Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhar Reddy believes safe, and free, drinking water can help his government connect with the masses the same way as free TV sets and subsidised rice have helped others do the same.
Addressing a collector’s conference less than two months into his second term, he announced: “The government will provide hundred per cent safe bottled drinking water to every village and habitat in the state in a phased manner.”
The scheme, the first of its kind by any state government, will be formally launched on Independence Day this year. The plan is to complete the rollout in two years.
“Almost 80 per cent of diseases in rural India — such as diarrhea, typhoid, cholera and gastro-enteritis — are caused by water. We will wipe out these diseases at their source by supplying safe drinking water,” said an official in chief minister’s office, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
The fine print is still being worked out, but the basic scheme looks like this: the government will install a water treatment plant costing Rs 2 lakh in each village and habitat having a population of 1,500; and every person will be given a 5-litre bottle of drinking water per day.
Free of cost.
Initially, the government will run the plants, but over time, these will be handed over to women’s self-help groups (SHGs), whose members will be trained for the purpose.
The state has about 72,000 villages and hamlets. The plan envisages covering 60 per cent of them in the first year.
NGOs have tried variations of this scheme in Andhra Pradesh’s West Godavari, Guntur and Krishna districts with varying degrees of success.
“Our model was different. We involved local people from Day 1. Then, we charged Rs 2 for each 20-litre bottle as people tend to lose respect for anything that comes free,” said an employee of an NGO that is running such a scheme.