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Data: Reviewing India’s Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation, Electricity, Access to Institutional Credit


As India celebrates the 77th Independence Day, it is important to look back at the progress made over the years. In this story, we look at the progress made in basic necessities such as Drinking Water, Sanitation, Electricity, Access to Institutional Credit. 

76 years back, on this day, Jawaharlal Nehru, in his famous speech, ‘Tryst with Destiny’, reminded people that the achievement of freedom is an opening of opportunity to greater triumphs and achievements that await us, while self-reflecting “Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?”.  These words hold true even today as we grapple with the emerging complexity of challenges. 

It is not easy to ignore the progress India made over the last seven decades. While the progress is remarkable, it is not devoid of shortcomings. Through this article, we analyse the progress in India in achieving the basic needs of the households such as access to electricity, clean water, sanitation, finance, by using some less used, yet important metrics. 

Note: The data is taken from NSS reports conducted over these years. Caution must be exercised in analysing and interpreting the data as these are sample surveys.

Exclusive access to drinking water is still a huge issue in Rural India

Water is a crucial nutrient for human health. Ensuring access to clean water is one of the easiest and surest methods to reduce the disease burden. Availability and access to drinking water is an important determinant of the overall quality of life of the population. 

The National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) conducts periodic surveys on ‘Drinking water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Housing Conditions’. The latest survey (76th Round) was conducted in 2018. It was found that the principal source of drinking water of the household was hand-pump in the rural areas and piped water into dwellings in the urban areas. The survey also reveals that about 48.6% of the households in rural areas and about 57.5% of the households in urban areas had exclusive access to the principal source of drinking water. Almost 31% of rural households use water that is a public source and is unrestricted, while 16% of urban households have principal source of drinking water in the same building along with other households.

That is, less than half of the total households in rural areas have exclusive access to the principal source of drinking water as per the 2018 NSSO survey. The Government of India launched Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) in 2019, with the objective to ensure every rural household has a drinking water supply in adequate quantity of prescribed quality on a regular and long-term basis. As of August 2023, 66% of rural households are provided with tap water connections if one goes by the data on the government’s dashboard.

30% of rural India still do not have access to sanitation facilities in contrast with 4% of urban India.

Proper sanitation facilities such as toilets and latrines that separate human excreta from human contact are crucial for the healthy development of people. The absence of basic sanitation facilities can result in an unhealthy environment contaminated by human waste, leading to a wide variety of diseases and illnesses. 

The National Statistical Office (NSO) conducts surveys on housing and sanitation conditions in rural and urban areas of the country at periodic intervals. It is observed that there is a gradual decline in the percentage of households with no latrine facilities in both urban and rural areas. In urban areas, the percentage of households with no latrine facilities decreased from 36.9% during the 15th Round (1959-60) to 3.8% in the 76th Round (2018). In Rural areas, the percentage of households with no latrine facilities decreased from 88.8% to 28.7% during the same period. A higher decline from 59.4% to 28.7% can be seen in rural areas between 69th Round (2012) and 76th Round (2018). 

As per the available data, between the 65th Round (2009) and 76th Round (2018), the percentage of households in rural areas having latrines for “exclusive use of households” rose from 27.9% to 63.2%, whereas in urban areas it jumped from 58.1% to 77.6%.

The Government of India launched Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014, to achieve universal sanitation coverage. As of August 2023, approximately 70% of villages in India are “Open Defecation Free (ODF) Plus” villages. However, the veracity of these claims is questionable as there are reports that question the ODF status.

More than 90% of households in rural and urban areas are electrified.

The availability of drinking water within the premises and a latrine along with electricity depict a better living facility. The availability of all three facilities is crucial to the decent and healthy living of the people. The data on the availability of electricity facilities to households as well as its temporal changes over the period from 1989 to 2018-19 show that there is an incremental progress in the proportion of households with electricity. It improved from 27% in 1989 to 94% in 2018 for rural areas, whereas for urban areas, it rose from 75% to 99%. 

The rural-urban divide in power coverage has also shrunk during this period. In 1989, just about 27% of rural families had access to electricity, which was down roughly 48% away from the 75% in urban India. Electricity was available to 53% of rural homes in 2002, compared to roughly 92% of urban households, a reduction of nearly 39 percentage points from the previous year. Electricity coverage for rural households was 80% compared to 98% for urban households in 2012, narrowing the difference to 18 percentage points. In 2018, the gap in coverage between urban and rural households came down further to 5%. The aim to achieve universal household electricity access by the early 2020s is on track with decent progress made.

Urban areas register decent progress while rural areas remain stagnant in access to credit.

Credit is one of the supply-side factors that is crucial to boosting consumption. And access to credit in rural areas has predominantly been from non-institutional sources leading to a practise called, ‘usury’ (the illegal action or practice of lending money at unreasonably high rates of interest). Equitable access to institutional credit is important in this context of a relative scarcity of credit and the high cost of informal credit. While debt might not directly show the extent of access, it is a key indicator of credit access. 

The National Statistical Office (NSO) conducts All India Debt & Investment (AIDIS) surveys in the rural and urban areas of the country at periodic intervals. Interestingly, a huge jump can be seen from 29% in 1971 to 61% in 1982, possibly an after-effect of the nationalization of banks that took place in 1969. From 61% in 1982, it reduced to 56% in 2013 (70th Round). The latest survey (77th Round) conducted in 2019, revealed that approximately 66% of the total outstanding debt in rural areas is from institutional sources. This is the highest in all these seven decades.

On the other hand, the share of institutional sources in total outstanding debt in urban areas rose incrementally from 60% in 1982 (37th Round) to 87% in 2019 (77th Round).  While urban areas had saw decent progress in access to institutional credit, this has not been the case with rural areas.

Featured Image: India’s Progress made in basic necessetites


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