“I have been a teacher for the past 7 years and have been staying in this village for 4 years. We are grateful to CGPL for helping us with RO plants in our school. Now instances of water borne diseases caused by salinity have reduced. There were 6-7 kidney stone cases among children in the school. The RO water plant supplies safe water during school hours which has translated into many health benefits and fewer illnesses among the children.”
– Jayanti Bhai, School Principal, Mota Kandagara Village, RO Drinking Water Facility
“The saline water in the village has caused many health issues. We have direct water supply in our homes but it is not good for drinking. The issues of drinking water were identified by the CGPL team and were discussed during our Self Help Group (SHG) meetings. The Company conducted the feasibility study for alternate solutions and water testing in our village. The results were then shared with us. This harsh reality educated us and changed our mindset. The RO plant set up by CGPL has benefited us as illnesses like stomach aches and joint pains have drastically reduced. The approach of CGPL for developmental work is unique and under this programme employment to the local people has been assured. The mineral water which we used to purchase from outside at Rs. 20 is now available in our village at a much lower cost.”
– 40-year old housewife, Tunda Village, RO Drinking Water Facility
These are voices from Ground Zero, a cluster of villages in Coastal Kutch, perennially threatened by acute water crisis. Yet, their tone is stridently positive and their messages ring with confidence. They reflect the extraordinary work that is in progress there to keep the people water-sufficient and healthy. The partners in this mission are Coastal Gujarat Private Limited (CGPL), a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Power Company and the local communities.
The region forms the backdrop of the Ultra Mega Power Project, CGPL’s flagship scheme. People living in the catchment villages that lay at the site–Tunda-Vandh, Mota Kandagra of Mundra; Nanabhadia, Tragadi and Modva 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 don’t 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.
Water literate, by tradition
The scenario is particularly disturbing because the local communities in Kutch were once known for their highly skilled water management systems. Water has always been a precious commodity in the arid terrains of the district that receives a meagre 200mm of rainfall on an average in a year. But the local people managed the tanks, wells and canals. Every village functioned like a little republic. The village assembly set down rules for sharing and distributing water, and also had the authority to punish anyone who dared to defy. History proves that very efficient local water management systems were set up in this region as early as the 4th century BC.
Then came the colonisers. They stripped the village institutions off their authority to manage local resources. They imposed huge land taxes, even during droughts. And the villagers struggling to pay off could no longer raise funds to maintain the water structures. In Independent India, too, water remained under the control of the government authorities. Villagers began to depend on the government for the supply of drinking water. And slowly but steadily the traditional system of management collapsed. And the people, again, paid a crippling price for it.
CGPL’s water wisdom
CGPL has made ensuring supply of safe drinking water to the community 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 Organisation (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, Mtotabhadiya, Tragadi, Gundiyali, Bag, Pipri, Bidada, Bhujpur, Nanikahakar, Motikhakar, 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. 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.
“Our aim is to re-forge the bond that the people here once shared with their water. We want them to be collectively responsible for managing this resource with foresight and resolve,” declares a senior member of the CGPL family.