Report of the national seminar on decentralized governance in water and sanitation in rural India organised by NIAR: Status and means of strengthening decentralized governance systems in India

This seminar aimed to provide a platform for the effective sharing of experiences of PRI-implemented WATSAN service delivery programmes  and so understand the various factors affecting the effective decentralisation of water and sanitation. 

The discussions were classified into the following four themes:
Focal Theme I: Status of decentralized governance system in WATSAN sector
Focal Theme II: Issues/Approaches/Initiatives : Strengthening governance system in WATSAN sector in rural India
Focal theme III: WATSAN sector in rural India: Key stakeholders, their concerns, roles and responsibilities
Focal Theme IV: WATSAN sector in rural India: Current and future challenges

The deliberations during the first two themes established during the seminar are presented below.

Focal Theme 1: Status of decentralized governance system in WATSAN sector
The 73rd constitutional amendment transferred several core responsibilities to the Panchayati Raj Institutions, including water supply and sanitation. This transfer was initiated to enable achievement of India's ideal of self-governance. The six papers presented in this session reported on the status of decentralised governance from a national as well as a state perspective. The National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) focuses on conjunctive use of water resources, management, monitoring, and surveillance by the community. The nation has seen a surge in the funds allotted to the sector, but this has not necessarily been in the control of the PRIS. Effective decentralization needs transfer of function, functionaries, and funds. So far, only function is transferred, which has led to insufficient results.Decentralised management has led to some Panchayats adopting innovative methods that are best suited to their needs such as the Musiri experience.

All the presenters emphasised the crucial role played by operation and maintenance systems. So far, lack of institutional management systems and adequate funding for O&M lead to unsatisfactory service delivery and 'slipping back' of covered habitations such as is evident in Rajasthan and Punjab.. It is also clear that good water governance requires good water sense at all levels, including the community responsibility of demand management. The Nenmei rural water supply scheme illustrates the benefits of a sound management and financing system.

Perspective on governance in the Indian water, sanitation and hygiene sectors: Hemant Khosla (presenter) and Aidan Cronin , WASH section, UNICEF
This presentation began with the evolution of rural water supply schemes (RWSS) in India. The sector has seen a 10-fold increase in investment since the 8th plan. NRDWP emphasises conjunctive use, linkages with sanitation and health, water quality monitoring and surveillance, and community based drinking water management. Operation and maintenance is crucial for the successful provision of water. While there is a 10% allocation under NRDWP, there are also various incentives to states, GPs, and village water and sanitation committees(VWSC). Incentives to states are dependent on the management devolution index which considers factors such as the extent of devolution of power to the gram panchayats. The primary challenges to effective WATSAN coverage are groundwater legislation and enforcement, strengthening water quality management, community involvement, equity and good governance. The various factors that influence O&M of rural water supply, including technical, financial, and capacity issues were listed. The authors suggest that the government should adopt a regulatory role rather than that of an implementation agency.

Sustainable drinking water and sanitation: Two Indian cases: Shantha Sheela Nair, State Planning Commission, Chennai and  AL Radhakrishnan (presenter), Chennai Metrowater
This presentation describes the situation in two separate areas, Chennai, and Musiri, both in Tamil Nadu.
The first case study began with an overview of the water demand, water supplied, and shortfall for five cities, including Chennai. The Chennai Metropolitan act of 1987 was explained. It was emphasised that after 1997, no groundwater licenses were issued. The impact of  this resolution on groundwater levels was illustrated. In addition, the impact of check dams constructed to increase infiltration of rainwater and thus prevent saltwater intrusion was explained. The drought years of 1983,1987, 1993, and 2001 caused severe water shortages in the city. Those years saw a massive import of water into the city by road and rail. In May 2002, it was decided to focus on rainwater harvesting and  thus  reduce dependence on external sources. This led to an intensive IEC campaign with seminars, rallies, advertisements, posters, and celebrity endorsement. The media also contributed to this campaign with intensive coverage, success stories, and appeals. Today, this is  the first state in the country to have 100% coverage in rain water harvesting. The impact of rainwater recharge on groundwater levels and water quality was also illustrated.

Chennai also recycles its sewage. 5-10% of total water supplied, and 100% of industrial water is recycled. This water is sold to the petrochemical industries and generates revenue. Biogas production is carried out, which saves them Rs. 43 lakhs annually in power. The socio-economic benefits of this campaign, and the lessons learnt were explained.

