Ensuring sustainability of rural drinking water systems

A summary of case presentations from a national symposium organised by IIM Bangalore, appointed by the center as the JJM Chair for O&M in collaboration with Arghyam and eGovernments Foundation.
1 Dec 2023
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Drinking water sustainability in rural India (Image Source: IWP Flickr photos)
Drinking water sustainability in rural India (Image Source: IWP Flickr photos)


Recent data shows that the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) has covered more than 70 percent of the habitations in terms of connecting households, and the need for understanding the field implementation issues particularly in terms of long-term sustainability of this exercise is enormous. 

While the government is committed to spending a huge budget on the JJM, learnings from the previous efforts have found that more attention needs to be paid not only to provision, but also on functionality of household tap connections. Thus, emphasis needs to be on the service delivery model by the community and local bodies, rather than only on infrastructure creation. The importance of community involvement has thus been found to be a crucial factor in successful implementation and sustainability of the mission.

JJM has prepared and supplied comprehensive guidelines on project implementation,  emphasising community involvement during construction and management of operations and maintenance, once it is functional.  

“However, the current situation of passive willingness of the local community needs deeper understanding at this stage of implementation in order to strategise the ongoing efforts so that the extent of certification of villages can be quickly enhanced. Making the system functional and sustainable needs intensive involvement of all stakeholders such as government at all levels, academics, researchers, funding organisations, community based organisations and others to work collaboratively to ensure successful completion of the mission” informed Professor Gopal Naik, the JJM Chair Professor in his opening address.  

About the Symposium

This symposium organised by IIM Bangalore (IIM-B), appointed by the center as the JJM chair for O&M, in collaboration with Arghyam and eGovernments Foundation aimed at understanding the issues arising in implementation and actions needed to ensure sustainability based on the 4D framework, with focus on domains such as source, operational, financial and institutional sustainability.

Case studies and experiences on implementation of drinking water systems from different states were discussed to understand the key challenges involved and factors contributing to sustainability of drinking water systems in the country.

The six case studies discussed in the symposium are included below:

Social behavioural change to drive community ownership

Mr Divyang Waghela,  the head of Tata Water Mission shared insights and experiences from ethnographic research and work in behaviour change communication to encourage participation and ownership by the community in water scarce as well as water abundant villages in the country. They arrived at “Respect” as a key proposition to initiate behaviour change. Having tap water in the house is equal to getting “Samman” or “Respect”.   

Please view the slides here for more details

Mukhya Mantri Gramin Peyjal Nishchay Yojana (MGPNY) – Bihar: Insights from community institutions-led O&M in Muzaffarpur District

Mr Pankaj Kumar, Program Integrator, AKRSP(I) shared his insights from implementing the O&M policy of the state with community participation. Digital content and tools were used for capacity building, to capture processes and in collection of user charges. Strengthening local institutions like WIMC/VWSC and adopting activities and processes for community involvement were critical to develop willingness to pay for services and ensuring effective functionality.

Please view the slides here for further details

Managing drinking water infrastructure in West Bengal Gram Panchayats in collaboration with Block & District administration, State P&RD and PHED

Ms Sujata Tripathi, WFP shared their experiences from West Bengal. She highlighted the need to create mandates on best practices in training, creation of incentives, and validation of Village Action Plans. When scaling the direct implementation approach on replication of Single Village Scheme (SVS) and Village Action Plan (VAP) preparation, technology, support from state and districts and incentives were the key enablers of scale. 

Please view the slides here for details

Functioning of Single Village Drinking Water Supply Schemes in Rural Odisha Case Studies of Schemes in Ganjam District

The IIM-B team shared their experiences from Odisha. It was found that behavioural change methodology was effective in creating a demand based system and encourage ownership responsibilities and women SHGs showed considerable interest and ability in running the system.

Please view the slides here for further details:

Case study of Gokarna Multi-village scheme, Kumta, Karnataka

This presentation by IIM-B team discussed the progress of JJM in Gokarna MVS which covered six Gram Panchayats- Gokarna, Hiregutti, Bargi, Hanehalli, Nadumaskeri and Torke which are in Kumta taluk Uttar Karnataka district in Karnataka. This case presented a different model of operating and managing larger schemes.

Please view the slides here for further details

Financial sustainability of schemes managed by PHED in Punjab (Case of Anandpur Sahib)

Mr. Krishnakumar T.  Vice President, eGovernments Foundation talked about the role of mGramSeva platform in the fiscal sustainability of schemes in Punjab. It brought visibility to all stakeholders and enhanced coordination. 

Please view the slides here for further details

Panel discussion

The panel discussion focused on the main learnings from the case studies discussed and the group work that followed on the 4 domains of sustainability namely, source, operational, institutional and financial sustainability.

