|Bilar water tank constructed with panchayat funds|
In an arid part of India where the summer temperatures soar to 47 degrees Celsius and even access to a hand pump is a luxury, villagers from a remote settlement in Rajasthan’s Sirohi district have come together to get their own source of water.
Water is a scarce resource in Rajasthan. The state’s annual rainfall is just half of the national average and it has limited groundwater reserves. Piped water supply is a privilege many of the state’s villages do not enjoy; they have to depend on the local hand pump for water. However, a study conducted in May 2016 by the Centre for microFinance (CmF), a nodal agency of the Sakh Se Vikas initiative of the Tata Trusts, was a revelation. Of the 642 hand pumps in 34 villages from the Pindwara block of Sirohi district in south Rajasthan, only 47% were functional.
Life was even tougher for the 44 households with 244 inhabitants in the remote tribal village of Bilar, who have access to only one hand pump that provides potable water. This sole source of water is located nearly 400 metres from the village and the women, who have to make 3-4 trips every day to fetch water for the family. They end up walking up to 3km and spending two to three hours daily in just this task. Be it the harsh winters, the scorching summers or negotiating the natural streams in the monsoon, getting water from the hand pump is a round-the-year challenge for the women of Bilar.
Finding a solution to this perennial problem was not easy. The village was too small for the state government’s Public Health & Engineering Department to allocate any resources for augmenting the water supply, and the miniscule tribal population of Meenas and Grasiyas too insignificant for the local polity to take cognizance of their difficulties. It was left to the villagers themselves to unite for their own cause, and it took the involvement of CmF to educate the villagers about the dividends of working in unison.
CmF initiated a discussion on this subject with the villagers in November 2016, and gradually, rallied them to take matters in their own hands without waiting for external help to end their woes. Once this concept of self-help was accepted, the villagers drew up a plan for digging a borewell and setting up a regular supply of drinking water.
The first key decision in the execution of this project was to take the villagers’ contribution in the form of cash and not just labour. CmF’s experience had shown that when the villagers’ contribution was in the form of labour alone, they did not develop a sense of ownership for the project and their enthusiasm for the initiative was short-lived. On the other hand, a cash contribution ensured greater involvement in the implementation and in the future maintenance of the project.
The total budget for the borewell project was Rs 8.33 lakh and the villagers had to contribute 10% of the funds, with the rest coming from government bodies and micro-finance schemes. Warming up to the prospect of having their own water supply scheme, each household in the village contributed wholeheartedly, with some of the households even pitching in for their less affluent community members. The task of canvassing for the funds and managing the money was handed to women members of the village, which enhanced the confidence of all villagers and ensured transparency.
They did it
As work progresses and word of Bilar’s self-driven initiative gets around in the neighbouring villages, support has started coming in from many sources. The panchayat has enthusiastically agreed to contribute its share of the budget for the borewell and the district collector has facilitated funding for the ground-up initiative. In a matter of months, Bilar has gone from being a remote tribal village to becoming a role model for other villages in Rajasthan.
At the time of writing, the funds are ready, the technical studies are done and the project is all set for implementation. For Bilar’s women, this is going to be the last summer of walking great distances to get water for the family.