The provision of 382 sanitary toilets in six villages in Morigaon and Kamrup-Rural districts of Assam; all these villages are now 100 per cent Open Defecation Free. Let’s now take a look at the two other aspects of the project implemented by Rashtriya Gramin Vikas Nidhi(RGVN), and which was fully funded by the CSR Programme of IFCI Limited.
The drinking water intervention:
The drinking water situation in rural Assam is extremely grim, with people consuming untreated water from iron and bacteria-infested ponds, wells, streams and rivers. In many areas, consumption of untreated water polluted with fluoride and/or arsenic has resulted in severe health problems (physical deformities caused by fluorosis, arsenic poisoning).
Equally serious is the problem of non-availability of even raw water in many villages in the winter season, which typically extends from November to April, when most sources of ground and surface water dry up. To ameliorate this problem, IFCI-RGVN came up with an indigenously designed solar-powered piped-water supply system which has been successfully implemented in five villages.
Water sourced from a shallow bore-well is pumped by a submersible solar pump, aerated, and clarified and purified by lime and alum (a low-cost yet effective solution, using locally available purification agents). The treated water is then pumped up, via a turbidity-cum-iron filter, by another solar pump to overhead storage tanks. Finally, the water is piped by gravity-feed to secondary storage tanks in dispensing kiosks located at multiple points in the village. Safe drinking water is now available to residents within 10 – 50 meters of their front-gates, as well as at the local schools. Beneficiaries typically contribute Rs. 25 per month per household to the Village Committee to cover costs of daily operations and long-term repairs and maintenance. This works out to a mere 3.33 paise per liter of safe drinking water (computed at five liters/person/day for a five-member household, for 30 days a month)! Independent third-party post-implementation surveys in two of the villages have revealed that the incidence of stomach and skin ailments, after installation of the drinking water systems, has almost been eliminated. The major challenge was to prove to the “naysayers” that a solar-powered solution is feasible and cost effective (despite the lower “solar insolation” and “annual number of clear sunny days” in Assam, as compared to Rajasthan, Gujarat, etc.). Well, the two plants in Morigaon District have successfully weathered two consecutive monsoons (2016 and 2017) with a near-perfect record of daily water supply; and the three plants in Kamrup-Rural District, commissioned thereafter, have coasted through possibly the worst monsoon season in recent memory without any major interruptions.
The solar energy initiative:
With the government according high priority to rural electrification in recent years, India’s rural households are now being connected to the electricity grid at a rapid pace. However, a major lacuna is the lack of electricity in local schools and community-centre’s; most poor and under-privileged rural communities can neither afford the one-time cost of getting electricity connections, nor the recurring cost of monthly electricity charges for such essential community facilities.
Responding to this need, five rooftop solar nano grids were provided under the IFCI-RGVN project, to two schools and three community-centre’s in the project area for powering indoor lights, fans and street lights. With bright lights and whirring fans in their classrooms, students in these schools can now study in comfort. The community-centre’s, equipped with indoor lights, fans and street lights allow the villagers to congregate and conduct community activities in comfort, anytime of day or night. As in the case of drinking water, beneficiaries contribute a nominal monthly amount of Rs. 15 to Rs. 25 per household to the Village Committee to cover operation costs and long-term repairs and maintenance of the solar system(s).
The way forward:
It is indeed a pity that only a handful of corporate houses (e.g. IFCI Limited and Assam Gas Company Limited) have so far committed significant funds under their CSR Programmes for providing high quality and durable toilets, drinking water supply systems, and solar energy solutions in the true spirit of PURA (Providing Urban-amenities to Rural Areas), the brainchild of India’s former President, the late APJ Abdul Kalam. Here’s an illustration of what our governments and bureaucrats can do. Acting on RGVN’s request, the eight km. stretch of road between Chandubi Beel and Bherbheri Village (and the five decaying wooden bridges there in), which once looked like a scene from war-torn Afghanistan, were rebuilt by the Deputy Commissioner of the then Kamrup-Rural District within a mere six weeks. More such initiatives can completely transform our rural landscape!
And finally, we share below our experience-based perspective on what can be achieved with an allocation of Rs. one core for transformation of a typical 100 household village/community-cluster in the State: (a) Good quality sanitary toilets to each and every household; (b) A reliable solar-powered community drinking water supply system; (c) Infrastructure upgrade and renovation of a local LP School and a Community centre, including provision of solar-powered lights, fans and street lights; (d) Comprehensive training and hands-on technical sup-port for Rural Livelihood and Income Enhancement; and (e) Solar-powered irrigation pumps to facilitate winter-cropping.