In the Water and Sanitation Project implemented by the Tamil Nadu government with assistance from the Danish International Development Assistance, the institutional foundation for providing water supplies lies within the framework of the Panchayati Raj system
Managing water locally - a good model
The Swajaldhara and similar schemes focus on constructing water supply installations before ensuring that there is somebody to manage them and pay for their operation. The urgency to provide safe drinking water most often leads to bypassing existing local institutions of resource management. The result is well known: the expected level of service is not reached and the invested capital erodes as gradual deterioration of facilities takes place. It is high time to have a management structure that can achieve technically and financially sustainable water supplies, before investing in new facilities that will be poorly maintained. With proper management, the value of invested capital can be safeguarded and expenditure on new investments reduced.
It is generally accepted that domestic water supply in rural areas is managed most efficiently by the local community. Keeping this in mind, the role of all other stakeholders should be to support and facilitate them. India is fortunate to have a Panchayati Raj system, which provides a sound and democratic basis for development at the local level. But its potential to provide amenities in rural areas is largely untapped.
The Block Water and Sanitation Committee and the District Water and Sanitation Committee assist the vwsc through legal, technical and administrative support, training, auditing and monitoring. The private commercial sector and the civil society also pitch in whenever required. The Tamil Nadu Government Order (1998), regarding the connection of and payment for house service connection provides the necessary legal basis for revenue collection.
The project provides large inputs in building up expertise of villagers -- and also government officials -- in efficient water management. It also contributes towards repairing existing water supply installations as well as building new ones. The villagers are trained to erect and maintain hand pumps and other water supply installations. A total input of about 50 man-days is given in capacity building and training to every village panchayat. This represents approximately 10 per cent of the average cost of rejuvenating the existing water supply installations but only three per cent of the value of all water supply assets. The costs for capacity building are paid back within a very short period -- usually in less than a year. Obsolete government orders, regulations and procedures that hinder the vwsc from taking full responsibility are weeded out.
The Swajaldhara scheme can, after some modification, fit into the Tamil Nadu model. But detailed and slightly modified guidelines have to be developed for it to be adopted in an efficient and financially sound manner all over the country. Emphasis on building capacity for management first and investment in new installations as a second step is the recipe for sustainable water supply and sound use of financial resources.
Lennart Nilsson is the chief project adviser for the danida assisted water and sanitation project in Tamil Nadu
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