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New book reveals how India made community water management work even without charismatic leaders.

 Mr Daljit Singh, Junior Engineer in charge of village water supplies in SAS Nagar District, Punjab, together with his daughter. Photo: Stef Smits/IRC

For 20 years, Mr Daljit Singh makes sure that everyone in his village in Punjab, India, gets water 24 hours a day. His story has become associated with the community management model: an exceptional individual, in the right place at the right time, plays a critical role successfully

Not every village, however, is lucky enough to have a Mr Singh. Nevertheless, every village deserves the high-quality water service that he has helped to deliver. A new book reveals how India made community management work at scale even in absence of charismatic leaders.

The key to India’s success has been the coproduction of rural water services between state and citizen. This is characterised by a significant level of continued support from local self-government and other support agencies to village water and sanitation committees (VWSCs).

Community management of rural water supply” presents the results of a three-year research investigation into what works in 20 successful community management programmes operating in contemporary India. It focuses on the ‘enabling support environment’ for community management, relating this to various forms of ‘community service provision’ and the costs involved.

Community management has received a lot of criticism, most recently by Dr Ellie Chowns, whose blog "Still barking up the wrong tree?" sparked a lively debate. If you sign on to RWSN's Sustainable Services Dgroup you can join the discussion, where some participants proposed “better” alternative models or better support for community management. IRC’s Stef Smits, co-author of “Community management of rural water supply” argued that “whatever service delivery model is used, it is clear that one way or another, very significant amounts of public finance are needed”.

So what can other countries learn from India’s success story? “Community management of rural water supply” presents a spread of cases directly relevant to policy-makers in lower-income economies planning to upgrade the quality and sustainability of rural water supply to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in the context of economic growth.

The research on which the book is based was funded by the Australian Government through the Australian Development Awards Research Scheme of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade under an award titled Community Management of Rural Water Supply Systems in India. The project was implemented by a consortium of partners, including: the Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI), the Centre of Excellence for Change (CEC), Malaviya National Institute of Technology (MNIT), the Xavier Institute of Social Service (XISS) and IRC with overall project coordination provided by Cranfield University.

"Community management of rural water supply" is a publication of Routledge and available for purchase in hardback and as an eBook. You can download the 20 case studies from the project webpage including the one featuring Mr Daljit Singh.

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