” Two companies, the government and an NGO team up to build user-friendly reverse osmosis plants in this district in India’s Rajasthan state
It is scorching hot in the town of Kawas, in India’s Rajasthan state, but Kamla Devi, 35, is not deterred. She has walked to the RO (reverse osmosis) plant to fetch drinking water. “It’s an addiction now,” she says, “to drink this pure water.” Kamla says she doesn’t want to even think that only a few months ago, she used to drink brackish water, which, people from an NGO later told her, was contaminated with fluoride, nitrate and potassium. No wonder, she adds, people in the family had joint pain and gastric trouble.
Standing behind her in the queue, Sua, wife of Bhawra Ram, a tailor, says she feels the difference the RO water has made. “Earlier I had a hard time getting out of bed at 5am due to joint pain, and felt weak in the daytime and often had to rest. But now all that has changed,” she says while swiping her card before the tap begins to fill her can. Every day, she takes two cans of 20 litres each to meet her family’s drinking water needs.
At a similar plant in Bhimda village, Kalpana Kumari, 16, can’t hide her excitement about her father giving up opium. “He consumed it to get relief from joint pains, and then it became an addiction, but last month, there was a de-addiction camp in the village and he vowed to kick it. But I would like to believe that it has also got to do with this water that we now drink,” says the Grade 10 student of Gayatri School, a stone’s throw from the RO plant.
More than 300 villagers in four villages of Barmer district’s Baytoo and Gudhamalani blocks are now using these anytime-water (ATW) prepaid cards to get RO water. The machine dispenses water after the card is placed on the sensor.
In western Rajasthan, women bear the burden of water scarcity — quite literally. Balancing pitchers on head, they walk home from faraway water sources. There is an absence of surface-water resources; rainfall is sparse; and the groundwater, saline and unsuitable for drinking or irrigation. People used to harvest rainwater in traditional underground water-tanks. These tanks with a capacity of 15,000-20,000 litres could stock water for four-five months only. In the summers, people had no option but to rely on groundwater, which had a high fluoride content and harmful pathogens. Getting a water tanker to deliver 5,000 litres cost Rs1,000-1,200 (Dh61-73) but quality was still an issue. Fluoride in water was the reason for a high incidence of dental and skeletal fluorosis in the villages.
In April 2013, Cairn India, the oil and gas company which has an operation in the Barmer district, decided to provide people access to clean drinking water under its corporate social responsibility programme.
Says Ritu Jhingon, general manager, CSR, Cairn India: “We decided to establish RO stations through a sustainable model of self-ownership to solve this problem. Locations in the Cairn intervention area with a minimum of 250 families or 1,250 people were identified for these plants that would provide villagers clean drinking water at the cost of Rs5 for 20 litres.”
The first plant was set up in Gudhamalani on April 20, 2013, and five more followed. These plants operated from 10am to 5pm. But soon, when it became clear that the timings needed to be made more flexible, the concept of anytime water was worked on.
Cairn India teamed up with Tata Projects, Rajasthan Government’s Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) and Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) to initiate the Jeewan Amrit Project under which RO machines were fitted with sensors to scan cards.
Cairns and Tata bore the cost of setting up stations; PHED supplied raw water to the plants. Cairn India assistant manager (CSR) Uma Bihari Dwivedi says that prepaid cards are issued to villagers for Rs150, the cost of 600 litres or 30 cans of potable water. After 30 cans, the card can be recharged with a minimum of Rs150. For every 20 litres, Rs5 is deducted from the card.
The PHED water has total dissolved solids (TDS) of 3,000 to 4,800 parts per million (ppm). The RO machines at these stations reduce the impurity to 60 to 80 ppm.
“The machine produces 1,000 litres of product water per hour and the good thing about it is that it has a capacity to reject 99 percent TDS from raw water. This is a rare feature and is not available in other RO machines sold in the market,” says Mahesh Panpalia, CEO of Dhara Sansthan, the implementing partner of Jeewan Amrit Project. “As per the norms, 45 per cent is what we get in the form of product water and 55 percent goes as reject water. This waste water is used to recharge groundwater through soak pits or used in construction.”
Dhara Sansthan, along with the government’s Communication and Capacity Development Unit (CCDU), creates awareness about and generates demand for RO water. The CCDU consultant in Barmer, Ashok Singh Rajpurohit, who has written a book on water conservation efforts in the district, adds: “We use street plays, puppet shows, school sessions, wall writings, slogans and handouts to create awareness about clean drinking water and harmful effects of fluoride-containing brackish water.”
There are 13 RO stations in Barmer, and five of them — in Kawas, Bhimda, Sawau Padam Singh, Akdara and Baytoo Bhopji — are ATW card-enabled. Three more, in Santara, Hemaguda and Kanod, are under construction. One such station is also being installed in Barmer’s Police Lines for families of those working in the police department. Each station can issue a maximum of 250 water cards. Today, Kawas has 160, Bhimda 110 and Sau Padam Singh 90 cardholders. In Baytoo Bhopji, only 20 cards have been issued so far while in Akdara, water is being provided free of cost. For the first few days after installation, water is provided free of cost as a promotional offer.
To make it a community entrepreneurship model, the project appoints a committee of local people for monitoring. The committee, called Peyjal Vikas Samiti (Drinking Water Development Committee), comprises one official each from PHED and Dhara Sansthan and 15 community members. It is responsible for appointing an operator for the plant, doing monthly review of the book of accounts, holding meetings every month or fortnight, collective decisions and monitoring cash flow. The committee members also work towards increasing water sales.
The annual maintenance cost of the RO plant is about Rs180,000 and the minimum sale required to meet the break-even point is 100 cans daily. “In Kawas,” says Jethalal Chaudhary, 45, a member of Peyjal Vikas Samiti, “the average is 150 cans a day. Sometimes people take as many as 50 cans a day if there is a ceremony, such as a wedding, in the house.” In Bhimda, Malaram, the operator, says, the sale is picking up gradually, now at 60-70 cans a day. “Salesmen are also encouraged to take water from us,” Panpalia says. “They can sell it for Rs10 a can. The additional Rs5 is for transportation. Our station caters to people from nearby areas, within the radius of 5-6 kilometres. But they [the salesmen] can take it farther, to even houses in remote locations.”
Panpalia says any income above the break-even point can be used either to upgrade the plant or to carry out a development work in the community that has the approval of 80 per cent of the committee members.
In Barmer, where water is locked up and guarded, and where it is reused as far as possible in washing, clearly it is a “RO-volution” of sorts. ”
By Rakesh Kumar | Weekend Review (Gulfnews.com) ( http://gulfnews.com/news/world/india/anytime-water-in-parched-barmer-1.1332906 ) | Published: 21:30 May 15, 2014