Musiri is a town situated on the banks of the Cauvery and so has sufficient water. However, the high water table and paucity of land rendered the usual techniques of sewage treatment unsustainable. Ecosan was selected as a viable alternative for the town. The presentation explains in detail the concept, techniques and advantages of ecosan. This technique was adopted for the town. Compost and biogas as wall as liquid fertiliser were the very important by-products obtained due to this method. A community toilet with rainwater harvesting, compost chamber and a separate toilet for senior citizens and the handicapped has been constructed. It is maintained by the panchayat under the guidance of SCOPE. This has proved to be a viable, cost-effective and beneficial solution for  the community.

Decentralizing water governance systems: Joysula Lakshmi, CGG Hyderabad
The challenges of providing water supply and sanitation are understood.  Governance systems need to be put into place to meet these challenges. Ms.Lakshmi pointed out that water and democracy are conjoined terms, as they are both dependent on inclusive, transparent and accountable governance. The devolution of powers striven for as a result of the 73rd amendment was explained in this presentation. Good water governance implies good water sense at all levels, with increased accountability. Government practices that would help achieve that were listed. The features of the service guarantee bill, including electronic delivery of the bill, and accountability mechanisms of rural water supply were discussed.

photo of two men sitting at a desk

Office of the President and Secretary of the Nenmei RWSS (Courtesy: Kurian, Kurian and Thomas)

Decentralized governance and sustainable service delivery: A case of Nenmei rural water supply scheme, Kerala: PK Kurian  of Jalanidhi, Kurian Baby of IRC and Thomas of Wilbersmith Associates (presenter)
This case study explains the resurrection of a drinking water supply by the community. The Nenmei RWSS currently manages the distribution of over 1 million litres of water, which serves 23% of the households in the GP. It was originally built and maintained by the Kerala water authority. In 2007-09 it was managed by a transition committee, before being finally handed over to the apex committee in 2009. The list of assets transferred to the gram panchayat was explained, along with the many liabilities that were also inherited, including old infrastructure, arrears of Rs. 200,000 and 50% losses. Today, the losses are down to less than 20%, and volumetric pricing has been introduced. The institutional arrangements were explained by means of a diagram. Similarly, the systems for management, operation, billing, collection of water charges, complaints etc. were explained. The GP is a member of the SLEC, and provides financial support to the SLEC for extension activities. The committee members have also developed their own software for a sms-based system for registering complaints. The reasons for the success of this project were discussed. Chief among these is the stable leadership from planning to date.

Decentralized governance in water sector- The Rajasthan scenario : Hemant Joshi (presenter) and Suneet Sethi , CCDU Rajasthan
90% of the rural water supply schemes in Rajasthan are based on groundwater. With over-extraction and the resultant declining groundwater levels, previously supplied households are now slipping back. In addition,  47 % schemes have water quality issues. Repairing of handpumps (38% to 72% annually) is transferred to GP, but still managed centrally. The challenges were listed, including lack of confidence in PRIs, governmental attitude, lack of technical capacity, declining groundwater, conflict of interest among different uses, and recurrent drought. Future measures including adoption of the state water policy, changing management groups to convince PHED engineers, capacity building of PRIs, rainwater harvesting and a communication campaign were elaborated upon.

Decentralized governance for rural development in water and sanitation- a study of Gram Panchayats in SAS Nagar district, Punjab: Jaswinder Kaur (presenter), University of Technology and Namit Kumar, Punjab University
Research conducted by the author indicates that access to water has improved, however, sanitation is still a challenge. Treatment of drinking water is still a concern. Village Basma has been studied, and the results were presented. While 98% of the households have water connections, 91% of the households confirmed that water does not flow for more than a couple of hours a day. People rely on hand pumps and submersible pumps. Groundwater is increasingly polluted. 50% of residents defecate in the open. In Basma Colony- the other village surveyed, all households have toilets and water connections. However, there is water shortage in the summer, and people rely on handpumps and submersible pumps. The predominant message that rose from the surveys is that political leaderships need to take a collective stand to achieve the right to sanitation.

Focal Theme II: Issues/Approaches/Initiatives : Strengthening governance system in WATSAN sector in rural India
The presentations in this session discuss the key issues that strengthen governance systems in water and sanitation in rural India. The papers underline the point made in the earlier session, that developing operation and management systems are crucial for sustainability of  WATSAN governance. The rigorous project management ststems put into place for the Swajal Project in Uttarakhand cover the panning, implementation and O&M phases, with social audit and web-tracking mechanisms to ensure transparency. These have enabled successful governance at the gram panchayat level.

