Thambaipatti (Madurai, Tamil Nadu) : "The engineer from Tami Nadu Water and Drainage department (TWAD) is the most popular man in village today after P Kakkan!" This from Shanti Palliappan, Village Panchayat President of Thambaipatti in Madurai district of Tamil Nadu sounded something of an overstatement. Especially as she was talking to the delegates of a UNICEF sponsored International Learning Exchange in the village 'manimandapam' (auditorium).
But a casual tour of the village, through its clean lanes and bye-lanes, shows there are grains of truth in the claim of the woman village chief. .
From cautious village elders to chattering school children, every one acknowledges that the man from TWAD has brought about a definitive change since the village was brought under the UNICEF supported Total Community Water Management Scheme (TCWMS). Thambaipatti is a village of 563 households, 35 kms from famous South Indian temple town Madurai on National Highway 45. TWAD supplies water to its inhabitants through 346 house service connections and over two dozen public fountains. All decisions related to water and sanitation are taken by the community members who help the engineer in maintaining the water supply, ensuring its quality and collecting water charges from the users.
This has produced immediate results. "The Community participation has brought down monthly operation and maintenance expenditure from Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 20,000. And since we started collecting water charges, we have reduced the arrears from 400000 to 100000," Hemlata, president of the village's Water and Sanitation Committee. School going children play a crucial role in community management of the village's water and sanitation needs. "We collect water from different parts of the village and test its quality with the help of field kits provided by TWAD," said Ansuya Begum, a class XI student. High School children also conduct tap stand studies to ensure there is no pilferage through leakage or illegal connections. More important, they are spreading awareness about water conservation and sanitation in the community.
"When ever I see a young child defecate in the open, I scold him and tell his family elders to make him use the toilet. If a villager elder leaves a tap in the public fountain open, I close it and tell him not to do in future," Jameena, a class X student told a delegate who asked her how she ensures that other villagers comply with instructions from school children.
Significantly, the TWAD Assistant Engineer A. Mariappan started his awareness and community involvement campaign in Thambaipatti by celebrating the birth-day of his first child in the village school.
"I planted a sapling in the name of my son and invited all children to plant saplings named after them," Marriappan told the NICEF delegates. He motivated the community to contribute their 10 percent of the project's capital cost in cash or by labour.
Since then, the man from TWAD has become a part of the community. He helped the villagers solve problems unrelated to water and sanitation also and became so intimate with the villagers that he continues to visit them even after his transfer nine months back.
The Thambaipatti model is being replicated in 145 village panchayats of 29 districts of Tamil Nadu, covering 472 hamlets and a population of 3.5 million.
In all these villages detailed village master plans were prepared by the community with the assistance of the engineers and approved in the Gram Sabha (village general body).
The master plans had sub-plans on ground water recharge, water quality, environmental protection and subsequent management as well as financial issues and the community was totally involved in their implementation.
"It is part of an ongoing process started by a group of engineers who formed a Change Management Group (CMG) to usher democratization of water management system in Tamil Nadu," said a TWAD official. The experiment's success is testified by the fact that the community has contributed $ 0.3 million in cash towards its ten percent share of the capital cost apart from labour.
"Nearly 50,000 households have contributed to implement water supply or recharge schemes in these 145 village panchayats. This is equivalent to a month's wage of 1.5 lakh families," a TWAD official pointed out.
An external study for evaluation of Democratisation of Water through the Change Management Group initiative in Tamil Nadu shows the CMG villages have performed better than others on many crucial indicators. The UNICEF supported study by Dr A.J. James of Pragmatix Research & Advisory Services shows: