Sustaining ward level water supply schemes in Bihar

Design principles for operation and maintenance at scale
The programme intends to improve safe drinking water coverage in rural Bihar (Image: AKRSP(I))
The programme intends to improve safe drinking water coverage in rural Bihar (Image: AKRSP(I))

Bihar pioneered water supply connections to every rural household under the Mukhya Mantri Gramin Peyjal Nishchay Yojana. The scheme implemented over the years from 2016-2024 has a coverage of over 90% of the rural households in the state as per the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) dashboard. If systems are not properly maintained, it is not long before they go defunct. And to avoid this, in June 2021, the Government of Bihar issued guidelines for the operation and maintenance (O&M) of water supply schemes - Dirgh Kaalin Anurakshan Niti (Long term maintenance policy, Letter No- 2935, dt 22-6-2021).

AKRSP(I) has been working in the Muzaffarpur district of Bihar on various developmental issues including on water and sanitation. AKRSP(I) had played a role in building capacities of the block and gram panchayat (GP) level functionaries when the water supply schemes were being implemented. When the government orders on O&M came out, AKRSP(I) saw an opportunity to demonstrate participatory operation and maintenance of water supply schemes. In February 2022, AKRSP(I), Water For People and Arghyam (partners) came together and created a program in partnership with the Panchayati Raj Department of the Government of Bihar.

The program’s objective is to operationalise and demonstrate a scalable model of participatory operation and maintenance covering all the 548 water supply schemes in Sakra, Bandra and Muraul blocks in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar. In these 3 blocks, the partners will put in limited resources to understand the design, processes and strengthen the capabilities of the existing human resources. In the remaining blocks of Muzaffarpur and all the water supply schemes in the districts of Nalanda and Sheohar, the partners will work with the government to deploy the model with government’s own resources available in the system.

Overall, this would cover about 7000 water supply schemes over a period of 2 years. This could offer a method, tools, templates and set of practices that could help and guide O&M of Mukhya Mantri Gramin Peyjal Nischay Yojana schemes in Bihar and Jal Jeevan Mission schemes across the country.

The three main objectives of the program are:

  1. 80% of the water supply schemes are functioning effectively
    1. Water is available for 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the evening
    2. Functional for a minimum of 27 days in a month
  2. 80% of the households are paying water user charges
  3. 80% water supply schemes will have water safety plans that includes water safety at tank, during distribution, community, and household level

The program entails a relatively large-scale deployment with modest resources. It called for a different way of working and the partners decided to kick off the program with a workshop to understand the overall landscape of the program and align on design principles which would guide the program design and implementation.

The principles were arrived at with the context of demonstration of participatory operation and management at scale with the government as a partner.

  • Identifying the most important resource for the successful O&M of the schemes and building its agency and capacity: All actors and stakeholders in the system are important and necessary for the functioning of the system. We had a long discussion on this and agreed that the Anurakshak, the frontline worker in the scheme responsible for O&M, is the most important person for a well-functioning scheme. S/he is responsible for opening and closing of the valves for water supply, repair and maintenance of the scheme, cleaning the tanks, collection of water user charges and communicating with the communities. While strengthening the entire system, we will need to focus and invest most time and resources in building the capabilities of the Anurakshaks.
  • Design for scale: Unlike traditional programs where we do demonstration in a few GPs or habitations or do capacity building of human resources, the program intends to demonstrate improved O&M in 548 schemes in the system. One of the challenges which the government encounters in scaling up of the NGO implemented models is that the resources which are invested in the model are rarely available at scale. The program has intentionally created a scarcity of resources in the three demonstration blocks. This would help create a design that is lean and could be scaled up to the rest of the districts across the state.
  • Creating an enabling environment: Since the program has to be rolled out across the district, it would mean working with a diverse set of stakeholders all the way from the state to the ward level. Creating an enabling environment for the program and creating an interest and buy-in at all levels would be one of the first steps the program would invest in.
  • Government is the right hand and we are the left hand: Since the model has to eventually be deployed in the government system, the engagement will consciously strive for the ownership, drive and execution of the program to be driven by the government. The NGO partners will be the left hand as facilitators, catalysts and knowledge resources.
  • Use of digital technology to generate trusted data for empowerment of all the stakeholders: Mobile phones are becoming more accessible and reachable even in the village communities. They can be a big enabler and catalyst not only in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of programs but also enable building the agency of all the stakeholders in the system. The program will identify and deploy solutions in ways that enable both the above objectives.

While choosing technology solutions, the program will select solutions that generate data as the activities are carried out on the ground. This will ensure that the data is trusted and provides a single source of truth to all the stakeholders. Anurakshaks should not have to spend additional time and effort in capturing the data from the activities on the ground.

While executing the project, we hope to be guided by these design principles when confronted with choices, and take the right decisions. We will revisit these principles at the beginning of the second year.


Manu Srivastava, Director, Partner Engagements, Arghyam, Bangalore

Dr. Umesh Desai, Director (Water Resources) & CTO, Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India)

Vivek Sharan, State In Charge - Bihar, Water For People

This article is one among a series of articles on the project partnered by AKRSP(I), Water For People and Arghyam for sustainable operation and maintenance of the drinking water supply schemes established across wards in rural Bihar under the Mukyamantri Gramin Peyjal Nishchay Yojana

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