The Census of India has reported that only 29.3 per cent of Kerala households have piped drinking water supply while more than 50 per cent of the population in 19 other States have access to tap water.
However, this need not be taken as something bad about Kerala. About 62 per cent of the households in Kerala have wells while 1.4 per cent uses water from springs. Though coliform bacteria have been detected in many wells, there is no reason think that they are inferior water source for Keralites. We know that even piped water supply in cities is often contaminated, often with sewage getting in through leaking points.
Wells are a satisfactory drinking water source in the rural areas of a State with high rainfall. It a little care is taken it can be kept reasonably gem-free. Unlike the urban piped water supply, there is 100 per cent assurance of water from all wells except from wells that dry up in summer. There are low recurring costs except where motors are used. Drawing water from the wells is a good exercise. Middle class people who don’t have time for it can go for small electric motors. Electricity is no problem as the State has a power-grid with near-total coverage.
On the other hand, the city water supply projects often require heavy investments and recurring costs are about Rs. 12 per kilolitre of water now. They also see a heavy overdose of corruption which is one reason why the establishment spreads the idea that total piped water supply coverage is desirable. Building dams for drinking water project cause submergence of large areas of fertile land.
The Census figures serve to debunk the oft-repeated claim of Kerala Water Authority that it had achieved around 70 per cent coverage of the population with its cost-intensive schemes. Parroting the figures of the KWA, the Economic Review (2010) published by the State Planning Board says: “Safe drinking water was accessible to 72.77 per cent of the total population in Kerala during the period 2009-10. In urban and rural areas of the State 84.80 per cent and 68.55 per cent of the population covered respectively by water supply schemes as on March 2010.” (sic)
It is also a wrong notion that a large number of Malayalees build palatial houses. Houses with five or more rooms come to 13.7 per cent which pretty higher than the national average. However, it is to be noted that it is not luxury to have a room for each teenager and adult member of the family. So, having three bedrooms in a nuclear family of four is no luxury. Nearly 40 per cent of the families have five or more members.