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When pipe dreams became a watershed reality

Even until two years ago, in the village of North Chandrapura, Tripura, clean water was a luxury and water-borne diseases a way of life. This was, of course, until a group of women in this village – which lies about 75km from Agartala, the state capital – got together and launched the ‘Jal Ano’ (Bring Water) movement a few years ago.

Milan Das Sarkar, 47, mother of two, who took active part in the Bring Water movement, recalls the severe water problems and the ill-health they had to battle. “It was a nightmare. Our children suffered from all possible water borne diseases like diarrhoea and cholera. Though we were promised drinking water, nothing happened. But we continued to fight.”

The seeds of the water movement, which changed the lives of the villagers forever, were sown by a motivated group 10 to 15 women, who decided to take matters into their own hands instead of waiting for the administration to do what it was supposed to do.

Milan, who was with the movement from the day it began in 2002, takes a trip down memory lane. “It was a scorching summer day and we had the first meeting in my courtyard. Even before we chalked out a plan of action to tackle the problems, we resolved that we would not give up on our dream under any circumstance. As long as there was no water in our taps we were going to fight. In the first meeting itself we decided that we would go from door to door and campaign for our cause to garner support and motivate like-minded people to join in.” Astonishingly, even though most of the initial members of the movement were school dropouts, they started their work with an agenda and sense of purpose.

In North Chandrapura it is difficult to find even a single woman who has not been associated with the movement in some way or another – from the initial 15 members, today the number has grown to 500. Before approaching the State Government for help, the women did a survey of the village asking people what they felt about the water problem and how it could be tackled. They also organised group meetings at different places in the village so that everyone got the opportunity to learn about the initiative. Interestingly, the movement was peaceful at all levels and never created any law and order problems. After the first phase of advocacy, they worked on a charter of demands and then submitted it to all the government bodies – starting from local panchayat (village council) to the District Magistrate.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of the women, the first water tank in the village was installed in 2006. Now every house receives clean drinking water through pipelines that have been laid down by the government. This has come as a big relief for everybody, especially for the women. Earlier life had revolved around collecting water. During the dry season, the situation would become worse, since most of the nearby wells would dry up. The villagers had no option but to drink the little water left in the deep mud-wells and ponds, which led in turn to the spread of water borne diseases.

The supply of clean drinking water through pipelines has totally changed the lifestyle of the women in North Chandrapura. Of course, it is under the government’s Swajal Dhara programme that the village got its overhead water tank and pipeline network. The programme supports community-managed schemes in villages for drinking water supply. Local communities provide 10% of the funds while the rest comes from Government of India. In some places, NGOs help communities to plan the schemes which are technically controlled by the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED).

The total cost of the RCC (Reinforced Cement Concrete) overhead water tank was 125,898, with the expenditure to lay the pipeline being extra. “Today, there are arrangements for door-to-door water supply through pipes for which each consumer pays 30 every month. Moreover, there is one pump operator who has to fill up the tank twice daily. A monthly salary of Rs.300 is paid to the operator,” informs Anil Chakraborty, the village head.

Other than ensuring water supply to every home, the panchayat has also set up 13 hydrants, 14 tube wells and four sanitary wells, among others in the village. All this has helped a population of 2025 people in North Chandrapura immeasurably. There is 100% success in manufacturing health supportive lavatories and there are better literary levels.”

Incidentally, the Bring Water movement has also ensured that there is a minimal wastage of water. The villagers know that they have to pay for every drop used, so they are careful. In fact, they are even recycling the water utilised for washing and bathing to irrigate their kitchen gardens.

Soma Mitra

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