By January 2013, 200 out of 840 villages covered under the project had opted for metered household connections, and fifteen of these had round-the-clock (24/7) water supply.
Even in prosperous Punjab, villages face an acute scarcity of water, demand for water is rising with a growing population that wants improved service levels, but supply is increasingly constrained on account of falling water tables and the deteriorating quality of ground water. While 17 per cent of Punjab´s villages do not have water supply systems at all, the remaining 83 per cent receive only intermittent supply and, in some areas, the water is contaminated with heavy metals such as uranium.
In 2006, the Punjab government launched a medium-term program under the World Bank-supported Punjab Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project (2006-2013). It aimed to provide all the State´s 15,170 habitations with 70 litres per capita per day (Ipcd) of safe drinking water by Dec 2013.
The project sought to make rural communities responsible for construction and management of their own water supply systems and to make the systems financially sustainable, with consumers paying for operations and maintenance on an ongoing basis.
Each scheme cost between Rs 37 and Rs 58 lakh ($82,000-$129,000) and built a piped distribution network to households by accessing ground water aquifers or canal water. They also built overhead reservoirs to store water.
Metering and billing is being promoted to encourage people to save water and prevent leakage and waste. By January 2013, 200 out of 840 villages covered under the project had opted for metered household connections, and fifteen of these had round-the-clock (24/7) water supply.
About 90 per cent of consumers are paying their water bills regularly, while the other are being persuaded to do so. Some villages now have sizable saving in the Operations and Maintenance (O&M) accounts-varying from Rs 35,000 to Rs 10 lakh (Rs 1 million). A new online complaint redressal system is reaching out to over 16 million people in more than 15,000 habitations. This is helping check absenteeism or non-performance of staff in remote villages and making the management of the system more transparent, accountable and citizen-friendly.
In the near future, the Punjab government plans to expand the scheme to all its villages in a phased manner. A new State water policy for the rural areas is being drafted to encourage metered water connections, financial sustainability and where possible, 24/7 water supply. Now it remains to be seen if various other States also take a leaf out of Punjab´s book and follow suit with their own programmes.