Solution Exchange discussion - Social Accountability in Rural Drinking Water Supply - Examples; Referrals

A consolidated reply of experiences and examples shared by various members of the Solution Exchange Water Community

From Aanandi Mehra, Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) GmbH, Shimla

Posted 7 May 2010

I am working with the Capacity Building of Panchayati Raj Institutions project in Himachal Pradesh. This is part of the Indo German Bilateral Co-operation, (GTZ) project in collaboration with the Himachal Pradesh state government departments of Irrigation and Public Health (IPH) and the Panchayati Raj.  

As part of the project, we are designing social accountability mechanisms/social audits for rural drinking water supply sector as suggested in the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) guidelines. I request members of the Water Community to provide us inputs on the following:

  • Are there any examples from the field which show what social accountability mechanisms/social audits are being practiced in rural drinking water supply?
  • Are there any studies available that document the impact of these social audits on rural drinking water supply?
  • How can social accountability mechanisms/social audit in rural water supply be institutionalised, and how can it be done as per the NRDWP 2009 guidelines?

The NRDWP 2009 guidelines refer to social audits for rural water supply and these guidelines are being followed in all states of India . I am hoping this query will also clarify the term itself in the broader sense and bring out examples across the country. It will also help us design these mechanisms for the state.


Responses were received, with thanks, from

  1. A. Raja Mohamed, Coastal Energy Private Limited, Chennai
  2. Ramakrishna Nallathiga, Centre for Good Governance, Hyderabad
  3. Rajendra Arun Patel, Jalswarajya Project, Mumbai
  4. Vijay Kumar, Chartered Environmental and Water Resources Exploration and Development Geophysicist, New Delhi
  5. Nripendra Kumar Sarma, PHED, Guwahati
  6. Binukumar. G S, GoK-UNDP DRR Programme, Palakkad
  7. Annie George, BEDROC, Nagapattinam
  8. Ajay Rastogi, Ecoserve, Majkhali, Uttarakhand

Further contributions are welcome!


Summary of Responses

Social accountability is a process of using demand-driven mechanisms that citizens can use to hold government officials and bureaucrats accountable. They are powerful tools that inform people of their rights, increase their participation in decision-making and strengthen democracy and governance.

They include a broad array of activities that the public can use to hold government officials accountable. These help citizens participate in allocation, disbursement, monitoring and evaluation of public resources. They can be divided into for broad processes that form part of a strategy called Participatory Public Expenditure Management. These are participatory budget formulation, participatory budget review/analysis, public budget expenditure tracking and participatory monitoring and evaluation.

Government departments have their internal methods of enforcing accountability that are “supply-driven” and “top-down”. These include administrative rules and procedures, auditing requirements, and using enforcement agencies like vigilance departments, courts and the police. These may not be very effective since the focus is on ‘rule following’ accountability and rarely on actual performance. However, these rules are useful in that they ensure minimum compliance standards from line departments.

These top-down accountability promoting mechanisms have only met with limited success in all countries. As a result, the government has tried new measures such as the setting up of independent pro-accountability agencies like vigilance commissions and ombudsman. In other cases, public institutions have been privatized or contracted to the private sector to try and bring market-based accountability into the public sector.

One example of a social accountability mechanism is the Community Score Card for the Maharashtra Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project that is used to evaluate the provision of water supply and sanitation, work executed by gram panchayats and their governance. It envisages outcomes in the areas of project, process, institution, policy, empowerment and capacity-building. These strengthen decentralization, empower communities, encourage efficient use of water, promote institutional reforms, help in phasing out subsidies and promote cost-sharing. Several organisations have studied its impact and their references are given below. Hiware Bazar is another instance in the state where people have asked for accountability from various line departments including water and sanitation and in response have got much better service delivery. In Ralegaon Sidhi, veteran Annasaheb Hazare has used the approach to good effect and has vastly improved local governance and service delivery.

In Assam, the Public Health Engineering Department has started to involve users in the operation and maintenance of rural water supply schemes. It has set up a user committee for each scheme to manage the scheme and liaise with PHED. In Kerala, the state water supply and sanitation project is called Jalanidhi. It has a provision to allow beneficiary groups to conduct social audits. In a few instances, these groups have conducted the audits and prompted the service providers to upgrade their facilities.

