This social enterprise has made potable water accessible in 405 villages across 20 states in India
Lakshmi walks about two kilometres every day to fetch drinking water for her family. The scorching sun ensures that no amount of water could possibly quench Lakshmi’s thirst. All she brings back are two pots of water, for her family of five.
According to the recent National Sample Survey Office, the distance covered by rural households to fetch drinking water ranges from less than 0.2 km to over 1.5 km – one way. In India, approximately 42 percent of rural households travel every day to get drinking water.
To cater to this large section of rural people, Piramal Sarvajal, a social enterprise, was founded in 2008.
The enterprise offers innovative solutions to make drinking water accessible to the rural poor. Using cloud-based technology, it ensures that drinking water is accessible in many places, especially to under-served communities.
Seeded by the Piramal Foundation, the organisation currently works with over 70 Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) donors and 300-plus franchisees. Sarvajal has partnered with the Bhubaneshwar Municipal Corporation and Delhi Jal Board for PPP-based drinking water facilities in urban beyond-the-pipe communities and is also working with Maharashtra’s Village Social Transformation Foundation (VSTF) to promote SHG-based rural drinking water units.
Anuj Sharma, Founder and CEO
Anuj Sharma, founder and CEO of Piramal Sarvajal, shares with Social Story the life-changing concept and its implementation in remote areas.
The solar-powered and cloud-connected water kiosks or ATMs dispense water 24x7. They are placed in an accessible area within the village and have helped in reducing the distance between water and households significantly. They can easily be accessed with the help of a card.
“Consumers are issued a radio frequency identification (RFID) card for collecting water, which can be recharged periodically as per requirements,” Anuj says. “Our IoT-enabled technology installed at purification level ensures that the quality of every drop dispensed is maintained. It also supports oversight management on a real-time basis, while remotely managing locations for better governance.”
The ATMs are highly flexible and can dispense any amount of water in a day.
“By default, our ATMs provide flexible dispensing, that is, the dispensing is as per the utensil capacity or user requirement. There is no limit to the number of transactions in a day, which makes our ATMs user-friendly and easy to manage and operate.”
Water ATMs dispense water on insertion of an RFID card.
Potable water is for all
The ATMs have not only reduced the distance travelled, but also created awareness about the importance of drinking water among the villagers. Safe drinking water is the most preventive healthcare measure and it has greatly impacted the users.
“We conduct periodic surveys in our intervened locations to capture the impact of our work,” Anuj says. “And to share, initially, about 8.4 percent respondents believed that safe drinking water prevents them from water-borne diseases, but post our intervention the number shot up to 78.7 percent.”
The average medical expense has also been reduced. While a non-consumer pays about Rs 333 on an average, a consumer pays about Rs 193 – a reduction of 58 percent.
Piramal Sarvajal is operational in about 20 states and has adopted more than 405 villages across India. The organisation has served about 657,314 beneficiaries on a daily basis in both urban and rural touchpoints. It has designed a model specifically for schools through a network of water ATMs for safe water delivery. They now serve 189 schools across India.
One of the biggest challenges the organisation faced is in creating awareness about the conservation of water and implementing safe water practices. Especially in villages where there is scanty level of water, Anuj believes that community engagement is a great way to tackle the scarcity.
According to Anuj, community engagement is a must for water management. Villagers should understand the meaning of an aquifer and how it works. When people know, they can participate accordingly. Many people are under the wrong impression that micro-irrigation works only for a few crops. The farmers need to be made aware throughout the country.
"When people are aware at the grass-root level, it will translate into a stronger nation – a nation where water scarcity will be a thing of the past. We need to act immediately,” he says.
The coronavirus measures
Safe drinking water is an essential commodity and the nationwide lockdown imposed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic has made an impact. Sarvajal continues its operations, but advocates social distancing.
“Piramal Sarvajal is ensuring that communities that depend on their drinking water dispensing machines are protected. There’s a coordinated and committed effort at all levels to address the situation without disrupting water services,” Anuj says.
The water dispensers are thoroughly sanitised
Here are some of the methods adopted by the organisation. Buttons on all the water ATMs have been disabled to prevent human touch, users are now withdrawing water with their contactless cards, ATMs are being sanitised before and after use, operators of the machines ensure people stand in the queue maintaining adequate distance from each other, users are asked to wash their hands and utensils before filling water, and audio messages are available for community members who can’t read.
Sarvajal is also spreading awareness on consumption of water while washing hands, through community programmes.
Plans for the future
“Being a technology expert in water sector, we aim to help the government by demonstrating the use of IoT-based remote monitoring technology, so that the government can monitor water supply schemes more effectively,” says Anuj.
The social enterprise has demonstrated the system to the state governments of Assam, Gujarat, and Bihar and is planning to pilot it in Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand. The initiative has been acknowledged by the Ministry of Jal Shakti and it has recommended IoT-enabled monitoring of piped water schemes in Jal Jeevan Mission Guidelines for Har Ghar Nal Jal Yojna scheme.
(Edited by Javed Gaihlot)