As summer approaches the main concern of rural India, more so in north Bihar, is water both for drinking and irrigating the small land holdings of the marginalised farmers. However, for the last three to four years the villages of Basokubouli, Rajwa panchayat of Tajpur block, and Chandauli, Pusa block, Samastipur, have had no drinking water problem, and their fields have been green with cash crops of seasonal vegetables. Both villages have tuned into the Community Owned Mini Drinking Water Supply System (COMDWSS) seen as the panacea for the state.

The shallow hand pumps which were pumping out bacteria contaminated water have been replaced with model stand post taps on raised platforms releasing pure water pumped up by 2HP submersible pumps from 300 to 350 feet deep bore wells. Stored in large overhead tanks, hamlets of 100 to 150 households are assured of water round the year. A tap is shared by five households and since community ownership was initiated at Basokubouli in 2014 the sharing has been harmonious. Each household pays for the water and there are water users groups as well as a water management committee that meets regularly to discuss problems, collect water fees and ensure maintenance of the system.

With the support of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) India, 30 such COMDWSS have come up in other large but scattered habitations in the Samastipur district benefitting about 4,500 families. The Bihar government has shortlisted it at its innovative forum and is looking at this model for its har ghar ek nal ki jal (tap water for every house) project. It has sought the technical support of AKRSP.

Recognising the technical competence of the water supply system, the community has shown exemplary discipline in ensuring its smooth functioning. There are 30 core members of the Ma Bhawani Bejal Upyog Samiti of Basokubouli, and six of them, including the treasurer, are women. Five to six people form the water users group with responsibility for each tap. A member of each group of water users is represented on the Samiti which is more of a policy and administrative organisation.

Wearing colourful saris, confidence in their voices, women talked of the ease of getting water from taps round the clock. There are no queues for water or quarrels. After removing the 35 shallow hand pumps, gastric problems and water borne ailments have declined sharply in the community, as has spending on medicines. The hand pump water was yellow and high in iron, a member of the Samiti pointed out.

In fact it was the poor health of the community that first compelled the AKRSP to examine water sources in Samastipur and Muzaffarpur, the two areas of its intervention. It found that 85% of water was contaminated. As a first step it began sensitising communities about water quality, constructed concrete platforms near hand pumps, the dominant mode then for getting water and established mini water testing laboratories. Based on the findings the hand pumps were removed and replaced with the deep bore well, community-owned water system.

The European Union and Water Aid provided the financial assistance to pilot two COMDWSS. The stand posts were constructed with a network of PVC pipes. The first community owned scheme was commissioned in May 2013 at Dhobi tola in Mohamad pur Kouri Panchyat of Pusa block.

Basokubouli has two units of the COMDWSS and every house in its two habitations has opted for the modern water system. On the 25th of every month the residents meet and each household pays Rs 20 for water. Water can be collected throughout the day as per requirement. Power is available for 15 hours in the day at the village and in two hours the tanks fill up. From the common taps, water is collected for cooking, washing and even for the animals. At weddings and special occasions as much water as required can be collected by paying Rs 100 for a day’s supply. Asked if the use of subterranean water would not in the long run deplete the ground water, a member of the Samiti said in Basokubouli groundwater level has in fact risen from 25’ to 22’.

The changing face of the village is also reflected in the 175 home toilets that have come up, some houses with two toilets. Most of them connected to septic tanks. Since eight families did not have the resources for constructing toilets, the Samiti met and decided to construct them. It drew on the government allocation of Rs 12,000 to the poor for constructing a toilet and provided sand and other material from its side. The toilets are cleaned and flushed with water collected from the taps.

The Samiti has Rs 80,000 in its account for emergencies. By not keeping an operator for the pumping system, it has cut down its costs. To ensure there is no wastage of water the responsibility of turning off the pumps is given to families living adjacent to the water centre.

Chandauli village has been able to combine the water required for the fields with drinking water needs. It has solar, diesel and electricity operated submersible pump set connected to a boring 360 feet deep. With a network of 3-5 inch pipes, 135 farmers are irrigating 35 acres. Prior to the boring in 2015, three to four months in a year the fields were fallow for want of water.

Sandeep Kumar, the chairman of the Pragati Kisan Vikas Samiti, Chandauli, says from 2009 there was a system of pooling funds to use diesel and electricity operated pumps for irrigating the fields. The costs kept rising from Rs 60 per person to Rs 300 but in the summer months the fields lay barren and villagers migrated for work.

Now a villager spends Rs 8,600 for water in a year, Rs 8,000 for irrigating and Rs 600 for drinking water at Rs 50 a month. The cost of drinking water is reduced to Rs 45 to those who pay on the first of every month. For delay in payment there is a fine. The Samiti has provided a tap in every house and drinking water is released thrice in a day, 15 minutes at a time. For weddings and functions water is provided for 24 hours at a cost of Rs 150. Forty percent of the village’s power is drawn from solar panels, 45% from diesel and 15% from electricity.

The Samiti’s 19 elected representatives of Chandauli meet twice in a month to collect water fees, discuss maintenance issues and savings. Each member deposits Rs 300 a month from which loans are given and the water system maintained. The operator of the pumping system is paid Rs 1000 a month and additional Rs 100 for collecting the water fees. There is a saving of Rs 24,000 in the Samiti’s bank account.

Ten neighbouring villages have replicated Chandauli’s water system for irrigation and drinking.