In Uttarakhand, an organisation developed a participatory guarantee scheme for organic agriculture to standardize procedures and get comparable results. This example shows how important it is to have benchmarks for social audits.

All these examples have been evaluated for efficacy by several organisations. The Maharashtra example seems to have fairly high level of community involvement and has improved water supply and sanitation, though it must be said that several state government programmes in this sector have also played an important role in this. In Assam , the scheme has also been successful as evidenced by awards for some of the successful user committees. The Kerala scheme met with success where tried, but could have done better if more beneficiary groups had started auditing service providers.

Again, all the social audits have been institutionalized and are either driven by the water supply and sanitation departments at the state government or the Public Health Engineering Department. This indicates that the authorities concerned with rural water supply and sanitation are serious about improving the quality of service and involving the user communities. 


Comparative Experiences


Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) ensures social accountability in rural water supply schemes (from  Nripendra Kumar Sarma, PHED, Guwahati)

The PHED is encouraging communities to actively participate in the O&M of rural water supply schemes. Users Committees have been formed for each rural Piped Water Supply Scheme (PWSS). The major role of such committees is to ensure effective management of the PWSS including its O&M and creating social accountability. This has led to shifting the responsibility and ownership of the rural PWSS to the communities in a result oriented manner.


Jalanidhi Project ensures improved water service delivery by using social audits (from  Binukumar. G S, GoK-UNDP DRR Programme, Palakkad)

In Jalanidhi the Community Groups (Beneficiary Groups or BGs) used social audits for improving the service delivery of water projects. Some retrofitting works that were not implemented by the implementing agencies, were completed by the same agencies because of the social audits. The audit also helped the community leaders to clarify financial matters and led to further transparency in monetary dealings. The BGs also prepared the social audit reports. Read more.


From  Sunetra Lala, Research Associate

Social accountability ensures improved water availability in Hiware Bazar, Hiware Bazar

From a den of vice, this village in Maharashtra has emerged as a model of water management. The sarpanch, Popat Panwar, has used several innovative measures to improve water availability. Villagers have voluntarily imposed social accountability by imposing checks on cattle grazing and growing water-intensive crops, and now it is a prosperous, educated village. Read more.

Ralegaon Siddhi employs social accountability to ensure environmental conservation, Ahmednagar District

Ralegaon Siddhi, a village in Parner Taluka of Ahmednagar District, suffered from severe droughts prior to 1975. Since 1975, led by Anna Hazare, the village has carried out community led and managed programmes like tree planting, terracing to reduce soil erosion and digging canals to retain rainwater. It is an oasis of prosperity and a model for the country, and a model for environmental conservation and revival. Read more.


Related Resources 

Recommended Documentation

From Sunetra Lala, Research Associate

Stocktaking of Social Accountability Initiatives in the Asia and Pacific Region  

Paper; by The World Bank; USA; 2005;

Available at (PDF; Size: 244KB)

Highlights a mix of forces, conditions, and motivating factors out of which some social accountability initiatives, including those for water governance, have been developed

Quest for Good Governance: ProPoor, Gender Sensitive Social Initiatives  A Process

Paper; by Kota Purushotham and B. Suudhakar Rao; Management and Resource Development Foundation, Hyderabad and CIRDAP, Dhaka;

Available at (PDF; Size: 2.41MB)

Provides case studies to explain how social accountability can be used as a tool in rural drinking water supply governance

Integrity Pledge: Participatory Governance through Social Accountability

Paper; by Iftekharuzzman and M. Sajjad Hussein; Transparency International (TI); Bangladesh; April 2010;

Available at (PDF; Size: 104KB)

Introduces Integrity Pledge (IP), a social accountability process introduced by TI to promote accountable governance for service delivery, including water service delivery

Accountability and Rights in Right-based Approaches for Local Water Governance

Paper; by Peter Laban; The International Development Research Centre; Canada;

Available at

Describes how local level accountability in the water sector is the prerequisite for local water governance, integrated water resource management and water service delivery

Hiware Bazar - A Village with 54 Millionaires

Article; by Neha Sakhuja; Down to Earth; Centre for Science and Environment; New Delhi ; January 2008; Permission Required: Yes, paid publication

