75 years of people’s power: Jharkhand district modifies leach pits to tackle grey water

Pits in Sahibganj district raised to counteract frequent floods, shallow groundwater
A raised leach pit with a silt chamber in a flood zone, Srighar village, Udhwa block, Sahibganj district (Swati Bhatia, CSE)
A raised leach pit with a silt chamber in a flood zone, Srighar village, Udhwa block, Sahibganj district (Swati Bhatia, CSE)

India marks 75 years of her independence August 15, 2022. In these 75 years, it has become a fully-functional democracy.

A democracy is all about the power of the people. Down To Earth celebrates the power of the people of India by presenting a collection of 10 villages and districts across India where people have worked to radically improve their lot through better solutions for drinking water and sanitation.

Sahibganj district, in Jharkhand, has nine blocks. Borio, Mandro, Barhait, Pathna and Taljhari blocks in this district are hilly areas that reel under water stress.

Sahibganj, Rajmahal, Udhwa and Barharwa blocks, on the other hand, lie on the Ganga Plains, with shallow groundwater level and frequent flooding events. The villages in these blocks remain flooded at least four months in a year. So the district has to balance between water stress and flood.

With two contrasting scenarios, how does Sahibganj district manage grey water? The severity of the context is more as blocks lying on the Ganga Plains can add to pollution in the Ganga and in shallow groundwater. The villages in the district grappled with water stagnation, mosquitoes and foul smell.

The Change

The villages in the hilly areas manage their grey water through leach pits at the household and community levels. In the floodplain, however, it was difficult to convince people to make leach pits as the leach pits became submerged during floods, forcing villagers to migrate to higher land.

To understand local conditions and find a solution, district and state teams visited the villages. They conducted programmes and activities to spread awareness on grey-water management.

Based on discussions with locals and Swachh Bharat Mission district and state officials, the district decided to develop raised leach pits so that these structures can sustain during floods. Houses in the villages of Udhwa block were made on raised platforms so that they were at least six to eight feet above the ground level. This ensured that households are not uprooted during floods and can continue to have access to sanitation facilities.

The leach pits are also developed six to eight feet above the ground and given a soil envelope similar to those developed underground to allow percolation of water in the soil. This helps manage grey water even during the floods. The leach pits are preceded by a silt chamber which is cleaned and maintained by households and communities. The state has an active Village Water and Sanitation Committee (VWSC), an 11-member team headed by panchayati raj institutions (PRI) members.

The committee has a permanent post of jal sahiya. Every village has one women member — the jal sahiya — who is paid Rs 1,000 per month. Jal sahiyas act as treasurers of the committee and ensure that each household is aware about managing grey water and safe sanitation. They go from door to door to interact with the communities in every village. Jal sahiyas function in conjunction with district and gram panchayats.

So far the district has completed construction of 1,163 leach pits in nine blocks under the 15th Finance Commission, 1,619 leach pits under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and 2,708 leach pits under Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen). These numbers include both the household- and community-level leach pits. The district has estimated that the cost of the raised leach pits is approximately Rs 10,000.

Operation and maintenance

The community leach pits are maintained and cleaned by the community women. They clean the silt chamber by desilting it regularly. Individual households leach pits are cleaned by individual-household owners themselves.

This area used to be very dirty because of water from bathing and washing activities, resulting in water stagnation and mosquitoes. People used to throw leftover food and made it dirtier. The sarpanch coordinated with the Swachh Bharat Mission team to clean the area. The gram panchayat constructed leach pits. People have now stopped throwing leftover food. There is no smell or mosquitoes. Leach pits are made on a raised platform and so we do not face problems even during floods. I have been asked to clean the silt chamber regularly. I do it now along with many other women using a hand pump. We also have been helped with kitchen gardens at our homes, which ensures the area outside our homes is also clean.

—Nayantara Rai, 55, village Narainpur Diara, ward no. 1, Rajmahal block, Sahibganj district

This is a part of Water Compendium published by the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi

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