Kurukshetra IAS Academy Blogs

How water insecurity affects women

The time burden of collecting water inevitably falls on the women and girls of the household

world water day

While India has made remarkable progress in expanding household access to water, the National Sample Survey 78th round multiple indicator survey (2020-21) suggests that over 41% of rural households lack access to safely managed drinking water within their households, and geographical disparities in household access to safe water, though declining, continue to persist. The distance to the principal source of drinking water for these households falls in the range of 0.2 to 1.5 km or more. India makes up 18% of the world’s population, with a share of water resources of less than 5%.

Evidence suggests that lack of access to water can cause considerable stress among households. In water-scarce areas or among households whose principal water source lies outside their household premises, water collection is typically perceived as a gendered activity, with the time burden of collecting water inevitably falling on women and girls of the household. Water insecurity affects women’s everyday lives, household dynamics, and social relationships. It also affects the school attendance and academic performance of girls. Women also face gender-based violence during the commute for water collection, which has an adverse impact on their mental health.

Research suggests that lack of access to adequate water leads to the practice of open defecation. This, in turn, has a multitude of effects on women. Apart from the health impacts like diarrhoea, typhoid and cholera, and impacts on menstrual health, women who practise open defecation also face psychosocial stress as well as a greater risk of non-partner sexual violence.

The Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) and the National Water Mission present an important shift in the policy for water management. The JJM enables access to drinking water through household tap connections. This reduces the drudgery of women and gives them more time for gainful activities. The programme seeks to measure this through increased participation of women in community engagement, including in gram panchayat and self-help group activities. To this end, the programme is designed to empower women by encouraging their involvement in Pani Samitis constituted for the purpose of planning, implementation, operations and maintenance, and monitoring of the programme at the village level. JJM guidelines also recommend that at least five women from every village are trained in periodic water quality monitoring. This serves the dual objective of empowering these women as well as ensuring the delivery of quality water to all rural households under this programme.

In a recent study conducted across rural areas in three districts in Tamil Nadu, we sought to examine these intended outcomes. We found that household access to safe drinking water enabled under the JJM reduces the time spent on collecting water from off-premises, leading to time gains among women, which they spent on better management of household tasks, children’s schooling, and childcare. Women who performed well on overall empowerment indicators also spent less time seeking water and showed a better mental health index. The study also showed positive correlations between water access and sanitation access.

Even as India continues its progress on access to water and sanitation, it is imperative that it continues to uphold a policy environment that mainstreams gender considerations in water access. Beyond reporting on progress in terms of water access or quality, it is also imperative that we measure progress against intended gender goals – be it in terms of reduction in the drop-out rates among school-going girls or reduction in drudgery among rural women and the extent to which this translates to improved socio-economic outcomes for these women.

SC dismisses applications to stay appointment of poll commissioners

The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed applications seeking to stay the appointment of Sukhbir Singh Sandhu and Gyanesh Kumar as Election Commissioners (ECs) in accordance with a new law giving the dominant role to the Central government in the selection process.

The applications filed by the NGO, Association for Democratic Reforms, and others had urged the court to stay the implementation of the Chief Election Commission and other Election Commissions (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Act, 2023. Section 7 of the Act had countermanded the Supreme Court judgment by replacing the Chief Justice of India on the high-level selection committee with a Union Minister of the Centre’s choice.

The applicants had asked for fresh appointments to the posts of the two ECs on the basis of the Supreme Court judgment.

“We cannot stay the legislation… There will be a lot of chaos,” a Bench of Justices Sanjeev Khanna and Dipankar Datta said, pointing to the Lok Sabha election already waiting at the doorstep, ready to commence on April 19.

Advocates Prashant Bhushan and Cheryl D’Souza, for the NGO, argued that the selection of ECs could not be left in the hands of the Central government. “This is against free and fair elections,” Mr. Bhushan argued. But Justice Khanna said there was no allegations against Mr. Sandhu or Mr. Kumar.

The judgment was a stop-gap arrangement until Parliament brought in a law on the appointments of ECs.

“For 70 years, from 1950 to 2023, the appointments were made by the government and we had people like Mr. T.N. Seshan…” Justice Khanna said.

Short notice

However, the Bench was critical of the manner in which the details of candidates were given to Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the leader of the single largest party in the Opposition and a member of the high-level selection committee, merely hours before the committee was to meet.

“You could have been transparent. Just two hours to read 200 bio profiles? You should have been fair. Justice must not only be done, but seen to be done,” Justice Datta addressed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre.

The two ECs were appointed on March 14 and took charge on March 15. The election schedule was announced on March 16.

The Centre said it would not have been “humanly possible” for Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar to steer the “world’s biggest electoral exercise” scheduled from April 19.

The government said the 2023 law had introduced a far more democratic, collaborative and inclusive appointment process than what had existed for the past 73 years.

Panel to study scope of altering power lines in bustard habitat

The Supreme Court on Thursday constituted an expert committee to balance the conservation and protection of the endangered Great Indian Bustard bird population with the country’s international commitments to promote renewable sources of energy.

The large-winged birds are on the brink of extinction, and one of the causes is the frequent collision with high-powered power cables running adjacent to its core habitats in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

A three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud said a blanket direction given by the top court in April 2019 for moving high voltage and low voltage power cables underground required “re-calibration”.

The court appointed the Director, Wildlife Institute of India; wildlife and forest conservation experts, including Hari Shankar Singh, Niranjan Kumar Vasu, B. Majumdar, and Devesh Ghadvi; and Joint Secretary with the Renewable Energy Ministry Lalit Bohra and his counterpart in the Environment Ministry.

The committee would also include Ashok Kumar Rajput, Member, Power Systems, Central Electrical Authority, and P.C. Garg, Chief Operating Officer, Central Transmission Utility of India Limited as special invitees.

The remit of the panel would be to determine the scope, extent and feasibility of underground and overhead electric lines in areas identified as priority spots for the birds in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The committee would explore alternatives to balance sustainable development goals and conservation of the birds. It could recommend additional measures to identify additional priority areas. The panel has to file its report in the top court on or before July 31.

Ministry of Environment tightens rules on bioplastics

The Environment Ministry has introduced rules that make it harder for makers of disposable plastic ware to label such products as ‘biodegradable’, introducing a stipulation that they must not leave any microplastics behind. Biodegradable plastic and compostable plastic are projected as the two broad kinds of technological fixes to India’s burgeoning problem of plastic waste pollution.

Biodegradable plastic involves plastic goods being treated before they are sold. Compostable plastics, on the other hand, do degrade but require industrial or large municipal waste management facilities to do so.

A new set of amendments to India’s Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2024, made public last week, defines biodegradable plastics as not only capable of “… degradation by biological processes in specific environment such as soil, landfill…” but also as materials that do not leave “any microplastics…”.

The caveat about microplastics in the updated rules does not specify which chemical tests can be used to establish the absence of microplastics, or to what extent microplastics must be reduced in a sample in order to consider them eliminated, says Sunil Panwar, CEO, Symphony Environmental India. The company offers technologies that, when added to regular single-use plastics, make them biodegradable.

“… The current standards [in India] only recommend tests that can be done to determine the levels of microplastics but don’t prescribe a definitive test… Should a standard for microplastics be eventually determined, it should, for fairness sake, include both compostable and biodegradable plastics,” he told The Hindu.

Microplastics have been reported as a major source of pollution affecting rivers and oceans.

Several firms were left in the lurch as the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) refused to provide them with a ‘provisional certificate’ to license their products as biodegradable. This is because the CPCB only considers biodegradable a plastic sample that has 90% degraded, and such a process takes at least two years.

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