New Reward Scheme for Rural Water Supply in India

An innovative approach to achieve sustainable rural water supply, based on a reward scheme for communities and local governments, is on the cards in India. The reward scheme is expected to address some of the most critical challenges facing rural water supply in India. A recent Planning Commission report showed that by the end of the 10th Plan, while high access to public infrastructure in rural water supply (95%) had been achieved, in reality some 280,000 out of 1,422,000 habitations provided for, soon "slipped back" due to poor operation, maintenance and failure of water sources, while a further 277,000 habitations face severe problems of water quality.  These observations are confirmed by the results of sector assessments studies led by WSP and UNICEF across 16 states in India during 2004-2007.

To address this situation, the Department of Drinking Water Supply (DDWS), Government of India (GoI), proposed the launch of the Sajal Gram Puraskar in July 2007, to reward communities and local governments that achieve "sustainable" rural water supply. In presenting the new scheme, Mr. A. Bhattacharyya, Joint Secretary and Mission Director, DDWS, emphasized that, "there is a need for action plans to ensure sustainability, as well as protection of drinking water sources and systems.” DDWS has sought inputs from state governments and various donors on the structure and modalities of the proposed awards scheme. Water and Sanitation Program - South Asia (WSP-SA) is providing inputs to the department on indicators of sustainability and the eligibility criteria for the awards.

Field work has been initiated in Karnataka to test three dimensions of sustainability: operation and maintenance, water quality risk management, and source sustainability. In addition to the traditional scheme-based perspective, e.g., for hand pumps or single village/multi-village piped schemes, the field work will also consider aquifer or water shed perspectives in order to address issues such as competition among different users, as well as pollution from municipal, industrial and agricultural activities. WSP-SA will work with the government of Karnataka as part of a larger vision, in locations selected to take into account different terrains, technologies and associated challenges and needs. The field studies will provide content for district level training of trainers' camps, help identify goals, financial and institutional reforms and an Agreed Action Framework (timeframe and milestones) at the state level, and feed into the design of the central government's Sajal Gram Puraskar.    

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Nick Pilgrim
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