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Village committees manage water supply scheme in Rajasthan

By I M Shah

Two hundred villages have so far participated in the planning, construction, operation and maintenance of the Aapni Yojana scheme in three districts of arid Rajasthan. A water and health committee in every village is responsible for fair distribution of water, water conservation, health education, payment for services and sanitation

Barely a year ago, dozens of villages falling in Churu, Hanumangarh and Jhunjhunu districts in the semi-desert region of northern Rajasthan faced acute water scarcity, with rainfall in that part of the state being low, unreliable and scattered. The water problem was accentuated by frequent sandstorms in summer and severe drought for the fourth successive year.

Today, far-flung and isolated villages such as Buchawas, Chalkoi, Mandela, Malsisar, Kohma, Pandusar and Duljana in these three districts boast a network that supplies the waters of the Indira Gandhi Canal to hundreds of public standposts where taps have been installed and water flows round the clock. The women no longer have to walk miles to fetch a pitcher of water from deep wells.

The dramatic transformation has been brought about by Aapni Yojana (our own scheme), a novel water supply, sanitation and health education project being implemented by a consortium of five non-government organisations with extensive community participation.

The project covers 20,000 square kilometres in the three districts. Implementation began in 1994, and 200 villages have already benefited. A project management cell (PMC) of the state government’s public health engineering department oversees implementation. The German KfW bank finances about three-quarters of the total cost exceeding Rs 800 crore. The first phase covers a population of 9 lakh across 378 villages and two towns at a cost of Rs 400 crore. The German loans and grants amount to DM 135 million (more than Rs 300 crore).

The secret of Aapni Yojana’s success is community participation. The approach is participatory: a water and health committee in every village, awareness-building for payment and water conservation, fair distribution of water, health education, women’s participation and sanitation measures. The NGOs forming the CPU consortium are the Indian Institution of Health Management Research, Jaipur; Indian Institute of Rural Management, Jaipur; Bhoruka Charitable Trust, Bhorugram, Rajgarh (Churu); Gandhi Vidhya Mandir, Sardarshahar (Churu); and Urmul Setu Society, Loonkaransar (Bikaner).

“Aapni Yojana has not only adopted an innovative approach by dispensing with administrative boundaries and the established implementation and operation practices, but has also changed the social dynamics of villages,” says programme director Goutam Sadhu. The villages that have started receiving water have risen above caste and class considerations by ensuring that members of the water and health committees include the scheduled castes and women. Equal access to water at public taps has ensured equality in social relationships. Besides, active participation of people in the implementation, operation and maintenance of the scheme at the local level and payment for the service has created a sense of ownership, belonging and awareness.

The field coordinators working in the villages had a problem initially convincing the mostly illiterate users of the need to own and manage their local system. However, when the villagers observed the project’s benefits, they automatically developed skills in community self-management.

Thus the community now participates in the planning, construction, operation and maintenance of the whole scheme. And the villagers make a monetary contribution as well.

The technology used is not very costly or sophisticated. According to Sadhu, the water supply strategy involves classical engineering solutions. In the first phase two new major treatment plants have been set up with about 130-km-long trunk pipelines and seven pumping stations boosting the water onward and feeding it to the dozens of off-shooting village clusters.

Lines from the dedicated 33 KV power grid supply electricity to all units, while a number of elevated reservoirs have been installed for clusters of villages and urban networks. The laying of pipelines in the village networks is progressing at a speed of about 250 kilometres every year.

The outlets selected for drawing of water from the Indira Gandhi Canal are at Dhannasar, Gandheli and Karmasana in Hanumangarh district. The project management cell is located at Churu with a staff strength of about 150, and headed by a chief engineer. Technical components are drawn on depending on local conditions and a radio-communication system allows the whole scheme to be managed and supervised from the head office.

The water and health committee in each village, which is independent of the panchayat, is responsible for payment of metered consumption and reports any fault to the pumping station. Together with women’s representatives in the committee, the women field workers help form women’s self-help groups which try to enhance women’s role in community decision-making as well as health education messages.

Initially the CPU collects information in and around a given village, drawing up village profiles which would dictate the approach and plans for the scheme in that area. During the neighbourhood and household visits, the project is explained to men and women. Influential people and local groups are contacted and the village dynamics are analysed. The potential beneficiaries are reached through wall slogans, group discussions, games, rallies, exhibitions, puppet shows, songs, etc.

An agreement between the project management cell and village committee is signed stipulating the rights and duties of all the stakeholders. The committee then organises preparatory steps, such as map-making, site selection for standposts and cattle water troughs, selection of payment model for collection of water charges, labour contribution and collection of advance money indicating acceptance of the project.

The committee is responsible for payment of metered consumption and reporting of faults to the pumping station. The women’s self-help groups finance sanitation units through the saving-and-loans schemes and link up with the rural banks, creating access to credit facilities for women.

Safe water and basic sanitation allow boost health benefits, especially to the groups most vulnerable to health risks such as children and mothers. The project involves all potential agents of change, such as women’s groups, local schools, masons building latrines, midwives and anganwadi workers, and locally influential people, in spreading messages about the use and maintenance of sanitation facilities, hand-washing with soap or ash, etc.

Aapni Yojana’s focus on rural development by integrating water supply with sanitation and health education is an excellent model of community self-management.

(I M Shah is a Jaipur-based journalist.)

InfoChange News & Features, November 2003