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Woman Sarpanch aids village’s clean water need

Mar 20, 2019

The first thing that Sujata did after becoming Sarpanch was to fix new bore wells to ensure the villagers have sufficient water.

New Delhi: On the east of India’s second largest river – Godavari – in Andhra Pradesh, Gadarada village breathed a sigh of relief when the villagers finally got access to clean drinking water after almost half a decade. Leaving no villager behind, a water purification plant that can pump out 1000 litres per hour at a minimal cost of Rs 0.25 per litre – was built to quench the thirst of 6000 people. From water with Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) of 1100 PPM (rated very poor), these villagers now have access to safe water with a TDS of 150-200 PPM (rated excellent).

“This change has happened in our village mainly because of our Sarpanch (Village head)” said Laxman Rao, an elder from the village. 39-year-old Sujata is the Sarpanch of this village – a legislative position that women are increasingly seen taking up in rural India, yet trailing behind in state and national legislature. According to government data, ‘As many as 14 states and union territories have 50% or more elected women representatives in panchayats as of April 2018’.

Besides making an impact in resolving social issues like sanitation, child-sex ratio, girl child education and domestic violence in communities, these women representatives have been advocating for clean drinking water – a dire need in view of India’s current situation where over an estimated 160 million people have no access to safe water. A 2018 study conducted by the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research found that ‘women constituents were more concerned about issues like safe water and road connectivity than men’.

When Sujata came to this village as a bride she did not have the courage to speak up. She would refuse to go out of the house or mingle with neighbours. “When I got married, my husband encouraged me to attend meetings conducted by an NGO working in the village. It was here that I learnt to speak boldly”, says Sujata. Slowly she became confident and felt the need to do something about the issue of poor quality of water. An emboldened Sujata decided to contest in the panchayat elections. Sujata was pitted against a long-term incumbent, but she won with a majority.

The first thing that Sujata did after becoming Sarpanch was to fix new bore wells to ensure the villagers have sufficient water. Earlier women had to walk miles for fetching water, “The water used to come mixed with mud. We had to boil it and drink it. But even after boiling, we used to find worms. People fell sick often and were prone to fever, diarrhoea, kidney problems and severe body pain. Children were the worst affected”, said Sujata.

Just when Sujata was looking for ways to address the issue, World Vision India (a non-profit that works for children in their village) took her and a few other villagers on an exposure trip to Warangal to visit a water purification plant installed by Bala Vikasa that works on Small Water Enterprises (SWEs) to help rural communities access safe water at affordable prices. Sujata and other villagers were given a training about the purification plant and Community Managed System (CMS) to ensure ownership and sustainability of the plant.

Subbalakshmi, a villager who is also a staff and committee member of the water plant said, “When we came back from the exposure trip, our sarpanch immediately conducted a meeting with about 2000 villagers to get their support and approval to take this forward. We formed a committee and NGOs came forward by providing bore wells and machinery. The Panchayat agreed to pay the electricity cost.” Two committee members have been employed as an electrician and administrator at the water purification plant. The income from the plant is used for paying salaries and maintenance costs.

Today Sujata has moved on to other developmental works --from building cemented roads to stopping child marriages. For the villagers of Gadarada, Sujata is a true Sarpanch leader who stands tall for she has ensured no one is left behind when it comes to accessing a basic need as safe drinking water.

Mridula Narayan is a Communications Associate at World Vision India. She has previously worked in Times Now. Mridula studied TV journalism from Asian School of Journalism, Chennai.

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