India’s new rural development minister Jairam Ramesh has also taken charge of the newly-created Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. Will the former environmental crusader transform into a sanitation crusader? The first signals are encouraging.
In a cabinet reshuffle the new ministry position was first assigned to Gurudas Kamat who refused to take up the post for “personal reasons” though many commentators believe he was unhappy at being offered such a low-profile portfolio. The new water and sanitation ministry was formerly a department of the Ministry of Rural Development. It provides financial assistance to states and monitors progress but does not have the mandate for actual implementation on the ground.
In his first days in office, Ramesh has made clear he wants to give sanitation the same high profile he achieved for the environment during his two-year stint as minister when he habitually hogged the headlines.
“Sanitation is a single most important need in India today. If you look at the filth, if you look at the hygiene in our country, sanitation programme is the most important programme. It is severely under-funded,” Ramesh told PTI.
He has started “reviewing” the sanitation programmes in the country, he added. SACOSAN IV reminded India of the challenge it is facing:
Although faring better than most in numbers, India manages only 68 per cent sanitation coverage for its people. Open defecation remains a major public health concern for the emerging economic superpower with 6 per cent of its GDP, (US $ 53.4 billion), wasted annually due to lost productivity, healthcare provision, and other consequences of poor sanitation – according to the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program (WSP)
Jairam Ramesh (57) comes from the Ministry of the Environment where he earned a reputation as an environmental crusader not afraid of taking on big industrialists and multi-million dollar . For his opponents he was an “obstructionist and an arrogant intellectual who was stalling the country’s industrialisation and globalisation drive”.
His visit to Bhopal in September 2009 put the spotlight on the toxic waste lying there since the 1984 Union Carbide plant gas leak. In April 2010, he announced the setting up of the first National Green Tribunal.
An economist with an engineering background from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Ramesh is described as a “pet intellectual” of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and mentor of her son and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi. With nearly 70% of Indians still living in villages, Ramesh is expected to make a success of the government’s rural development programmes that will have a crucial bearing on winning the next elections in 2014.
Related web site: India – Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation
Source: PTI / Outlook, 14 Jul 2011 ; IANS, Denied promotion to cabinet, Gurudas Kamat resigns from govt, Economic Times, 12 Jul 2011 ; Ravish Tiwari, The dept Kamat refused most sought out by MPs, Indian Express, 14 Jul 2011 ; IANS, Daijiworld.com, 12 Jul 2011