January 2016 | Philip Chacko

Going against the flow

Water is considered an elixir in the high ranges of Uttarakhand, and the help rendered by the Tata Trusts and its partners in delivering it has changed lives and fortunes

“This tank is our bank,” says Basudevi Dabral as she warms up on a winter day to explain how access to clean and readily available water has transformed her life and the destiny of her hamlet in the mountains of Uttarakhand in northern India.

Work being done in a village to protect its water source; this is vital to the project's success
Pointing to a water tank outside her door, the 52-year-old inhabitant of Chureddhar, a remote village in the Tehri Garhwal region, fleshes out the analogy. “We draw water from this tank like somebody would money from a bank. They store cash, we store water.”

Water security is a weighty reason for the self-assurance in speech and manner of Ms Basudevi, one of close to 50,000 people from about 7,000 households who have benefitted from the water supply and sanitation (WATSAN) projects that the Tata Trusts has undertaken in 133 Uttarakhand villages.

Water has been the central theme of the 200-odd drinking water schemes, which have been implemented over three phases (from 2002 to 2014). Integrated with it are a host of other social development initiatives, in health and hygiene, the promotion of livelihoods, microfinance, and education.

It all begins with water, though. “Water has been, and remains, the entry point,” says Vinod Kothari, a deputy development manager with the Trusts. “You go in with the objective of providing water and you build other programmes around it. You can have the complete package, but water is what people thirst for the most.”

“It’s a blessing,” says Ms Basudevi, for whom water is akin to nectar. “I get clean water to drink, I have water to bathe and wash clothes. I can use it when I want, just like money in a bank. I used to spend three hours a day fetching water for the household, sometimes at night. It was a crushing burden. I rarely had time for my children even, so where was the time to worry about cleanliness, health and the rest?”

Water is what people thirst the most for in Uttarakhand's high ranges and these schoolchildren are no exception

Dayalidevi Dabral echoes her fellow villager’s sentiment. A 62-year-old whose weather-beaten face makes her seem older, she is a member of the neighbourhood women’s federation and has been a vice president of the local panchayat (self-government body). The water project, she insists, is what made this possible.

The WATSAN programme is the standout component of a comprehensive Tata Trusts’ initiative called Himmotthan Pariyojana, or HMP (Himmotthan means uplift of the Himalayas and Pariyojana stands for development). The programme is executed through the water management committees, which are an essential piece in the process of planning, designing, implementing and managing it.

Under the scheme, each dwelling in a project village gets a piped water connection close to its doorstep and a sanitation unit. The water is sourced from natural springs and tapped through gravity-flow systems. Simply put, the water flows from the springs in the hills to the villages below.

This system is not feasible where natural water resources are absent and that’s why, in 2003, the programme incorporated rainwater harvesting, through which tanks built near individual houses were filled (some 700 such structures have been constructed).

Up until 2006, the way it worked was that the Tata Trusts would adopt a group of villages and provide 90 percent of the funding for a WATSAN project. The villages pitched in with the remaining 10 percent. This ensured that they had a stake in the programme and in sustaining it.

The planning and completion of the projects were done by five non-government organisations, who were the Trusts’ partners. The pattern has been modified since the forming, in 2007, of the Himmotthan Society as the implementation arm of the Trusts.

A ‘blue bonus’ — the equivalent in water and sanitation of the ecological green bonus — is what the Tata Trusts is trying to secure in Uttarakhand, says Mr Kothari. “Protecting the water source is vital. We prepare a dhara janampatri, a horoscope of the spring source, and give it to the villagers so that they can safeguard the source and use it to best effect. That’s the blue bonus.”

Faniya village where the projects have been implemented

The Tata Trusts is now into the fourth phase of its water and sanitation initiative in Uttarakhand. The scale this time is bigger than ever, as is the vision and ambition. Nearly 350 villages are to be covered by 2019 and, besides the Trusts, resources will be deployed by various like-minded organisations.

Tata companies, too, will be in the mix just like they have been in the past (Titan Company has helped with funding, Tata Global Beverages with livelihood opportunities and Tata Chemicals with water quality solutions).

For Ms Dayalidevi, the difference between the past and the here and now couldn’t be starker. “My grandchildren go to school, they know about health and hygiene,” she says. “The facilities we have now — and water tops the list — are why that is so. We never had time for school; the new generation is nothing like that.” Ms Basudevi invokes the celestial to make her point: “Water is the biggest comfort we have here. It’s almost like we have god in the house.”

This article is part of the cover story about the Tata Trusts featured in the January 2016 issue of Tata Review:
Philanthropy fine-tuned
The Tata Trusts has — through integration, use of technology, advocacy, partnerships and more — set course for a renewal aimed at deepening the impact of its numerous charity endeavours
Read the complete articles, and more, in Tata Review
'The Tata Trusts will have to keep renewing itself'
Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Trusts, talks about the trusts' evolving philanthropic approach, future growth and priority issues facing India
A flavoured solution
A unique public-private partnership involving the Tata Trusts has ensured that thousands of tribal schoolchildren enjoy wholesome meals
Food way forward
Tackling malnutrition in India is a pressing need, and one of the focus areas for the Tata Trusts
Net gains are cooking
The clean cooking and internet awareness programmes that the Tata Trusts runs with its partners in Gujarat are a reflection of the organisation's intent and impact
In search of that creative edge
Innovation in technology and solutions is crucial in the Tata Trusts quest to enhance the reach and execution of its programmes
Schooled for uplift
A spread of education centres in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand are enjoying a renaissance thanks to a project undertaken with the support of the Tata Trusts
Equity and excellence
Linking the Tata Trusts' initiatives in the education sector to improving the overall quality of life of the community has worked to the advantage of beneficiaries
Harvesting hopes, reaping rewards
A Tata Trusts initiative in the interiors of Maharashtra is providing succour to thousands of poor farmers, who have been encouraged to shift away from the traditional and grow more profitable crops
Rural riches
The rural livelihoods and communities portfolio of the Tata Trusts targets poverty reduction through a host of measures
Building the future, brick by brick
Backing from the Tata Trusts has enabled thousands of migrant workers, especially in Gujarat, to secure better working conditions, find financial security and transform their lives
An urban variant of a rural malaise
The Tata Trusts trained its spotlight on urban poverty and livelihoods as an issue that required focused intervention at a time when most philanthropic agencies were focusing on rural poverty
Mission maximum
The Tata Water Mission has been calibrated to make the most of the social development capabilities residing in the Tata Trusts
Rhythm reloaded
A project in Kutch in Gujarat is, with a push from the Tata Trusts, working to revitalise the folk music tradition of the region by creating new opportunities for musicians practicing the craft
A canvas widened
The media, arts and culture theme of the Tata Trusts concentrates attention of conserving India's civilizational heritage and those who embody it