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Institutional Mechanisms for the Delivery of Rural Wash Services – Key Gaps/Challenges, Possible Solutions [Webinar], 19 January 2022

19th Jan 2022

Which professional approaches are required to provide rural WASH services in India? Which capacities are needed and how can a systems approach be implemented?

The SuSanA India Chapter along with IRC, ISC, WaterAid and Water for People held a panel discussion on 19th January, 2022, to elicit the views of bureaucrats, technocrats and civil society representatives on "Institutional Mechanisms for the Delivery of Rural Wash Services – Key Gaps/Challenges, Possible Solutions".

The main issues raised by speakers were ensuring community participation, providing guidance on technology and funds, administrative support, the role of community organisations in implementing and social mobilisation, and the role of NGOs in mobilisation, technical support and training. About 110 people attended the webinar.

Rural WASH services in districts are delivered by three 'verticals': the administration, the technical wing comprising the engineers, and the locally elected representatives of the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs). They are supported by Implementation Support Agencies (ISAs), usually NGOs, in capacity building and community mobilisation.

The panelists spoke about the role of the three verticals and ISAs in delivering Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) – Phase 2 and Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM). The webinar also explored additional roles of ISAs apart from capacity building and community mobilisation at village level. Earlier, in March 2021, IRC, Water for People and the India Chapter of SuSanA had organised a webinar and thematic discussion on the support that district water and sanitation missions require to implement the two programmes.

The panelists at the January 2022 webinar discussed the following: 

  1. Providing a vision of professional approaches to managing water supply as envisaged under JJM that could be specific to states
  2. Required capacities in Panchayati raj institutions at the village, blocks and district levels as well how do line departments support the PRIs
  3. The line departments moving to a systems approach instead of providing spot services and the change required  

The speakers suggested that all three verticals needed to take a systems approach rather than a project-based approach and focus on long-term outcomes. PRIs need extensive support to take over and sustainably maintain rural drinking water systems. Moreover, they also need continuous support on capacity building, technical and management aspects. Capacity building must be localised and outcome-based.

They identified three broad challenges for implementation of these two schemes:

Source sustainability of water schemes. Surface or groundwater sources needed to be protected and planning for their sustainability year-round. Water from the same source was used by agriculture, drinking and others. Communities needed to be educated about setting different priorities so they could give precedence to drinking water. This required a long-term approach to maintenance, rejuvenation and eventually, augmentation.

Access, maintenance and repairs of water supply schemes. External agencies such as the government could not be expected to maintain all rural water supply systems (RWSS). The solution, the speakers said, was to hand over this task to panchayats after setting up and testing them. PRIs should be able to manage RWSS for which training and support needs to be provided. For example, PRIs in Birbhum found they were unable to manage multi-village schemes but they could select which schemes they would manage, and which would be outsourced.

Clarifying the role of ISAs. The speakers said there were certain gaps in the understanding of the role ISAs played even though the guidelines recommended they could be involved in capacity building and community mobilisation. Their contribution to other aspects such as operation and management and capacity-building could be explored.

Speakers outlined the strategies that had been adopted to address these challenges.
1.     Community engagement. There were many community-based organizations to enhance community engagement.
a.     Village Water and Sanitation Committees (VWSCs): These had been mandated to manage infrastructure and behaviour change after the 90-day installation and testing period of a RWSS project. VWSCs were to collect user fees and engage local youth in the task. Local people such as electricians and plumbers were to be trained to provide services.
b.     SHGs: They were engaged to collect user fees, highlighting the importance of engaging with women. The speakers said this had improved fee collection and had those households which were reluctant to pay for tap water, to comply. In Bihar, SHGs were involved in collecting user fees.
c.      WIMCs: Rural wards were a cohesive unit and certain activities such as fee collection were relatively easy. In Bihar, speakers described a scheme at the ward level to foster local ownership and long-term maintenance. Finances came from the 15thFinance Commission.

2.  Identifying water sources. This considered local preferences and agro-climatic factors. For instance, in Madhya Pradesh, the Gonds preferred spring water to use as compared to bore-wells. In Ganjam district, Odisha, as groundwater was not suitable for drinking, surface water sources were used in pipe water systems. In the drought-prone area of Birbhum, as groundwater is not a suitable source, river water is preferred in a multi village scheme. To identify a suitable source, different groups such as PRIs and self-help groups worked together. Incertain blocks water was provided from reservoirs of irrigation dams. The Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) monitored water quality.
 
In Shajapur district of MP, as part of the Catch the Rain initiative, rainwater harvesting systems had been set up in government buildings and any new buildings. Agencies such as VIMAL used indigenous designs for rainwater harvesting. PRIs were involved in the revival and repair of existing structures such as ponds, check dams. Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) and the horticulture department were promoting water conservation through drip irrigation. 

3.  Guidance to PRIs. Speakers said that PRIs needed support in executing schemes even though they understood how to plan and finance them. The district administration had to provide this support that included identifying sources, planning, execution and monitoring, and revival of existing water sources

4. The Need for Collaboration. Different agencies had specific roles to play but needed to work together for sustainable RWS. The technical and social visions appeared to be disjointed. PHED provided the technical inputs, NGOs the social connect, administration the finance and managerial support, and PRIs, the long-term community support. Within this role matrix, there were many overlaps.

5. Capacity building. The speakers said PRIs, ISAs and community organizations required capacity building both in technical and management aspects. ISAs required capacity-building on technical aspects and PHED on community outreach. Three Ms were critical for implementation: manpower, machinery and money. The government provided machinery and money while ISAs provided manpower. ISAs were to provide technical support to VWSCs to develop village action plans, source mapping and sensitisation for equitable and sustainable delivery of services.

6. Metering water supply. For fixing accountability of the service providers and fee collection, speakers suggested that a household metering system was needed. On the one hand, this would make agencies such as PHED and the electricity department accountable for technical faults. On the other, it would help with fee collection and the intelligent use of piped water. In Shajapur, the government had implemented water budgeting that had educated communities on the judicious use of water.

7. Collection and dissemination of good practices. The panelists said a national platform was needed that would be a repository of good practices for planning, collaboration, implementing and monitoring from villages, districts and states. This information could be disseminated through multiple channels.

Speakers and Panelists

  • Mr. Arvind Kumar Chaudhary, Principal Secretary Panchayati Raj Department and Rural Development Department, Bihar
  • Ms. Misha Singh, CEO,Zila Parishad, Madhya Pradesh
  • Mr. Pratap Chandra Mohapatra, Executive Engineer, Ganjam, Odisha
  • Mr. Gopen Paul, Executive Engineer PHED, Birbhum, West Bengal
  • Mr. Bishwadeep Ghosh, Country Director, Water For People, India
  • Mr. Nitya Jacob, Coordinator, SuSanA India Chapter
  • Mr. V. Raman, Head of Policy, WaterAid IndiaThis 

Acknowledgements: this report was compiled by Shiny Saha, IRC and Aditya Bhuyan, SuSanA.

View below the webinar recordings .