Sourcing water: When informal is the norm

Villages in peri-urban Hyderabad rely on various informal water sources for their daily needs.
People depend on informal sources of water in peri-Urban Hyderabad. (Source: SaciWATERs) People depend on informal sources of water in peri-Urban Hyderabad. (Source: SaciWATERs)

In the first hour of our field work in Malkaram--another village in peri-urban Hyderabad--for the project Ensuring Water Security in Metropolitan Hyderabad, one thing became very evident. This village is much poorer than our other study villages--Mallampet, Kokapet and Adibatla. There was no development in or around the area. This was also probably the reason why there was no informal water selling activity in this village. During the summer season, people have to buy water from private tankers. But the rest of the year, they make additional arrangements to procure water. Most of these arrangements fall in the grey area between formal and informal; categorising them under either does not do justice to its nature.

The village is divided into three residential colonies. Farah Nagar is one colony that has no public taps or borewells. The primary source of water for these residents is a borewell that is owned by the mosque. This borewell has been connected to several stand posts, the cost of which is incurred by the residents. People also attach rubber pipes to these taps and connect it to their homes. The mosque does not explicitly charge for the water that they provide but every household pays some monthly amount which is used for the expenses of the mosque including electricity charges for the working of the borewell. This amount varies from household to household. But if a household refuses to pay money, they are not allowed to tap this water, making it a paid, informal source.

Women take water from a stand post. (Source: SaciWATERs)

At one point, people used to consume this groundwater. But soon after a dump yard came near the village, they noticed contamination of groundwater. Sometimes the leachate from the dump yard seeps into the water table making the water brownish-black and smelly. So now, people have started buying water from an RO plant that is just outside the village. Most of the villagers buy water from there at the rate of Rs 10 for 20 liters. This RO is an unregistered one, which makes it another informal source for the villagers.

The next colony is Bada Malkaram. This is the only part of the village that has public water stand posts connected to the panchayat’s borewell. Some households also have individual water connections which they paid for. But apart from these, there are many households that are farther away from these sources and are newer settlements. The primary source for these households is an illegal connection taken from the HMWSSB pipeline that goes to BITS College located very close to the village. The villagers tapped this water and built a stand post from where a lot of them procure water for drinking and domestic uses. When the officials from BITS found out about this, they tried to stop it. The villagers, in response, pleaded with the officials to allow them to use it as it was their only source of water. This stand post is located outside a temple and is said to be used for “temple purposes” so as to avoid further conflicts. Women stand in queues from morning to noon, to fill their buckets and pots, making several rounds walking from the stand post to their houses, which are sometimes almost a kilometre away. Many a time, men stand in queues when their wives or mothers are unwell; they end up missing work and losing their wages.

The above instances show the various informal arrangements that the residents have adopted to procure water to sustain their livelihoods. Contrary to what development entails, these informal sources have become more evident and necessary with the development outside the village. They are even preferred over the formal sources. For instance, since the formal water points are not geographically centralised, it makes it inconvenient for people to travel long distances just to collect water. Even if these water points are close to some households, they prefer not to drink that water as it is polluted and travel further away to buy RO water.

Thus, the informal sources, along with the private water tankers, have become primary sources of water for the sustenance of this village.


This is one from a series of blogs written by the researchers of SaciWATERs after their work on a two-and-a-half-year-long project titled ‘Ensuring Water Security in Metropolitan Hyderabad: A study of Hydrological Settings and Informal Institutional Dynamics’ to understand the contribution of informal markets to the overall water security of metropolitan Hyderabad. 




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