Around a hundred kilometres away in Jhansi, a motley group of local singers and dancers brought together by a NGO stage a spirited performance in a temple, sending the message that tap water holds the promise of elevating quality of life and keeping diseases at bay. The central scheme heralds the promise of a fast-moving mission to end the water-related distress faced by generations in the region but comes with a challenge of convincing people to adapt to the change.
BUNDELKHAND ON PRIORITY
Uttar Pradesh has so far provided about 62% of its targeted 26 million households with tap water connections. The seven districts of drought-prone Bundelkhand region, which has battled water crisis for decades, along with two districts of Vindhyachal were prioritised by the state government and taken up for implementation in the first phase, with the result that the seven districts have achieved an average coverage of 91%, with Mahoba leading at 97.5% coverage, followed by Lalitpur at 96%. So far, 1.29 million households have been provided with tap water connections in the Bundelkhand region. To be sure, the statistics do not mean all the covered households are being provided regular water supply as that will start only by November-end, even if the JJM dashboard shows them as receiving water, officials said.
Water sourced from perennial sources like rivers Betwa, Yamuna and Som along with 35 dams passes through a multi-layered process of purification to get potable water which is then supplied to households via taps.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC AND HEALTH IMPACT
In Jhansi’s Purwa village, 27-year old Sushma says that with the time saved that was earlier spent fetching water from hand pumps and far-off wells, many times a day, she is able to engage in other activities such as stitching and embroidery and is also able to lend a hand in the field. To make rural women self-dependent, the government has also trained five women per village to test samples of water from taps, tube wells and handpumps to ascertain its quality. The women are paid an “encouragement fee” of ₹20 per sample. The samples are uploaded on a portal and if found unfit for drinking, the villagers are warned against using it until the problem is resolved. Nearly 88,000 women have been trained in sample testing.Further, 13 youth per village are being trained in services such as plumbing, electrician, motor mechanics, pump operators, etc to prepare them for maintenance of the waterworks in a bid to provide them employment in their native places. More than 750,000 youths have been trained across the state in these skills. Locals in Purwa also affirm that some health issues, especially stomach aches, have gone down in the past five-six months that the scheme has been operational for. The scheme is also expected to bring down caste-based discrimination rampant in rural areas as tap water will act as an equaliser and also save the lower castes from being exploited by upper castes for access to water from private sources.VILLAGERS CIRCUMSPECT
A significant section of the region is also circumspect about using the water for drinking and prefers to use it for bathing as well as washing clothes as they find it difficult to trust its purity knowing it is sourced from rivers and dams, officials say.
Issues like “over-chlorination” to kill germs which also discolours the water mildly in some cases gives the impression that it is unfit to drink. Another related issue is developing a taste for chlorinated water. “These are some major challenges. We have to properly train the beneficiaries in creating acceptance for the water and assure them that it is safe to drink.” Anurag Shrivastav, principal secretary of the Namami Gange and rural water supply department said. “We have deployed NGOs (non-governmental organisations) for this (to create awareness). Currently we are at a stage where some of the projects are either complete or are on the verge of being completed. Some have been commissioned while some are conducting trial runs. Once we are able to give regular water supply, the apprehensions of the people will reduce,” he said, adding that he aims at completion of all projects in the area by Diwali.
Zubair Beg, additional district magistrate, Namami Gange in Mahoba, told ET that the “behavioural aspect” is a big concern. “Often when we tour the villages, we ourselves drink the tap water to show them that it is safe to drink,” he said.
Other officials said village heads and children are also often brought to the treatment plants and shown the process so that they can then go back and educate the elders.
Storage of such large quantities of water (55 litres per capita per day) will also be central to efficient use of the scheme, officials said.