The challenges and learnings that emerged from the discussions:

    Source sustainability

    •  It is important to look at source sustainability as it will be of no use if there is no water in the pipes even after implementation of  JJM. It is important to explore if the panchayats can make use of programmes such as the NREGA, GPDP to start activities such as recharging water sources to improve source sustainability. 
    • The biggest competitor for rural drinking water supply is irrigation and  70 to 90 percent rural water is not used for drinking, but irrigation which is guided by a totally different set of incentives. While this is beyond the scope of the JJM mandate, it is important to consider and calls for inter-ministerial convergence. 
    • There seems to be a gradual change in perception of water quality from different actors at different levels within the JJM and there is now an acceptance of general issues on quality as compared to five years back. However, it is important to look into whether there is a demand for data or information. JJM has a dashboard and a data bank is already in place. It is important to think about what this data means to the community, how the community can access and use this data. The challenge is to explore how it can be made more accessible and actionable by people.

    Operational sustainability

    • Service level benchmarking is missing in many cases. While the government of India has defined guidelines, what is important to know is whether the rules and responsibilities across the layers are understood by all the stakeholders involved across different states, in the implementation of drinking water schemes.
    • While technology does have its advantages, the obsession with technology can be huge and overdoing of technology will not be useful to achieve sustainable outcomes. The challenge thus is in exploring how technology can be balanced in providing solutions to attain sustainability. 
    • The issue of Operation and Maintenance (O&M) costs in the case of Single Village Systems (SVS) Vs Multiple Village Systems (MVS) is challenging and it is important to look into who will bear the costs in the case of MVS. 

    Institutional sustainability

    • It is important to look at how Multi Village Schemes (MVS) that involve third party contractors, manage operations and maintenance and how it works for different states. There are some positive examples such as that of Madhya Pradesh where the state has developed a reasonably sound system to ensure contractors are accountable. However, there is a consequence of monopolistic systems if redressal mechanisms are not put in place. 
    • The sheer multiplicity of institutions at the ground level in Single Village Schemes (SVS) such as VWSC, Panchayats, SHGs present a complicated picture and there is a danger that these institutions can play off each other or functioning will be hindered due to issues such as lack of coordination, power plays between different institutions. The challenge is to see how this can be prevented and the institutions converged for efficient functioning.  
    • There is a risk that the principle of subsidiarity might not be followed as many of the panchayats are very large and so the tendency to follow majority or the viewpoint of the sarpanch of the village is high while getting the work completed. However, in such cases the poorest or the marginalised or tribal areas could be left out from getting the benefits of the scheme. The challenge is how to design institutions around this diversity of habitations.
    • Another challenge is that of the multiplicity of state organisations that compete with each other as this has a major bearing on the institutional design or ecosystem on the ground and operation at the ground level. Differing policies within states make it even more complicated to run the system at the ground level. 
    • The other important concern is the reluctance between the government to handover and the panchayat to take over the programme. It is thus important that this process is not looked upon as a give and take or as a binary. Rather it is important that the process is gradual and the roles are  systematically handed over and gradually taken over by the panchayats.
    • While capacity building is an issue that needs consideration, it is also important to have a larger design and plan in place to ensure the working of the programme where an ecosystem of service providers and other manpower is needed who can then be trained as a part of capacity building. 

    Financial sustainability

    • While the funds are available within the JJM, multiple agencies are  involved in usage, and many a time, people do not know how to use it and for what purpose. It is important that stakeholders are informed about this. It is also crucial to define or fix the total budget that is being assigned under the programme. 

    The green shoots identified and way forward

    Source sustainability

    • In terms of source sustainability, one of the positive examples is that of Karnataka state which is focusing on building capacities through utilising the NREGA scheme. There are also great examples of how convergence with other programmes can help in furthering the water quality objective. For example, the Tata team doing great work in Assam, and providing nutritious food in Anganwadis is also about good water,  even the Asha worker can contribute to this objective. However, there is an urgent need to develop  guidelines on source sustainability and quality, which will greatly help in ease of convergence with other  programmes on the ground.

    Operational sustainability

    • While there is an intent to solve the problem at the government level, it is also important to incentivise water committees to do better to ensure operational sustainability. Gujarat provides a great example for this and can be replicated in other places.  
    • Technology can be a potential silver lining when used at community level and used in a regional context. mGramSeva is a great model in this context. Whatsapp use in Karnataka is another example that can be replicated in other areas. 

    Institutional sustainability

    • It is important to include the health nexus in discussions around water quality and quantity for the programme to be successful; explore the reasons for variability in performance of states, provide incentives and ensure how the performance of states can be improved; look at the issue of volunteerism Vs paid services and how it is working and if there are alternative models that show a balance for the success of the programme. 
    • While the JJM has a lot of transformative initiatives, there is a need for continuous skill building on new issues. It is also important to think of how the existing social capital can be utilised towards providing options rather than prescriptions while addressing community needs. 
    • It is important to look at the scale of the JJM and the positive impact the programme will have once operational issues are put in place. One of the positive examples of this was Karnataka which had achieved 100 percent water metering. While use of technology was not the end, There are good  examples like that of mGramSeva, which demonstrates that when trust is built and it is known who is paying to whom, grievance redressal mechanisms can be put in place and the system will work efficiently.  
    • Few other examples like that of the Bihar case study provide answers to how it can be implemented for large villages, tribal areas like that in Assam. In the case of MVS, even with a third party contract, a good design in place which has built in accountability mechanisms can  serve as a successful model for others to follow such as that in Madhya Pradesh. Another example is that of women SHGs that show how women from panchayats can take the programme forward when provided with the right kind of incentives. 
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