How much is too much?

Water Woes

How much is too much?

Jenapura Sangapura is a sleepy village in Bijapur taluk. It is part of the multi-village water supply scheme, which was commissioned under Jal Nirmal project by Karnataka Rural Water Supply and Sanitation (KRWSS) agency. Water from the nearby Krishna river would be used to fill up the overhead tank built on the outskirts of the village. This did not necessarily mean that villagers here had access to drinking water. But, there was no stopping the electricity meter that quietly ticked away.

The village water supply and sanitation committee unearthed to their horror, an illegal connection by a plantation owner. He had diverted all the drinking water to his field. All efforts to persuade him to disconnect the connection and allow villagers to access water for drinking proved futile. Soon, a police complaint was lodged following which the plantation owner surrendered the connection.

This was one of the many challenges that Mamadapur multi-village drinking water scheme faced in its early days. Although Bijapur witnessed heavy floods this year, the region reeled under drought before. Even though five rivers flow through the district, which is also home to the Alamatti dam that irrigates lakhs of hectares of land, water is still a distant dream for people here.

The state of drinking water in many villages of the district is pathetic. Earlier open wells were the only source. Later, panchayats drilled tube wells everywhere and hand pumps led to various fights over water among villagers.

It was at that point in time that Jal Nirmal officials visited selected villages while a few approached the district Jal Nirmal project office. It was through these meetings that the multi-village scheme was proposed instead of groundwater based village specific projects.

How it all started

The Jal Nirmal project, started by the state government with World Bank aid in order to provide clean drinking water and sanitation to 11 districts of northern Karnataka. Mamadapur and 30 villages found their place among the list of villages to be considered as pilot projects. The project was kickstarted in 2002 and aimed to meet the demand of water for more than one lakh people across 31 villages. The scheme intended to bring water from the Krishna through a jack well and filter station and supply it to the villages via four zonal balance reservoirs. Separate motors and pipelines were laid and a filter station was constructed at Kambagi village, which is about five kms from the jack well.

Sharing costs

All villages were contacted and an NGO was entrusted with preparing the technical plan and creating awareness among the villagers about the project. World Bank guidelines specify that the community has to pitch in 10 per cent of the project cost. Beneficiary villages were asked to contribute. This was the first time that people too were asked to pay for a government project. “It is purely meant to develop a sense of ownership among the beneficiaries,” says deputy project manager Kenchannavar.

People from these hamlets were asked to collect their share of the contribution based on the population. Collecting money from villagers was not easy, though. “There were instances where middlemen asked villagers to pay up for work that never materialised. This made people think twice,” says Bhimachar Gogate from Halagani village. Though this took a year, 30 villages paid their share, which amounted to Rs 64 lakh.

The project was finally completed in January 2009. After initial hiccups, it was handed over to the joint committee of the project formed out of 12 gram panchayats. A tri-partite agreement was made in May between the joint committee, district Panchayat Raj engineering department and a private company which executed the project.

Accordingly, it is the responsibility of the joint committee to ensure it is implemented till 2021. Also, the committee shall bear all operational and maintenance costs. To meet this, Rs 72 per month was fixed as water utilisation charges for household connections and Rs 35 for those who use public connections.

As per estimates, the project needs Rs 89 lakh as operational costs, which the joint committee now terms ‘exorbitant’. “We agreed because we were desperate for water. However, now we find it difficult to carry on as people are not in a position to pay water charges. They find Rs 72 too expensive,” says Sharanappa Sonnad, President of the joint committee. The rural water supply and sanitation agency had a stop-gap arrangement from June and asked a private company to take care of the project till December 31, 2009.  

Chalking out options

As the contract has expired, the joint committee has appointed some employees who are being trained by the company. Meanwhile, KRWSS has decided to appoint an agency to look after operations of the project. But it is not talking about costs. “The government cannot bear maintenance costs as it is against the rules. However, we have asked the government to look at the possibility of adjusting these costs with the Panchayat Development Fund,” says Krishnappa. The joint committee also incurs on an average of Rs eight to nine lakh each month as operational costs. Out of this, Rs six lakh has been earmarked as electricity charges.

Way ahead

A proposal says that the committee will hand over the money it collects from users to the zilla panchayat. The zilla panchayat in turn will adjust the cost in accordance with its funds.

The new ‘arrangement’ may prove to be a costly one for villagers. They may have to give up on the developmental fund because of this. The collection of tariffs too is becoming difficult as people pay only during peak season.

“We definitely welcome the project, but the connection cost is on the higher side. The government has to lower this,” says Satyavva Roogi of Babaleshwara village.  While the project has definitely brought changes in Mamadapur and 30 villages, the question of operations and maintenance costs are yet to be answered.

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