Available at

Hiware Bazar, a village in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, is the new role model for community-based water management and social accountabilit 

Ralegon Sidhi

Article; Wikipedia; 7 August 2008

Available at

Describes how the village has set an example for watershed management, community-driven afforestation and overall rural development based on social accountability 

Water Management in Pimpalnare: The People Succeed Where Government Failed

Article; by Surekha Sule: InfoChange News and Features; March 2004

Available at

Describes how farmers in the Pimpalnare village, left to fend for themselves, set up and managed their own irrigation and water supply systems


Recommended Organizations and Programmes

DHAN Vayalagam (Tank) Foundation, Tamil Nadu(from A. Raja Mohamed, Coastal Energy Pvt Ltd, Chennai)

No. 17, Vellai Pillaiyar Koil Street, S. S. Colony, Madurai 625010, Tamil Nadu; Tel: 91-452-2601673; Fax: 91-452-2602247;;

Works on promoting tank revival by communities to meet the drinking water and agricultural needs in rural areas of Tamil Nadu

Centre for Good Governance, Andhra Pradesh (from Ramakrishna Nallathiga)

Road No. 25, (Dr. MCR HRD Institute of A.P. Campus), Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad 500033, Andhra Pradesh; Tel: 91-40-23541907; Fax: 91-40-23541953;;

Works on issues of social accountability in drinking water governance and has developed a range of tool kits, and materials on social accountability 

From  Binukumar. G S, GoK-UNDP DRR Programme, Palakkad

Jalanidhi - Kerala Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project, Kerala

PTC Towers, SS Kovil Road, Thampanoor, Thiruvanthanpuram 695001, Kerala; Tel: 91-471-233700; Fax: 91-471-2337004;;

This is the state-level project, assisted by the World Bank, and implemented jointly with the state government to provide water and sanitation services

Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission, New Delhi

Department of Drinking Water Supply, Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, 9th Floor, Paryavarn Bhawan, CGO Complex, Lodhi Road, New Delhi 110003; Tel: 91-11-24361043; Fax: 91-11-24364113; jstm@water.nic.in

Safe drinking water scheme of the central government in which rainwater harvesting and conservation and recharge of ground water are the priority areas

Jalswarajya, Maharashtra (from Rajendra Arun Patel)

1st Floor, Mantralaya, Madam Cama Road, Nariman Point, Mumbai 400032, Maharashtra; Tel: 91-22-22885144; Fax: 91-22-22814623;;

A World Bank funded project, the project is designed to strengthen the implementation of water sector reforms all over the state, including those for drinking water supply


Recommended Portals and Information Bases

South Asia Social Accountability Network (SasaNet), Centre for Good Governance, Andhra Pradesh (from Ramakrishna Nallathiga);jsessionid=2C45FFFD79C5B7E8326BF6FE3242FE8B; Contact Josyula Lakshmi; Project Coordinator; Tel: 91-40-23541953;

Set up to develop a broader understanding amongst various Government and NGOs towards the potential use of Social Accountability tools in promoting good governance

Participatory Guarantee System India, Maharashtra (from Ajay Rastogi, Ecoserve, Majkhali, Uttarakhand); Contact Joy Daniel; President;

The PGS is an internationally applicable organic quality assurance system implemented by organic farmer-producers through active participation and social accountability


Responses in Full 

A. Raja Mohamed, Coastal Energy Private Limited, Chennai

I have just gone through and observed the articles and case studies narrated in this group.  Many are portraying what the specialist have come across in their study or what they observed as being practiced.  Are we not proposing and giving solutions to people.  Have we ever taken up a study either on the use and effect of the local water usage?   Have ever we observe the reality either in urban and rural areas and have a recorded data that can represent the whole rural and urban class. After some months of provision of the so-called remedial materials either provided free or with public funds, we can find that it is a waste.  People have their own cultural, traditional or religious practices even in getting and using the water.  

Even if you go to the villages where Dhan Foundation works, there are ooranies that cannot be used by ST/SCs. Discrimination is still prevalent and even at some locations walking along a particular street is prohibited for them.   

