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Rural Water Supply: The Devil is in the Details

The National Rural Drinking Water Programme seems to be meeting its targets but the quality of service is questionable, putting rural households at high risk.

In the Lakh Rayaji village of  Yavatmal, Maharashtra, people, especially children, fall sick regularly. The reason behind the epidemic-like illness is that sewage water flows by the open well that is the only source of water for the majority of the population here.

“The drainage system is poor and the sewage seeps into the well. No handpumps have been installed (by the government) and we cannot afford to do so ourselves,” says Kalavati Rathod, a resident of the village.

78 million people in India do not have access to safe drinking water, and Lakh Rayaji, with a population of about a few thousand, is only the tip of the iceberg. India also has the dubious distinction of accounting for one in five child deaths in the world due to diarrhoea. Diseases like gastroenteritis and diarrhoea haunt almost every household in villages like Lakh Rayaji. Those who can afford it, buy bottled mineral water. However, for most daily wage labourers, 20 rupees for one litre of water is a luxury that few can afford.

Rathod also says that no water supply scheme like the Nal Jal Yojana has been implemented in the village. The Nal Jal Yojana is run by the states, sometimes outsourced to private entities, and is at different stages of implementation in different places. The National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP), however, is a national-level scheme that is supposed to cover the rural population across all states. But given the dirty wells, defunct tanks and broken pipes, the residents of Lakh Rayaji have not really benefited from the scheme.

But government records tell a different story. According to the NRDWP website, Lakh Rayaji receives 49.43 litres of water per person everyday, and has two shallow tubewells and one open well under the NRDWP. The open-well is tagged as “safe” on the website whereas the tubewells are “not tested”.

Community Correspondent Kalpana Jawade’s ground report, however, make the government’s figures difficult to believe. The wells are either dry or surrounded by garbage and sewage. The tank, as Shaikh Mustaq points out, is “just for show.” The problem has plagued the village for 15-20 years, says Pramod Yogane, another resident, adding that the government has provided no relief. Mustaq also adds that the panchayat (village council) has done nothing for three consecutive terms now.

The NRDWP has a budget of 23,050 crores for 2017-2020, and so far, it has covered 77 percent of all rural habitations in the country. For Yavatmal, this figure is an impressive 99.38 percent. But what the records don’t seem to account for is the maintenance and exact status of the water resources.

The water pipeline in Lakh Rayaji had developed leakages four months ago as well, forcing people to use contaminated water from the open well, which resulted in almost a hundred people falling ill. And once again, the village faces the same precarious situation with no help in sight.

Support the community’s demand for piped water supply by calling the Water Supply Department of Yavatmal at +91-7232247900 and informing them of the problems the water crisis is causing.

Video by Community Correspondent Kalpana Jawade

Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team


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