When should a region be declared as ‘water stressed’? According to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, there are three key indicators: where do the residents source their water from, and is the supply sufficient; how far is it from the area they live in?; and most importantly, is the water clean enough to consume?
The bad news is: Coastal Kutch in Gujarat, the backdrop of the Ultra Mega Power Project, flagship scheme of Coastal Gujarat Private Limited (CGPL), a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Power Company, qualifies on all counts. People living in the catchment villages that lay at the site–Tunda-Vandh, Mota Kandagra of Mundra; Nanabhadia, Tragadi and Modhva of Mandvi Taluka of Kutch—use ground water wells as the main source of drinking water. Most of these wells are shallow and are turning saline due to their proximity to sea water. As if this was not enough, an abundance of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) has been identified in the water here. Little surprise, therefore, that there is a high incidence of water borne diseases in the region. The water woes do not end here. In some of the villages, the wells or the pipelines that bring in government-supplied water to these households, are located miles away. And the women spend many hours walking to and fro just to fetch their family’s daily quota.
The scenario is grim. Add to this poor hygiene practices, an inevitable fallout in water-stressed households, and you have a deadly mix. In addition to the Government’s efforts, CGPL has already found ways to set things right.
So finally, some good news. CGPL had pledged to take up the task of ensuring a regular supply of safe drinking water to the community as its key initiative. Work has, in fact, already begun in earnest, spawning two ambitious projects, Jalmani and Swachh Jal. Jalmani, launched in 2010, focuses on schools. The strategy adopted was setting up RO plants in each compound, so that school communities could avail of uninterrupted supply of clean treated water. CGPL has tied up with the Water and Sanitation Management Organization (WASMO) for technical knowhow and maintenance services.
Till date RO plants have been installed in 12 schools and the impact is quite startling. “We have actually recorded a drop in sick leaves taken not only by the students but by teachers as well,” says a visibly excited Dasarath Rambia, a 28 year old teacher in Modhva.
Then in a bid to broaden its beneficiaries’ base, CGPL launched the Swachh Jal project in 2012. The objective was to provide safe drinking water to households in villages. The strategy here too, was to set up Community RO to secure the future of the water-distressed people living here. Today 16 villages ((Tunda, Vandh, Motakandagara, Nanabhadiya, Mota bhadiya, Tragadi, Gundiyali, Bag, Pipri, Bidada, Bhujpur, Nanikhakar, Moti Khakar, Modhva, Bhadreshwar, Shekhai Bag) are a part of this drive that supplies safe drinking water to 6771 households .
“Of course a steady supply of clean drinking water made available at home, as well as in the schools our kids go to, is like a dream come true. But the real USP of the two CGPL projects is the way these have turned all of us into full-fledged water managers!” declares Nurul Islam, a fisherman in Tragadi village.
CGPL believes in creating partners out of the local communities, who develop the capacity to sustain projects on their own strength, and not remain helplessly dependent on the company, and the benefits to the communities can go on forever.
So from choosing the site for setting up the RO plants, to testing the quality of water, to keeping a vigil on maintenance services, the local people along with their representative bodies such as the panchayats and village development committees, have been involved at every step.
“We knew very little when the project began, “confesses Islam, “Now we run the RO plant, monitor the use and measure impact. It’s like we have attained water literacy.”
Yes indeed they have, and may Nurul’s tribe increase…