It is not wise to point out to the user communities the diseases that would come with the prevailing usage and practices and make them think for a moment.  Is it not good on our part to decide to take a solutions sitting with these communities. We can very often find an easy way to adopt low-cost solutions spontaneously from the communities. To some extent it is happening in rural areas wherever water-conscious NGOs function.  

Are we equipped to go to public with a theme that appeals to the public to change their habits? Even to design such a theme, do we have a data bank about the use, effect, the pros and cons of well water at least location wise.  Do we have a supporting medical data on the ill effects of well water, its change of quality with respect to season and more? Do we have a record of prevailing or local bacteria that is found only in one area?

People who visit Kerala after 20 years can find a remarkable change even in tiny restaurants, even in a remote hill top, which may be put up in a thatched hut.  We are first served with boiled fragrant water with herbal extracts.   If you enter rural coastal villages and other small townships we find treated drinking water sachets that are available for 1-2 rupees. No doubt people are more or less aware of the ill effects, but due to taste and a lack of alternatives they continue to drink the same.  At this moment what we may need is to bring in a total cultural change with respect to particular culture and prevailing traditional practices at the same time without destroying traditional solutions. 

We may have to give a campaign or an awareness programme that appeals to people’s hearts and slowly settles in their brain as a cultural practice. Unless experts, managers and mass media evolve one such system it is very difficult to over come this lacuna.

Kindly note that I have seen several solutions, starting from handpumps, oorany modification, slow sand filtering process, trickling chambers for iron removal and bacteria control, etc., that were first used in small groups. But now except for piped water supply, there is little else being done in rural or even urban areas. Even the sanitation and hygiene programmes introduced by UN Organizations have the same effect.  I feel the solution lies in slightly modifying the usage and utility for drinking water.  The Kerala model is one of the easiest ways under this current situation.   

But for the urban slums have to think a lot as they are heterogeneous.  This group first migrates for their survival and later gets routed into the domain. It is the duty of the planners to analyse their problems and provide an apt solution. We may have to analyze the source of the medium and usage and suggest solutions.  No protocol or a fixed solution will suit to the remedy.  It has to be modified to suit to the community that use the water.


Ramakrishna Nallathiga, Centre for Good Governance, Hyderabad

Glad to know that in the rural water development projects funded by GTZ social audit/ accountability mechanisms are being applied for better outcomes of the programme. I am not sure whether there are specific experiences of using them in this particular sector though there are plenty of such exist in other sectors (however, paani panchayats are reportedly held by Anna Hazare in Pune/ Ahmad Nagar districts of Maharashtra ).

Basically, the same framework and process can be applied to all sectors but the data requirements and outputs of audit may be different. CGG has established a web portal - SASA Net - which provides a whole range of material on social audit - methods, case studies, experiences, toolkits, projects etc. You may visit SASA Net for further details through CGG website ( or through


Rajendra Arun Patel, Jalswarajya Project, Mumbai

You can follow the Jalswarajya Project, where we have implemented the concept of Social Audit and also implemented the same in our pilot aquifer project.  For more detail you can use the Monitoring system which was made be me in this project. Please visit for more details.


Vijay Kumar, Chartered Environmental and Water Resources Exploration and Development Geophysicist, New Delhi

With reference your query, rural water supply by default itself is Social Accountability cum responsibility of the concerned department of state governments and we all are partners as development agents. Social audit refers to users' point of view - addressing demands/sustainability of supply and its water sources. Its documentation has always been avoided by any PHE/state water supply boards. The infrastructure is very different at the implementation level by these PHEs/state rural water supply boards; the JEs work but AEs' and EE's are to manage the reporting and documentation. The ground realities you must have noted. There comes the role of you and me who are called development workers to bring the documentation to support our actions.


Nripendra Kumar Sarma, PHED, Guwahati

I would like to share the experience of involvement as well as active participation of the community in the rural drinking water supply programme in Assam .

Under the ongoing reform initiatives, the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED), Assam , has initiated its efforts to encourage the community (users) for active participation in the O&M of rural water supply schemes. Accordingly, Users Committees are formed under the guidance of PHED, Assam , for each rural Piped Water Supply Schemes (PWSS) with the representative participations of the users from the areas covered by the PWSS. The major role of such Users Committees is to ensure effective management of the PWSS including its regular O&M, creating social responsibilities in the form of ownership, regular supply of water and also the liaison with the PHED in case of requirement of any technical inputs.

