The 200 odd residents of Didakhedi, a sleepy village just 13 kms from Sehore town in Madhya Pradesh, never had adequate water. Two decades ago, most of the farming in the village was done during the monsoons. The village had no electricity and a lone diesel pump operated the shallow dug wells to irrigate some lands during the winter. These shallow wells, their only source of water, would turn dry during the scorching summer months, leaving the people distressed.
Once the village got electricity, farmers began drilling tubewells to irrigate their fields and groundwater was depleted faster than it could be replenished. Drinking water was the first casualty. The four handpumps and two borewells installed by the Government in the village started drying up and became unreliable. As the shallow wells dried up, they were no longer maintained and went into disuse. This forced the women to fetch water from far away places. Not only did this waste their time but it also took a toll on their health. “Considering their plight, people from other villages did not want to marry their daughters here”, said a member of this group.
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“The daily hardship had readily convinced us to explore ways to improve our water situation”, Rambha Bai an elderly explained but they didn't know how to go about it.
A Bhopal based development support organisation, Samarthan decided to work on a rights-based approach to ensure water security for all. A one year development plan of the village was prepared with Samarthan's help. Today the villagers swell with pride as they talk about the successful community-run piped water supply scheme they own.
The villagers first priority was to make the village open defecation-free because the women did not feel safe in the open where they went to relieve themselves. However, to make toilets within their homes a reality, they needed to have household-level water supply so that the toilets could function. This made them realize that both sanitation efforts as well as construction needed to happen simultaneously, so that the end-result could be achieved.
“To mandate the process further, the Gram Sabha, passed a resolution to provide tap connection to those households who had by the defined date constructed their toilets”, said Santoshi Tiwari, Samarthan, Sehore. Samarthan helped them design the tank and also helped in purchasing the right materials so they could keep the cost of the toilets low (between Rs. 5,000 and Rs. 10,000). Rambha Bai was among the first to get a toilet constructed. She was followed by 15 more households.
Present water situation
Now, all households in Didakhedi have tap connections, thus relieving women of the drudgery of fetching water. Groundwater is pumped into a 9,500 litre overhead tank and then brought to these taps. The overhead tank was constructed on the Gram Panchayat land. For the drinking water source, an eight inch bore was drilled to a depth of 375 feet. The community contributed both monetarily as well as with their labour and time once they realized its benefits. Public standposts were not provided as the villagers thought that these were unhygienic.
The village was divided into three sectors and the pipelines laid out based on that. The reason it was designed such was so that the sectors could be provided water in turns during water scarcity. So far, this condition has not arisen and all the sectors get water for at least an hour a day.
Getting community buy-in into the project has been the key to its success. The committee that was set up to overlook the day to day functioning of the scheme collects Rs. 60 per month towards the operation and maintenance (O & M) as well as electricity bills. The money is collected six months in advance. They have their own rules for people involvement as well.
To keep the costs low, they take turns to operate the motor instead of hiring a pump operator. Each family takes the responsibility to switch on and off the system as well as to open and close the valves for a month. After some representation to the electricity department, the community was able to register the connection as domestic instead of commercial thereby saving on electricity charges.
To assure water source sustainability, recharge structures are being constructed. For this, the community linked up with various government schemes and departments to leverage funds. The villagers did their homework and through the Panchayat, put forth a proposal to the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) to implement a village water security plan. The community first calculated the current and projected demand and supply. They then developed a plan to ensure long term water availability. Stop dams, gully plugs and contour trenches are being built to conserve water and prevent soil erosion.
Didakhedi inspires its neighbours
The work in Didakhedi continues to influence many neighbouring Gram Panchayats to adopt the same process. PHED sends its civil engineers to witness the work at Didakhedi every now and then. “Today the village manages its own water supply network and the accounts” said Jagadeesh Mewara, a member of the Committee. Two adjacent villages - Chittodiya lakha and Bhatuani - have followed Didakhedi's example and started constructing toilets. "Samarthan is working on demonstrating examples of water and sanitation management through Panchayats and Village Level Institutions in 12 villages of 6 Panchayats in Sehore district." (Samarthan website)
Mobilising a community is easy once the benefits of the initiative are clearly explained. The state agencies could take a cue from this village.