In 2016, India ranked 131 among 188 countries in the Human Development Index (HDI). With a population of 1.3 billion, the need for services is high, and planned intervention is required which must be swift, sustained and continuous. Resources are limited with 269 million people living below poverty line. The Government of India’s ambitious launch of Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014 to improve on sanitation services was followed with the Jal Jeevan Mission in 2019 to connect every household with a functional household tap by 2024.
Also, 115 “aspirational districts” have been selected for special intervention where 20% of the country’s population resides. While Jal Jeevan Mission has just embarked on an ambitious mission, the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the dream of providing drinking water at every doorstep.
As part of the Everyone Forever model, a system-strengthening approach to achieve universal and sustainable water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services, Water For People India is supporting the Jal Jeevan Mission by reaching out to the poor rural masses with improved tube wells and mini piped systems in Birbhum district of West Bengal.
Birbhum is an aspirational district where out of a population of 7.88 lakhs, only 54,285 households have tap connection as of September 2020. People in the district depend on tube wells, dug wells, and surface water to meet their drinking, domestic, agricultural and industrial needs. Break down of tube wells and groundwater depletion during the summer results in water shortages.
With 35% population belonging to backward classes, discrimination is common. Water For People, in partnership with the National Stock Exchange (NSE) Foundation, aims to reach every household, every clinic, and every school in two blocks of the district and has installed 21 improved tube wells.
Ghatdurlabhpur is a small village in Chandrapur panchayat of Rajnagar block with a population of 368 and has 68 households. It achieved open defecation free status in 2019. Of the 68 families in the village, 32 families are scheduled tribes and are at the bottom of society, 36 are scheduled caste, while 42 families live below the poverty line. Families in Korapara hamlet are from lower caste and face caste-based humiliation while fetching water from the neighbouring Ghospara hamlet.
All the 30 dug wells and one functional tube well were located at Ghospara. Dug well water was used for domestic purposes such as washing utensils and feeding cattle while the tubewell was used for drinking and cooking purpose. The sole tube well dries up during the summer months of April through July, forcing villagers to fetch water from two tube wells located outside of the village, one at a bus stand 700 meters away and the other 1500 meters away. Even with the launching of the Jal Jeevan Mission, household-level tap connection was a farfetched dream.
Considering the lack of water services and social exclusion, Chandrapur panchayat advised Water For People to select Korapara as a priority site to implement a mini piped water scheme to provide tap connection water to every household, a primary school, and an Anganwadi Centre within the village. That required providing improved sanitation services to these institutions, and Rs. 18,00,769 was set aside for piped water supply, Rs. 19,517 for Anganwadi Centre, and Rs. 115,101 for the primary school.
With a requirement of more than 20,000 litres per day, the intervention was initiated with a community meeting to persuade people to pay user fees to address the operation and maintenance costs of the water point. The water quantity requirement was 60 litres per capita a day with 22,140 litres of daily demand. This required lifting, storage and distribution of groundwater.
Water was lifted from 637 feet by a 3 HP submersible pump to an overhead 10,000-litre concrete tank thrice a day and supplied via a vast network of 3 inch diameter pipes controlled by switches at three places. The entire planning process was done in consultation with government officials at all three tiers of panchayat and a water user committee was formed at the village level.
The committee comprising of members of both scheduled caste, scheduled tribe and general caste is entrusted with operation and maintenance of the system, along with the creation of a surplus fund to meet unforeseen expenditure. During a meeting to discuss the results of the ‘AtWhatCost’ tool designed by Water For People to determine the costs of a water system, the water user committee decided to charge Rs. 100 per family, of which Rs. 80 would be used for electricity charges plus payments for two caretakers who run the motor thrice a day, with the remainder for operating costs.
68 households contributed Rs. 200 each as the first contribution, amounting to Rs. 13,200, of which Rs. 5,879 was spent on an electricity connection and the rest kept as surplus funds. Additional costs incurred for private connections, with ½-inch pipes connecting to the main water pipe, and stand points with taps were paid by each family. Three public water points were installed: one at the bus stand midway from both hamlets and two near a temple.
The committee hired two caretakers of the system and was given a compensation of Rs. 500 each. Two local youth were also trained on motor fittings and plumbing work, and they can now find income opportunities as water mechanic for the village and as water collector for the panchayat. The first quarterly electricity bill of Rs. 5,100 was paid by the water user committee, and the panchayat has also agreed to address major future costs.
“The families of Ghatdurlabhpur village finally have piped water supply in their homes. The poverty-stricken families from scheduled caste or scheduled tribe had been leading a hard life, even for a basic need like water. Now we can say that everyone has water and sanitation in this village,” says Nivedita Saha, Panchayat Pradhan.
In addition to providing water at the household level, water services were also provided to the village Anganwadi Centre and primary school. “With 1071 individual household latrines constructed in 2019, we achieved Nirmal Gram. Now with piped water supply, we have become sundor gram (beautiful village),” says Sukumar Sadhu, opinion leader from Chandrapur panchayat.
Overhead tanks, an underground reservoir, and an electric pump were provided to the school, along with a new water closet. Further, the existing school toilets were renovated and provided with improved, child and gender-friendly water and sanitation facilities.
Saurya Sekhar Pal is Research Coordinator at Water For People India. Email: email@example.com
Water For People is a USA based non-profit organization, which supports people of developing countries improve their quality of life by promoting of locally sustainable drinking water sources, sanitation facilities and health and hygiene programs.