Uttarakhand: Reaching the unreached

Women trudged long distances daily to fetch water for their basic household needs in Rupail (Image: People's Science Institute)
Women trudged long distances daily to fetch water for their basic household needs in Rupail (Image: People's Science Institute)

People in remote hamlets left out by previous schemes like Swajal and Sector Wide Approach Program of the Uttarakhand Jal Nigam and Uttarakhand Jal Sansthan longed for household-level piped water supply for drinking and domestic purposes. People’s Science Institute (PSI), a not for profit organisation based in Dehradun took up a drinking water and sanitation program with the active participation of local User Water and Sanitation Sub Committees (UWSSCs) through the support of The Hans Foundation in 2016.

Ten hamlets in the remote Bageshwar district now have access to adequate quantities of safe drinking water through the household water connections. Rupail hamlet of Joshipalri and Dubagarh hamlet of Matela are two of these hamlets where the PSI program managed to provide safe drinking facilities for the residents.

Women and girls from the hamlets had to trudge a distance of 200–500m down the hill to the nearby springs to collect water. “Trailing up and down the hill with a drum of 20-litre water was strenuous work. During the rainy season, the path became slippery and the risk increased,” says Mohini Januti (70) retired teacher and treasurer of UWSSC.

“We had to travel 6-7 rounds daily to collect water for drinking as well as other domestic purposes,” says Meena Bisht (30), who works as a village facilitator.

The credit of organising the women’s group goes to Bhagwati Pandey, community organiser, PSI. “Collecting water was a waste of time and energy. Due to the shortage of water, the locals faced a serious problem of health and sanitation. School going girls had the responsibility of collection of water before going to school and on return,” says Pandey.

Village Joshipalri is located about 20 km away from district headquarters at Bageshwar. There are 24 households including five scheduled caste families in Rupail. The hamlet with a population of 162 is located at 1,630 meters above the mean sea-level. Scarcity of water, especially in summers, is very common, which is also one of the causes of migration of people from the hamlet.

Rupail is linked with an old multi-village pipeline, but due to irregular supply, there is a serious problem of drinking water in the village. The quality of the water was also poor. As a result, for drinking purposes, the people are completely dependent on two natural springs available in the village. The problem of drinking water in Rupail gets aggravated during summer when the water from the two springs dries up.

Centre: Wall writing with the names of all women UWSSC members in Rupail; Top left: Old (defunct) tank at Rupail; Top right: New storage tank at Rupail; Bottom left: Training of village facilitators on water testing; Bottom right: Spring recharge work in Rupail (Images: People’s Science Institute)


Increased discharge of the springs encouraged villagers

Considering the dependence of the people on the two perennial springs, recharge work such as the construction of trenches, plantation etc., was done in June to September 2017 and again during June to September 2018 in 0.5 ha area. After the demarcation of the recharge zone by geo-hydrologists, about 120 trenches were constructed and the vegetative cover was strengthened through the plantation of fruit trees and roots of Napier grass.

The winter discharge data in Rupail source-1 (upper source) shows 25 per cent increased discharge in one year and 50 per cent increased discharge as compared to pre-project (before treatment). Similarly, source-2 (lower source) shows 25 per cent increased discharge in one year (Feb 2019) and 37 per cent increased discharge as compared to pre-project (before treatment).

Electric lift scheme provided safe drinking water at the doorstep

When a team of PSI, Dehradun reached the village, Mohini Januti and her husband requested them to develop a scheme for 24 families who were facing a serious problem. Gita Devi Das, the village pradhan too extended full cooperation in the planning and execution.

Following the PRA exercises and household surveys, a hamlet level microplan was developed by the PSI team. A spring recharge plan was prepared by engineers and geo-hydrologists following the technical feasibility and geohydrological studies.

It was observed that an increase in spring discharge after recharge and catchment treatment work, would not necessarily reduce women’s water collection drudgery if the water continues to be stored near the spring, albeit in a bigger tank. Hence, a plan for an electric lift scheme was developed and submitted to The Hans Foundation for financial support.

After approval of the plan, an all-women UWSSC was formed in the hamlet. The UWSSC collected 2 per cent community contribution in cash. Two storage tanks of 7,500 and 6,000 KL capacity were constructed by May 2018.

Electricity department was contacted for the installation of a power line with poles and connections and at the same time, a pump was ordered. Both the tasks took a long time. Finally, the pump was successfully installed and the power line installed.

“The scheme has saved time and reduced the workload of women. Now our biggest problem has been solved, we can take care of our health and sanitation,” said Gita Devi, panchayat pradhan and Mohini Januti, treasurer, UWSSC.

Training on water quality testing was provided to village facilitators and members of UWSSC. The results show all the parameters are under permissible limits. Post-implementation surveys indicate 20 to 50 per cent increase in spring discharge during the lean season, where spring treatment measures were undertaken.

Sample household surveys of targeted beneficiaries conducted during the winter of 2018, showed a 15 per cent increase in water consumption. Some of the farm families use water for growing vegetables, which provides good nutrition to the families.

UWSSCs collect Rs. 100 from the 15 user families while 9 very poor families have been exempted from the monthly charges. They have appointed one youth of the village as waterman (caretaker), sowing the seeds of sustainability of the scheme.

Development is best done when it is undertaken by the locals. The initiative undertaken by PSI in these unreached hamlets of Bageshwar in the hill state of Uttarakhand is a testimony to the fact that inaccessible communities can also be accessed by perseverance and commitment.

Conclusion and the way forward

Right to water includes the right to safe drinking water as well. Lives and livelihoods of the rural people in Uttarakhand are more dependent on springs and streams rather than big rivers. Uttarakhand is most vulnerable to climatic risks. Despite, abundant rainfall in this region, the springs are drying up. At present, eleven of the thirteen districts in Uttarakhand face regular water shortages, particularly of drinking water.

The government has promised that every home of India will get water by 2024. The successful case study of the remotely located hamlets at Bageshwar demonstrates how the water can be provided to all based on the principles of social equity, economic efficiency and environmental sustainability.

Post By: Amita Bhaduri