15 March, 2023

A ‘Smart’ step towards clean drinking water in rural India

An IoT based approach is enabling residents of a village in South India to access safe drinking water and take charge of their water needs

Pondugula’s community members were trained to handle the operations of this system
Pondugula’s community members were trained to handle the operations of this system
Pondugula’s community members were trained to handle the operations of this system
Pondugula’s community members were trained to handle the operations of this system

Accessing clean drinking water continues to be a challenge that people living in rural India face every day. Several shortcomings, such as pump failures, irregular and inadequate water supply, and drying up of groundwater have remained unresolved despite a host of interventions by the government and developmental organisations.

The demand for water for household and agricultural use has only been growing by the day, putting increasing pressure on existing resources and water conservation mechanisms, and leading to shortages in many places. To address this, India’s Ministry of Jal-Shakti, has set itself a goal to install a drinking water tap in every rural household, by 2024.

Mr Divyang Waghela, head – WaSH, Tata Trusts, shares, “Traditional and long-standing problems often need fresh thinking and ideas. This approach, combined with the power of modern digital technology tools, can deliver more effective and enduring solutions. For this, in partnership with the government, the Trusts piloted technologies that are based on the Internet of Things (IoT), to design solutions that helps improving efficiency to deliver a regular supply of clean drinking water to India’s rural households.”

For this, the Ministry rolled out pilot projects across several Indian states with wide-ranging climactic disparities, in partnership with the Trusts’ Tata Water Mission (TWM) programme and a team of water experts from Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). The idea was to apply IoT-based solutions to deliver real time information on rural water supply in a specific area or region with the help of digital sensors, which would eliminate the need for human intervention.

The chlorine sensor at the last mile household which measures the residual chlorine
The chlorine sensor at the last mile household which measures the residual chlorine

As part of its commitment towards enhancing Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) practices in India, TWM has brought together three focus areas – sanitation and hygiene, the quality of water and its scarcity – under one umbrella. Since inception, TWM has covered 16 states, and helped over two lakh beneficiaries across India.

Laying the foundations

For the pilot project for this new programme, the Trusts roped in its associate organisation in Andhra Pradesh – the Vijayavahini Charitable Foundation (VCF).

Mr Rajendra Babu Ravuri, regional manager – Andhra Pradesh, Tata Trusts, explains, “After a careful and detailed study, the team at VCF decided to focus on Pondugula, a village with a population of roughly 4,000 situated in Mylavaram block of NTR district in the southern state. Among 106 villages that were identified by VCF under the government’s ongoing Jal Jeevan Mission, Pondugula was reported to have a Functional Household Tap Connection (FHTC) coverage of 27.11 percent (as on 17 October, 2021).”

The key objectives for this pilot included automating the filling of the overhead tank from the water source, checking for last mile delivery, automating the process of chlorination, and monitoring the water quality.

At the time of the intervention, the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation (RWS&S) department and the government of Andhra Pradesh had provided the village with an overhead tank with a capacity of 90 kilo litres per day (KLD) with water being sourced from the ground and four other pumping sources. The IoT-based system would automate the filling of the water in the overhead tank, while monitoring its quality, quantity filled and delivered on a daily basis through an online dashboard.

JJM team lead, VCF, Mr Manoj Kumar Mavuduru, says “The IoT-based smart water supply and monitoring project in Pondugula would also need another feature – an auto chlorine dosing system that would add chlorine into the pipeline in appropriate amounts, based on the water output. Considering the above requirements, the hardware and software components of this system had to be robust and technically advanced.”

Once the sensors and other requirements were established and put in place, Pondugula’s community members were trained to handle the operations of this system, while following the safety rules of the flow meters and chlorine sensors. The project was now ready to be rolled out.

Easing everyday stressors

Through the past one year, the new IoT sensor-based water monitoring system has successfully brought down human intervention, and helped reduce the wastage of water in Pondugula.

Ms Modu Vasantha, a beneficiary, elated with the regular water supply at her doorstep, says, “Earlier, we weren’t sure what IoT was. But now we can see the difference it has brought.”

Now, the responsibility of managing water doesn’t fall on the household, thus reducing socio-economic disparities which arise from women travelling long distances to access water, water borne diseases, wage loss etc. The villagers can easily monitor the quantity and quality of the water being filled, thanks to the online dashboard.

Ms Gugulothu Kotamma, Chairperson, Village Water Supply Committee, Pondugula and Sarpanch says, “With the help of the auto chlorine dosing system, they can track the chlorine dosage and ensure that it is an appropriate level. What’s more, the water consumption by the village residents can be measured on a regular basis. Earlier the motor would keep running even after the water was filled in the overhead tanker, leading to overflow. However now, once the tank is filled the motor stops on its own, thus saving electricity.”

Pondugula’s community members are happy for this intervention, which has significantly transformed their daily lives and ensured that they have a steady supply of clean drinking water in their households.