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Water Management in India: The Future We Want

Government of India is gearing up for Jal Jeevan Mission. Idea is to connect every household with a tap water facility by 2025. There is also plan to connect the rivers and build water grids to assure water supply. This would mean huge investment in energy and civil infrastructure. As part of Sustainable Development Goal 6 the nation is committed to supply a fixed quantity of ‘qualified’ water to each and every household through this exercise. Can we do it? It’s a big question. Can India bear it? Based on historical data, I am personally not confident. By the end of the exercise, we may well see:

  1. Utter wastage of public resources lacking operation & Management commitments. This is something that has plagued the sector since long.

  2. Heavy burden of External loans on the nation. We may not have enough money to bridge the gap at a time and likely to go to international bankers to Fund this.

  3. Negative consequence on ecology & environment appears to be much higher than the positive outcomes. No assurance if there is water by the end of pipes.

  4. Huge loss of livelihood due to R & R activities. It would take time, require complex distributed supervisory structure with lots of physical involvement.

  5. Local community losing resources & management Control over the systems. As a result, there would be reduced accountability and commitment.

Since long, I have been an advocate of ‘small is beautiful’ concept. This is what I propose as alternative. We come up with localized solar powered water Kiosks. The kiosks shall be equipped with IoT based sensors. As source we preferably use surface water over ground water. Even where we don’t have a perennial stream, we can have ponds or underground tanks to host rain water. We use sensors to get daily data of water withdrawal and recharge. Similarly, we install sensors to generate water quality data. Dispenser of the kiosks may be integrated with RFID tags. A smart card is provided to the user household with pre- payment facility. So, each user can fix his regular quota and also buy extra by paying extra amount. As far as treatment is concerned, we may start with Reverse Osmosis. But we need to work on all alternatives for sludge management. Now, every such kiosk can forecast three days requirement in advance. So, if there is any surplus or deficit, they can coordinate with nearby kiosks to balance it. Water may be transported through tankers from one kiosk to another. Every such Kiosks is also integrated with water recharge and waste water treatment facilities. Local Water and Sanitation Committees chaired by elected representatives shall own these facilities. Two dedicated human resource per One hundred household may be placed on commission basis to manage the affair. For those, who lives in distant place and want a tap at their home, they can do it at their cost (for APL) or with a Government Subsidy (for economically weaker section). With appropriate revenue model, this appears to be a more sustainable mode of assuring water supply as per SDG norms.

As per my understanding this model is well aligned with Mahatma’s idea of self-sufficiency and appears to be more progressive considering evolving technological breakthroughs. So, I strongly recommend this to start from Aspirational Districts of the country. I did experiment on some workable prototypes for ‘Swajal’ with Piramal Foundation and Niti Ayog. I would like to scale it up through a Public- Private- Panchayet partnership model for 17 Aspirational districts of Rural Jharkhand.

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