In the first week of December, residents of the Gothikoya tribal village in Bhadradri Kothagudem district, around 600 km southwest of Hyderabad, gathered for an unusual celebration — to garland the new drinking water taps in front of their huts. Days later, four new taps came up in Nagasala village of Mahbubnagar district, a couple of hours by road from the state capital, where residents had to earlier trek for nearly a kilometre to access clean water.
Launched in August 2016, Mission Bhagiratha, Telangana’s ambitious project to supply drinking water to every household outside municipal corporation limits, is nearing its March 31, 2019 deadline. And government officials say 1,00,200 km of the 1,04,749-km network of pipelines — around two-and-a-half times the Earth’s circumference — has been laid.
On the ground, meanwhile, the change is visible.
“Earlier, we had to walk at least a km to fetch drinking water, and had to leave in the morning to fetch it. It was difficult to get our children ready for school and prepare food. After these taps were fixed, that is not a worry anymore. We have been told that taps would soon be fixed just outside or inside our homes,’’ says Mamidal Renuka from Nagasala in Mahbubnagar.
“We used to fetch water from an agricultural well, a stream nearby, or a community tap in the neighbouring village. The water was unclean and frequently caused diarrhoea, especially among our children. Now, we drink directly from our tap,’’ says Madavi Sanjiv from Gothikoya village.
Why a Telangana village gathered to garland its water taps been given a stiff target by Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao in his first official meeting after coming back to power this month: Make Telangana the first state where every house receives filtered drinking water through an individual connection in the kitchen or outside.
“As of today, drinking water reaches bulk collection points in 22,947 villages. The deadline to provide water at these collection points to the remaining 1,021 villages is January 10. The deadline to complete the project to provide drinking water through individual household taps is March 31, 2019,’’ says Krupakar Reddy, engineer-in-chief, Mission Bhagiratha.
According to officials, houses in 17,000 habitations were provided individual drinking water tap connections as on December 18, 2018. “These households will start receiving purified drinking water shortly. About 95 per cent work of laying pipelines to the remaining 6,968 villages is completed and only last-mile pipes and taps have to be fixed, which we will complete by March,’’ says Reddy.
Apart from addressing the shortage of drinking water in rural areas, the project is aimed at resolving a serious health crisis in Nalgonda and Medak districts, where much of the ground water is contaminated by fluoride.
“The project covers remote Adivasi tribal hamlets, Lambada settlements, Dalit colonies, habitations in hillocks, and forest dwellings. It is taking us some time to complete the work in remote villages in tribal areas like Sirpur, Adilabad, Nirmal, Asifabad, Kothagudem, where there are habitations in hillocks or inside the forests,’’ says Jogu Ramana, TRS MLA from Adilabad, who attended that meeting.
In Telangana, the primary sources of drinking water are the Godavari and Krishna rivers: northern Telangana and the Godavari basin receive 53.38 TMC from the Godavari; south Telangana receives 32.43 TMC from the Krishna. “The 49,120-km primary pipeline network has already been laid through which water is being pumped. Around 51,080 km of a separate 55,629-km intra-village pipeline network has been completed,’’ says Reddy.
The key question, however, remains, say experts: will the government’s responsibility end with the pipelines? The real challenge will begin after the pipelines are laid and connections are given, says Dr K Shashidhar, Associate Professor at IIT-Hyderabad, who holds a PhD in Environment and Water Resources Engineering from IIT-Madras.
“In such a huge project, everyone will ask whether the water source is enough to sustain supply? So, apart from laying the pipeline network, ensuring daily supply to households becomes very important,’’ he says.