Behind Puri becoming the first Indian city to have ‘drink-from-tap’ facility
The temple- town of Puri in Odisha now is the first city in India where its 2.5 lakh residents can have 24-hour quality drinking water from the tap. That was what Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik declared proudly on July 26.
Does this mean that drinking waters from the taps in other cities of Odisha or for that matter in the country unsafe? This writer asked this question to a highly placed senior official of Odisha.
“No Sir, that is not the case. The water we provide in Puri is doubly safe as there is no fear of contamination of the potable water from the reservoir to the households through pipe lines in transmission or the storage-tanks on the roofs of the houses. In Puri, you open the taps anytime and you will get safe drinking water straight. There is no need for you to store the water, which in other places comes intermittently in fixed hours. There is no need for extra-filtering that we usually do”, he answered.
He also suggested that I should “kindly read the details of the scheme” available in the Odisha government’s publications.
And going by the relevant publications, the scheme at Puri is as per the ambitious initiative “Mission Drink from Tap” under the “Sujala” (Pure Water) scheme that the Odisha government launched in August 2019 through WATCO (Water Corporation of Odisha). Pilot projects were launched in state capital Bhubaneswar and Puri.
The scheme seems to have been fructified first in Puri, keeping in mind its great publicity value and potentials to draw more tourists. On an average Puri attracts about two core tourists every year to visit the world famous Jaganath temple and its magnificent sea-bitch. As Chief Minister Patnaik says, “The tourists need not have to carry water bottles everywhere. This initiative will minimise plastic waste produced in the city every day”.
The Mission – Drink from Tap aims at providing water supply 24 hours a day for all 7 days a week, for each day of the year. The mission is also aimed at addressing water source protection, appropriate water treatment, and prevention of recontamination in the transmission and distribution system that is continuously full and under positive pressure throughout all of its pipelines and networks.
The Odisha government talks of three “equitable, sustainable and people-centric” features of the scheme that have adopted “best innovative, state-of-the art technology and management techniques/tools” as seen in London, New York and Singapore.
First is to provide 24X7 drink from tap quality water to every household in Urban Odisha so that water received from household taps can be directly used for drinking and cooking without further filtration or boiling , thus reducing health risks to citizens caused due to contamination of water arising out of intermittent supply.
To ensure this, Water Testing Laboratories have been established for regular Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance on PPP mode to ensure Third Party Quality Monitoring. There are centralised monitoring and tracking of preventive maintenance and customer complaint redressals. Consumers can log in their complaints in three languages – Odia, English & Hindi by dialling 155359.
Second is to eliminate Household investments on overhead water tank/ underground reservoir, motor pump and RO based water filter. The household connection is to be treated as public work and installed/maintained by plumbers who are trained, certified and empanelled (including returning migrant workers).
The challenge here is to convince the consumers that they should do away with the system of their present storages in the forms of containers/drums or overhead tanks or sumps that pump water to the overhead tank. All these have the contamination-risk. Instead, the consumers should have faith and confidence in the reliability of the tap water that is assured all the time. They need to change their mindsets.
Third is to have 100% “Metering of Household Water Connections” to reduce nonrevenue water (NRW).
In fact, this third aspect is not publicised the way the first two are. The basic point here is that 24X7 supply of the water is not free. All water connections under the Drink From Tap Mission will be 100% metered. When this scheme expands to other cities of the state as per the “SUJALA” plan to at least 12 lakh urban dwellers in the state , the Odisha government plans to have a revenue collection of Rs. 250 crore per annum( approximately).
The collection through meter readings will be done by the “Jal Sathis’ (water volunteers, all women as “a measure of women empowerment”), who in turn, are supposed to earn an estimated Rs. 8 crore incentive per annum.
The rationale behind the paid water through metred pipes is “to ensure the accessibility of safe water as and when needed and bill those beyond a certain amount of usage. Through this mechanism, the service provider intends to also curb wastage of water.
And it is precisely here that the real challenge to the state government will come, particularly in a political environment of the country that dictates the governments, whether at the centre or states, to supply free or highly subsidised public services. Even the “Drinks from the Tap Mission” provides special emphasis for the supply to the Urban poor. How much subsidy or totally free supply will be given to how many units in meter-reading is not known. But it could prove to be politically explosive in the days to come.
As it is, the Patnaik government has already been criticised by the political opposition that the scheme has not stuck to the time line as promised in 2019. Even the entire Puri town will take another 9 months for the full coverage. There are rising voices in the cities like Bhubaneswar and Berhampur why the scheme that was introduced with much fanfare by the chief minister two years ago are unlikely to see the light of the day for foreseeable future. After all, the Mission is supposed to cover 10 other cities and mandated to be upscaled covering each household in all 114 Urban Local Bodies (ULB) of the State by March 2022.
Some critics will also like to the nature of the technical collaborations with the scheme by the Hague based IRC (a “non-profit organisation that drives resilient WASH systems from the ground”) and the UNICEF.
As regards finances of the scheme, exact sum on it has not been revealed though it is understandable that it is being met from the increased allocations in the state budget on drinking water that has gone up from of Rs 200 crore four years ago 50 times to Rs 4,000 crore today. In addition, the state gets help from such Centrally Sponsored Schemes that support water supply in urban area – urban development schemes as Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) 2 – launched in 2005, and more recently the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) – launched in 2015.
It seems that Patnaik’s “Sujal” programme from which the “Drinks from the Tap Mission” flows is broadly patterned on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Swajal” scheme that was launched in 2018 as a pilot project in 28 states.
Swajal is a project that is designed as a demand-driven programme involving the community to provide sustainable access to safe drinking water to people in rural areas. It is understood to be “ empowering communities to plan, design, implement and monitor single village drinking water supply schemes, and organize community ownership for operation and maintenance,” mostly by women.
While Modi’s Swajal claims to provide sustainable access to safe drinking water to people in rural areas, Patnaik’s innovation of “Sujal” caters to the urban areas. The Odisha chief minister, who has a wonderful equation with the Prime Minister, realises perhaps that that his rural areas can be taken care of under the central schemes.
(This story was first published in moneycontrol.com)