More than half of India’s 1.3 billion people live not only in poverty but also in water-stressed conditions, and that’s no coincidence. The Tata Water Mission (TWM) is striving to change this picture, with a mandate that covers water, sanitation and hygiene.“We have been active in water for a decade and the engagement was scaled up as the Tata Water Mission in 2014,” says Arun Pandhi, director of programme implementation at Tata Trusts.
Prabhat Pani, head, partnerships and technology, and the man overseeing TWM, says the Mission’s target is “to give better access to pure water to six million people in 7,000 villages across 11-12 states within the next two-three years”. Already 3,000 villages have been covered under the Mission, which is active in Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Nagaland and Assam.
To get the job done sustainably, Tata Trusts is looking at partnerships and community-based solutions, such as the tie-up with Jaldhaara Foundation to set up 65 water centres in Karnataka, and with the Tata Projects Community Development Trust in Andhra Pradesh. The trusts are also planning community-based interventions to treat arsenic-contaminated groundwater in Assam and West Bengal, and fluoride-laced water in Karnataka, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. “Existing technologies to tackle such heavy metal contamination were either not suitable or very expensive,” says Mr Pani. “We focused on finding alternate, more affordable and low-maintenance technologies.” The Trusts recently set up a pilot plant in Nalbari, Assam, an area with high levels of arsenic, which has contributed to a disproportionate number of deaths due to cancer. Similar pilots are being set up to treat fluoride contamination.
The Mission also plays an important role in the sanitation space. In 2016, it took on the role of development support partner to the Indian government’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM is a Clean India mission), which has a deadline of October 2019 to end open defecation (ODF) in the country. This target meant the government had to develop sanitation facilities for about 500 million Indians who do not have access to toilets.
Tata Trusts stepped in to make SBM more effective and sustainable. It looked at all aspects of sanitation and toilets: supply chain, finance, design and usage. That led to the ‘samajdhaar’ (smart) campaign, which reinforces the adoption of healthy habits: washing hands before eating and after defecation, drinking safe water, storing water properly, and always using toilets. “Behaviour change is the single biggest success factor in sustainable social development,” says Mr Pani. The content to drive such change has been digitised and is being taken far and wide through village women.
In 2016-17, Tata Trusts partnered the government for SBM in 35 districts, a third of which are already free of ODF. At the government’s request, the Trusts started the Zilla Swachh Bharat Prerak (ZSBP) initiative to train 600 people to assist district administrations in getting to ODF targets. “The ZSBP project will help us influence the quality of SBM, and make a difference over the length and breadth of rural India,” says Mr Pani.
The mission to improve the lives of millions of Indians is a tough challenge. As has been its wont, Tata Trusts is using the traditional strengths of community mobilisation and also the power of innovative models and technology to deliver on a scale never attempted before.
A self-help group meeting gets underway in a village in Gujarat. Here the ‘Open Defecation-free Village Project’ has been a significant success for the Tata Water Mission, which was launched by Tata Trusts to help tackle India’s water crisis with a multi-pronged approach. One of the principal intentions of the project is to make the villages under its ambit free of open defecation. The barrier here previously was that villagers were expected to make an initial contribution to building toilets even as the government subsidy for their construction was received after construction and verification. In Gujarat, Tata Trusts has implemented a ‘revolving fund model’ that involves self-help groups and provides people with bridge loans to construct the toilets.
A local resident next to her newly built toilet unit in the village of Litem in Nagalands’s Tuensang district. Water, sanitation and hygiene are central to the ‘Drinking Water and Sanitation Project’, which covers Litem and similar villages across the wider region. The project, a part of the Tata Water Mission, is spread over Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Tripura, Manipur and Meghalaya, besides Nagaland. It seeks to provide access to safe and adequate water, improve sanitation practices, introduce low-cost technologies, and create awareness in the community and in households. The project works in tandem with the Indian government’s Swachh Bharat Mission.
Two village girls get their fill of water, a precious resource in hamlets such as theirs and countless others in Uttarakhand, a mountainous state in India’s Himalayan north. This comes under the ‘WASH Project’, which commenced in 2002 and has benefited about 7,000 households and nearly 50,000 people in 133 villages in the state. WASH stands for water, sanitation and hygiene and is a standout component of a comprehensive Tata Trusts’ initiative called Himmotthan Pariyojana. Water is integrated into the project with a raft of other social development schemes, in health and hygiene, the promotion of livelihoods, microfinance, education, protection of water sources and women empowerment.
The ‘Zilla Swachh Bharat Prerak Programme’, run by Tata Trusts in partnership with the Indian government, aims to create a cadre of skilled young professionals who can work to help implement the Swachh Bharat Mission all over India. About 600 professionals will eventually be selected under the programme and deputed to 600 districts across the country to support district administrations in making the Mission a success. The training module for the initiative has been developed by the Trusts in consultation with the central government’s Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation and the University of Chicago. The programme will develop plans, offer support, manage and monitor implementation, gather data, and put reporting standards in place.