Including hydrological considerations is an important tool for ensuring sustainability of the source. The work of ACWADAM in developing field  hydrologists to work in the villages was remarked upon.
As in water supply, in sanitation too,  strengthening of PRIs and increasing participation in planning, execution and operation and maintenance is necessary to achieve sustainability.

Decentralization initiatives in RWSS sector in Uttarakhand: Kapil Lall, Swajal Project
This presentation aims to share good practices adopted in the state of Uttarakhand. The institutional arrangements and fund flow arrangements for RWSS are explained. The project management systems put into place, including those in the planning, implementation and O&M phases are explained with the help of flow charts. The accountability of the projects have been ensured on several fronts. A social audit committee and web-based tracking ensure transparency at both the micro and macro-levels.

The impacts of this for the state were seen in the building of local capacities, elimination of layers of bureaucracy, savings for the state exchequer, and greater availability of time for the line department since the GP took O&M upon itself. The community experienced greater control of its water resources, reduction in coping cost, less time between system failures and lesser drudgery for women.

Source sustainability of drinking water schemes- Role of hydrology:  VC Goyal (presenter) and RD Singh, National Institute of Hydrology
Different resource requirements are human, physical, financial, and resource, of which water is crucial. The ultimate aim is to achieve household level drinking water security. Sustainability is a process that facilitates drinking water supply projects to provide safe drinking water in adequate quantity even in distress periods. While sustainability is social, source and financial, hydrology  has a crucial role in source sustainability.

Hydrology provides the basis for study, understanding of interactions between surface and groundwater systems, and understanding of the way water acts. The science studies rainwater, surface water, soil moisture and ground water. The way forward is to analyse climate change pressure on drinking water supply systems, understand and incorporate hydrology in implementing rural water supply schemes, capacity building and sensitization of stakeholders, and sustainability in drinking water supply schemes.

Sustainability evaluation of community managed rural water schemes: Kapil Lall, Swajal Project, and  VK Sinha (presenter) SWSM
The study presents the findings of a survey of 1529 users of schemes that were in the O&M phase of URWSSP. The sustainability of the sampled schemes was assessed by looking in to 24 indicators of its physical, institutional and financial as well as the social condition that ensure its sustainability. The findings of these are presented in detail in this report. The likelihood of its sustainability is also discussed. It concludes the O&M systems need to be built into the system in the planning phase to ensure sustainability.

photo of an urban spring with people bathing and washing clothes

One of Almora's endangered naulas (Courtesy: Kothyari, Dhyani, Bisht)

Improved management of water- Key to achieve the goal of total sanitation :  BP Kothyari(presenter), Dr. PP Dhyani, of GPIHED and BS Bisht, NIAR
The presentation began with an overview of the Himalayan topography. The problems of water supply in the area are availability, adequacy, access, potability and convenience. Water stress is exacerbated by increase in population, urbanization, changing lifestyle, poor operation and maintenance, land use changes, forest fires etc. Lack of operation and maintenance cause a slip-back in 30-40% of covered schemes. The reasons for reduction in discharge at source include degradation of forests, changes in rainfall patterns, land use changes, increased water utilization. In Almora alone, of the 300 springs available in 1563, only 50 remain today. These too are either polluted or seasonal.

Achievement of WATSAN goals depend on sustainability of water sources and quality control. This can be improved by population and infiltration measures, catchment area protection and eco-restoration. Strengthening of PRIs and increasing participation in planning, execution and operation and maintenance is necessary.

Innovative approaches to decentralized rural water supply systems:  Renu Gera, Development Alternatives
Planning commission takes a macro-view of the water availability. This estimate indicates that India is already under water stress. The present and projected water consumption patterns are explained. These projections indicate that there is projected to be a greater focus on water efficiency. National water policies of 2012 and vision 20/20 are compared. There is a shift towards decentralised management, and promotion of water use efficiency.  Some of the innovations described were the Sugana pit to capture rainwater by creating an artificial glacier, and the Akash Ganga temporary roof for water harvesting. 

Read the report for themes III and IV here.

Video recordings of a few selected talks can be accessed here.

Download the presentations for themes I and II below:

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