single completion certificate over the past 15 months simply because no habitation has been fully covered (that is, no village has seen all its households getting water connections)!
The Jal Shakti ministry had set a modest target of providing 30 lakh new water connections every year to households for Bengal.
“The Bengal government submitted the project report for 30 lakh connections in the first year, but has been able to achieve just one-sixth of the target (five lakh connections) till now. And not a single village is saturated (100 per cent households getting water connections) in Bengal,” said Shekhawat.
“There is an unwillingness on the part of the state government to implement this critical project that will change people’s lives. We have tried to talk to the state government many times to expedite the projects in the state, but without success,” he said.
The ministry holds ministerial-level review meetings every three months and a chief ministerial level review every six months. Top officials of the ministry also sit with officials of all states every three months.
But neither the Bengal chief minister, nor the minister or any bureaucrat from Bengal has ever attended any of the review meetings.
“Mamata Banerjee is scared that if a minister meets us individually on official work, he (the state minister) will ditch her and join the BJP,” laughed Shekhawat.
Shekhawat said that while other states have made a lot of progress in implementing central schemes like Prime Minister Gram Sadak Yojana and Prime Minister Awas Yojana, the progress of projects under these mega schemes is at best progressing at a snail’s pace in Bengal.
All these schemes are held hostage to petty political considerations and are mired in corruption. The fact that Trinamool functionaries take ‘cut money’ from the beneficiaries of all these schemes is no secret.
And in many cases, even after taking their share, the projects never get implemented. Also, political affiliations dictate the process of enlistment of beneficiaries under all government schemes and projects.
All these have, naturally, alienated and angered the long-suffering masses of Bengal. And this alienation and anger, says Shekhawat, will reflect in the outcome of the forthcoming polls in Bengal.
Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.
An appeal from Swarajya
At Swarajya, we rely on our readers' support through subscriptions to sustain our media platform. Unlike larger conglomerates, we are unable to relentlessly chase advertising money — our model is largely built on your patronage.
Your support has never been more crucial. We work tirelessly to deliver 10-15 high-quality articles daily, ensuring you receive insightful content from 7 AM to 10 PM.
If you believe India's story has to be articulated in a way it has never been done before without shrugging it off, become a patron (or) subscribe now for ₹̶2̶4̶0̶0̶ ₹1999 and get 12 print issues, unlimited digital access for 1 year, a special India that is Bharat T-shirt (Offer ends soon).
We are counting on you!