Such endeavour has succeeded to shift the responsibility and the ownership of the rural PWSS to the community (users/beneficiaries) in a result oriented manner. Active participation of the Users Committees has resulted social accountabilityamong all and the proactive role of the community has eventually ensured the sustainability and smooth functioning of the PWSS, with people’s participation.  

To boost such efforts, the Government of Assam has introduced this year, two awards for the successful Users Committees of water supply schemes, namely, “Uttam Gramya Pani Jogan Parichalana Puraskar (UGPJPP)” and Gramya Jalamitra Puraskar (GJP)”. Accordingly, from different districts of Assam , 10 Nos of Users Committees are awarded with UGPJPP and 3 Nos of Users Committees are awarded with GJMP in an auspicious ceremony by the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Assam . 

Such awards have again renewed the commitments of the Users Committees to bear the social responsibilities with the true spirit of cooperation and involvement. The impact of these social movements on rural drinking water supply has already been evaluated by Review Teams and a fresh documentation on different aspects of the awarded Users Committees is also on progress.


Binukumar. G S, GoK-UNDP DRR Programme, Palakkad

I am really happy to see these kinds of progressive thinking and discussions. I have two experiences to share with the members from Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission (RGNDWM) and the Kerala Rural Water Supply And Sanitation (KRWSA) project, also known as Jalanidhi. I have worked for almost 3 years in each project and gathered some experience in Social Auditing. Unfortunately the social audit process was not done in a serious manner.

I have to say that Community Groups (Beneficiary Groups, or BGs) can use social audit condition for improving their benefits. I had seen some kind of retrofitting works that were earlier not implemented by the implementing agencies, were later completed by the same agencies because of these social audit processes. In a way, we can say that this audit is a weapon to use against the implementing agencies.

One other important use of this audit is it helps the community leaders or BG leaders clarify financial matters and leads to further transparency in the monetary dealings.

In both of the said projects, we used the social audit process as a final agreement on the completion of the schemes those are taken by the BGs. We used a printed format for the social audit process and presented the results in the general body meetings of the BGs. These reports were prepared by some selected members from the BG. They used the BG documents to prepare the social audit report.

With keen interest I am interested to say that Social Audit is a very good tool for community based projects for better accountability and increased transparency.


Annie George, BEDROC, Nagapattinam

There is no doubt that a social audit process is best suited for generating this accountability. Just a word of caution-please be clear about who is calling for the social audit-if it is being called by the members of the water user group, then it is certain to be skewed as only members will be attending-you can judge the efficiency of the system but not the reach. Only if the meeting is called by the Panchayath will you get an idea about the actual number of "beneficiaries". The grama sabha would be the best platform and WASH can be made an agenda of the regular/special grama sabha meetings.

Also, water being a basic right, we should more bothered about the 3% non-inclusion than the 97% inclusion. That 3% may be the most poor/marginalised who are being deprived of their basic rights and it is up to us to ensure that their needs are met.


Ajay Rastogi, Ecoserve, Majkhali, Uttarakhand

In my opinion an audit is undertaken to measure certain parameters/evaluate certain standards that are already defined or benchmarked. It is also understood that the audit follows certain procedures that have some basic resemblance between one site and another so that one gets comparable results. Somehow, I am missing the benchmarks as well as procedure till now in the discussion. Social audit is a wide term which is being loosely used here. I think what most members have meant so far is community driven audit which is an excellent approach. 

I would like to narrate our experience of community driven audit in the case of organic agriculture. We wanted to do away with external audit for several reasons and still wanted to have a credible system in the country. So, a Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) was designed with efforts spanning over 2 years. Now this system has a national identity and standards and procedures available in several Indian languages. So, once the audit has a seal of the national PGS logo it means that basic minimum common standards and procedure has been followed. Those who are interested in the details can log on  

My suggestion would be to create some benchmarks and come to a broad consensus on the system for auditing which communities across the country can largely follow for guidance. 


Many thanks to all who contributed to this query!

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