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Andhra Pradesh: Breaking the rules or mending the leaks

Published on: 04/05/2011

A reality case from Janagoan town in Andhra Pradesh in India. Janagoan is 79 kilometres from Hyderabad and 53 from the main town in Warangal district.

A reality case from Janagoan town in Andhra Pradesh in India. Janagoan is 79 kilometres from Hyderabad and 53 from the main town in Warangal district.

The provision of water, sanitation and hygiene services is a major challenge for local municipalities in small towns and peri-urban areas with rapidly growing urban populations. When people in these communities feel that services fall below the levels they expect, they often take individual action to get the water they want. These practices are on the border of what is legal but sometimes people are encouraged to bend the rules by those who want to be their representatives. There are difficult choices for municipality administrations – to invest in better facilities and facilitate better governance, silently allow local “illegal” practices or punish those who engage in them. The 8th ward in Janagoan town reflects some of this confusion in a typical situation facing peri-urban settlements in Andhra Pradesh.  

Peri-urban community – mostly “pucca”

The 8th ward is a peri-urban community in the Chamman area of Janagoan. It has 20 streets, 420 households, a population of almost 1,100 people, and its own elected councillor. Three out of four adults in this ward are daily wage workers, including masons, carpenters and cooks. Others are farmers, employees at rice mills or the paper plate factory, or they work as small scale entrepreneurs or depend on livestock for their livelihoods. Most of the houses in this ward are semi-pucca and pucca – that is they have a permanent structure and roof. Only 10 to 15% of houses are kuttcha - that is they are made with bamboo or have sheet tin roofs. 

Janagoan was made a 2nd Grade Municipality in 2004 and developed its own roads and water supply systems. A ground level storage reservoir (GLSR) supplies water to three wards and another tank was constructed with the support of the agricultural bank, NABARD. There are 43 public standposts (PSPs) in the 8th ward, of which 41 are functional, and 3 smaller storage cisterns. The entire pipeline network and the standposts are connected to both water storage reservoirs. However, only 7 of the 15 handpumps are working and one of these is directly connected to a motor.  Due to low pressure in water network, 6 pit taps have been added in the ward – where the tap outlet is below ground level. 

Concerns about services levels and environment

Water is released from the reservoir every other day, and from the second tank every day. These sources feed groundwater into the storage cisterns and once these are full they feed the standposts. The switches that govern the pump are openly accessible, so anyone can switch on the pump and fill the cistern. This flexibility is desirable, but there are concerns. Anyone can turn the pump on, and they do not always turn it off.  Water overflows, runs into the streets, and stagnates in unhealthy pools around the cisterns. One of the cisterns leaks so much that the water goes down the drain and households at the tail-end of the network get no water.

Households pooled money for standposts

Citizens have evolved a variety of practices and strategies to overcome this low level of service. Some households pooled money and installed a “group-based standpost”, which they connect to the existing network. Each of the 5-7 families in a group contributes about 500 Rupees (US$ 11) for this standpost but they do not pay a connection charge or user charges. They say that this process has the blessings of the Ward Councillor, but the group-based standposts are officially unauthorised. There is no control mechanism so any user can connect a hosepipe to the standpost and supply unlimited water to their household.

Official route leaves homes high and dry

Some households take the official route - paying a connection fee to make a private connection, but water pressure is so low that households on higher ground get a very poor service - sometimes one or two pots of water a day from their taps and sometimes nothing at all. These households tire of the unresponsive service - they stop paying, buy long hosepipes and connect them to the nearest standpost.

The other option is to buy water from the three water purification plants that have been established in 8th ward, where the price of water varies from 3 Rs/ to 5 Rs/- per 20 litre can – more for home delivery. 

Can households, councillors and municipalities work together?

It would seem that the water problems of the 8th ward could be sorted out by the municipality and the ward working together. But problems of water scarcity are being tackled another way. A new overhead reservoir has been constructed and it is proposed to connect this to the Chittakodur reservoir. 

This scenario is typical of peri-urban settlements with weak governance and management systems. Individual families find individual solutions, while municipalities invest in new infrastructure rather than maintain existing systems and make them work better.

Can citizens find a way to better services by breaking rules and norms? Or would it be better for councillors and households to work together to ensure effective services that reach the end of the pipe network?

Kishan and MV Rama Chandrudu, WASSAN, 5 Mar 2011