One hot and idle afternoon in late May, I received a forwarded message from our Mumbai Chapter’s Rural Initiative Group (RIG) WhatsApp group.
भुरिटेक गावात पाणी पोहोचवल्याबद्दल तुम्हा सर्वांचे शतशः आभार.
OK, what’s so great… you would think. But it is a great thing, and I must tell you the story.
This hamlet called Bhuritek is situated in Mokhada Taluka of Thane district in Maharashtra. It is situated on top of a mountain. All year round, water is a problem. The womenfolk of Bhuritek trek down the mountain for almost 2 kilometers to fetch water. You can very well call this hamlet Bhuri-trek, except that the menfolk never stoop down to the level of doing the trek and fetching water. During the summer months, the mercury touches 40 degrees, and you can imagine the hardship faced by these people.
The irony is that the river Pinjal flows not far away on the plateau and there is sufficient water in the river, with different kinds of schemes of stopping and storing water. There are a couple of wells in the village, but they do not provide drinking water and these wells any way turn dry in summer.
Knowing the RIG of IITB alumni association from their work in a nearby village Palsunda, the villagers approached RIG to “do something” to give relief to them by getting water to the village.
RIG has veterans working for welfare in rural areas with a multitude of problems including water issues. They have earned TRUST of the villagers by being with them for a number of years and the work they have done there. It takes years to build the trust and one instance to destroy it. I know it is a truism but in the rural areas, one has to be extremely careful and responsible for anything one says and does. One more cardinal rule we have learnt is, ‘Never impose ‘our’ solutions on the villagers. Work with them to help discover solutions to their problems’.
The womenfolk of Bhuritek trek down the mountain for almost 2 kilometers to fetch water. You can very well call this hamlet Bhuri-trek, except that the menfolk never stoop down to the level of doing the trek and fetching water.
We started by surveying the site. We found a Jack-well (a well constructed in the riverbed, so that it retains water even when the river dries up) about a kilometer away. We proposed to pump water from the jack-well to the village and store it in a well in the village. But there was no electricity near the river. How do we run the pump? There were two options. Use solar generated electricity or electricity from state electricity board. When we posed the problem to villagers, they deliberated and decided to go for electricity board.
The gram sabha (local governing body of the village) followed the necessary procedures (like passing a resolution for a proposal in a meeting, making an application etc) and applied for extending the electrical connection to the site of the jack-well. This involved raising extra electricity poles and wiring. Electrical meter was provided for by RIG and was installed on one of the poles. In the meanwhile RIG also procured the pump. The expense for the equipment and labor was generated through kind donations from well-wishers. The villagers contributed by doing ‘Shramadaan‘ for digging trenches and laying a pipeline from the pump to the village (approx. 1 Km). RIG provided all technical assistance and hand holding.
What about maintenance? The main recurring cost is that for operating the pump including the monthly electricity bill. Routine maintenance of the equipment will also need to be provided for. The villagers have agreed to levy a small sum of Rs. 50 per household per month to pay for the expense and gradually create a kitty for maintenance purpose. The idea is to make the scheme self-sustaining.
The expense for the equipment and labor was generated through kind donations from well-wishers. The villagers contributed by doing ‘Shramadaan‘ for digging trenches and laying a pipeline from the pump to the village (approx. 1 Km).
Of course, everything was not a smooth sailing. Once in a while, we had a taste of red-tapism of the “system” and attitudes of individuals in power. But it was ‘all in a day’s work’ for RIG.
So what next?
RIG expects the villagers to maintain self-discipline, make regular payments and maintain the good work. The water pump system belongs to them and they are responsible for it. That is why RIG insisted on their contribution; even if it is in the form of physical labor.
We are extremely happy about the success of the scheme. However, it also increases our responsibility. There will certainly be more such requests, and we have to find ways and means to fulfill them. We will need to find good Samaritans to donate, but also find engineers, technical experts and others to visit these places, interact and deliberate with villagers and devise solutions.
No small task, in fact, a herculean task, if I may say so.