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Water in India – Situation and Prospects: Positive changes brought about by small communities in terms of water conservation and management.

The concerted efforts of government, civil society and external support agencies in the water sector have manifested themselves in the form of various  positive cases and examples from across the country. These endeavours, whether on a small or large scale, are steps towards achieving the MDGs or the overarching goal of water for all.

The positive changes brought about by small communities in terms of water conservation and management are highlighted in the report. These changes were brought about by the active participation and involvement of communities in finding solutions along with strong political will for change and focus on positive impact.

Drinking Water and Sanitation Issues in Bawana Resettlement Colony

Water and sanitation is a pressing issue in India's slums. Achieving the targets of the MDGs will be elusive until close to 93 million slum dwellers61 are integrated in the country's drinking water and sanitation programmes. The case of the Bawana resettlement colony in New Delhi reflects the concerns of the people who have been forcefully evicted on grounds of development.

When people of Yamunapushta in New Delhi were evicted from their homes and resettled some 35 km away from the main city, it was done without basic amenities like drinking water or toilets. The women and young girls face harassment by attendants in community public toilets and by the landlords of the nearby fields who viewed the resettled families as encroachers and outsiders.

It came to the fore that water and sanitation (WATSAN) is only one of the issues faced by the resettled population. For people without secured land rights and medical facilities, water scarcity and inadequate sanitation is just another issue. The NGO Jagori intervened by working with the women groups in Bawana about various issues like inadequacies in the public distribution system, domestic violence, WATSAN,involving the youth and conducted what are known as safety audits.

The aim was to bring forth the inadequacies in the infrastructure of the resettled colonies and the existing gender gap while planning for basic services. They conducted a Rapid Situation Analysis (RSA) with youth in five blocks. This was done to analyse the status of the pipes, drains, toilets, garbage bins, people's perceptions about these, and how/why women are affected.

Focus group discussions (FGDs) were also organised with women to develop a deeper understanding on the issue and complement the RSA. Mobilised and empowered by Jagori's intervention the children of Bawana air a community radio show on the issues of health and sanitation which is broadcast on All India Radio.

The entire show is conceptualised by the children who go door to door in the colony asking people about the issues that are of concern to them and then prepare the script.

7.1.2 The Dong System: Traditional Water Management System of the Bodo Community in Assam 

The Indian subcontinent is rife with examples of community managed traditional water conservation and harvesting systems. In an effort to bring forth one such water management system from the north-east, the case of the dong system was documented from Baska district, Assam.

It demonstrates how a community organises itself to manage a crucial resource such as water by building on social capital. Applying the logic of the subsidiary principle of governance, this case brings to light an intuitive solution for water resource  planning and management by reducing service delivery intermediaries and improving community welfare. Community participation being the essence of its existence, the dong system has also  cemented kinship ties for generations.

Various dong committees, spread across a river, work with mutual understanding and co-operation to minimise the conflicts associated with a scarce resource in a precarious terrain. The system illustrates how communities, through an acquired understanding of their environment, devise methods most suitable for indigenous terrain.

The dong system has been evolving around a changing socio-economic environment. With the people demanding concretization of bunds and channels (hitherto done by the communities themselves using natural material) to reduce the drudgery of work, there is a scope for more state intervention. While strengthening the physical components that make up a dong, it is imperative to conserve the ethos of this system which binds the community together though a social fabric of co-operation and participation.

Community Managed Drinking Waterand Sanitation Programme: Case Studies from Odisha

Gram Vikas is a rural development organisation working with the poor and marginalised communities in Orissa since 1979. Through its help, the communities have not only been able to construct their own toilet and bathroom complexes but also ensure 24x7 water supply. The experience illustrates the willingness of communities to bring fundamental changes for rural welfare as well as act as agents of change.

A major achievement of this intervention has been the paradigm shift in theattitude of the rural people towards health and sanitation. In both the study villages–Bahalpur and Kanamana in Ganjam district–the people noted that the children are now at the forefront of creating awareness about environment and health.
Integrating the WATSAN scheme with livelihood generation activities has furthered the cause of rural development. The intervention includes many innovative threads which contribute to its success.

Constructing toilets without a water supply in the Indian scenario severely compromises the functionality of the system and leads to enhanced  burden of water collection on women. Gram Vikas was able to address many problems simultaneously by providing three taps for different water uses. The organisation maintains 100 per cent community participation as a pre-requisite for initiation of the WATSAN scheme. The 'all or none' principle of community participation may make the
task difficult but it is by setting such standards that  true empowerment is achieved. Gram Vikas has been instrumental in mobilising the people, but it
also ensures the sustainability of the system after it moves out.

Tank restoration and management issues in Andhra Pradesh gained attention with the introduction of the Andhra Pradesh Farmers Management of Irrigations Systems Act (APFMIS),  1997, under which Water User Associations (WUAs) were formed for surface irrigation systems with command area of over 100 acres. Desiltation of the tanks has been taken up as a major activity  under the programme. Even before government intervention some local NGOs had mobilised villagers and initiated tank restoration activities.

Community-based Tank Management Programme in Andhra Pradesh

Modern Architects of Rural India (MARI), an NGO operational in Warangal district in Andhra Pradesh, has been part of these initiatives, which the authors have visited. Ramachadrapuram, a village in  Warangal district, was studied to observe theimpact of restoring traditional water harvesting /conservation/ management in the present situation.

Prior to this work, water did not stay in the tank thus making it difficult for farmers to cultivate crops like paddy. The construction of weirs,cemented canals and distribution channels undertaken in this project has resulted in a number of changes: 

- More than 20 washermen families have benefitted due to better availability of water throughout the year.
-   Due to the repair of the tanks and improved roads (improving access to tanks) the condition has improved. As against the Rs 1,500-2,000 per person benefit earlier, per head income in the first year of tank rehabilitation has been about Rs 4,500 per person.
-  The groundwater table has gone up, and livestock raising has improved.
-  In 2011, 30 tanks from various project sites were selected and farmers trained on various aspects of agri-business.
- The government aims to train the farmers on organic farming selecting five farmers from each tank. So far, about 150 vermicomposting beds have been constructed covering about 25- 30 villages. Kisan melas are organised under each tank to provide a platform for government officials and farmers to interact on issues of
- The tank rehabilitation projecti Ramachadrapuram has selectively excluded women despite their demonstrated ability to take up management initiatives.

Read more case studies - Chapter 7 from Water in India: Situation and Prospects 



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