Water Democracy

Water crisis looms countrywide

Water has become the most commercial products of the century. This may sound bizarre, but true. In fact, what water is to the 21st century, oil was to the 20th century. The stress on the multiple water resources is a result of a multitude of factors. On the one hand, the rapidly rising population and changing lifestyles have increased the need for fresh water. On the other hand, intense competitions among users in agriculture, industry and domestic sector is pushing the ground water table deeper.

To get bucket of drinking water is a struggle for most women in the country. The virtually dry and dead water resources have lead to acute water scarcity, affecting the socio-economic condition of the society. The drought conditions have pushed villagers to move to cities in search of jobs, whereas women and girls have to trudge further. This time lost in fetching water can very well translate into financial gains, leading to a better life for the family. If opportunity costs were taken into account, it would be clear that in most rural areas, households are paying far more for water supply than the often-normal rates charged in urban areas. Also, if this cost of fetching water which is almost equivalent. to 150 million women days each year, is covered into a loss for the national exchequer, it translates into a whopping 10 billion rupees per year.

The government has accorded the highest priority to rural drinking water for ensuring universal access as a part of policy framework to achieve the goal of reaching the unreached. Despite the installation of more than 3.5 million hand pumps and over 116 thousand piped water supply schemes, in many parts of the country, the people face water scarcity almost every year, there by meaning that our water supply systems are failing to sustain despite huge investments.

In India, there are many villages either with scarce water supply or without any source of water. If there is no source of potable water in 2.5 kilometres, then the village becomes no source water village or problem village. In many rural areas, women still have to walk a distance of about 2.5 kms to reach the source of water. She reaches home carrying heavy pots, not to rest but to do other household chores of cooking, washing~ cleaning, caring of children and looking after livestock. Again in the evening she has to fetch water. Thus a rural woman's life is sheer drudgery.

Water is the biggest crisis facing India in terms of spread and severity, affecting one in every three persons. Even in Chennai, Bangalore, Shimla and Delhi, water is being rationed and India's food security is under threat. With the lives and livelihood of millions at risk, urban India is screaming for water. For instance, water is rationed twice a week in Bangalore, and for 30 minutes a day in Bhopal; 250 tankers make 2,250 trips to quench Chennai's thirst. Mumbai routinely lives through water cuts from January to June, when some areas get water once in three days in Hyderabad.

Harrowing midnight for a precious bucket of drinking water is a regular feature for many families of Vypuri, an Island off the mainland of Kochi. Women have to queue up in front of the public water taps, being at the lag end of the pipeline system, they get water only after the users ahead in the pipeline finish collecting water. There are nights when water pressure dips so low that some women get it after midnight. They split their day between household chores and collecting water.

Apart from the water scarcity caused by Coca-cola in Plachimada, the other districts in the state are facing a water crisis. For instance, in Kottayam district at some places, the water scarcity is so acute that people hesist to offer a glass of water to the visitor, which hitherto was a common custom. In the upper Kuttanadu area of the district during summer people collect water from a distance of 3-4 kms. Water supply from public taps is erratic and very often even after standing for an hour in the queue; people are not able to get a bucket of water.

Most women and girls in Rajasthan find themselves searching water for much of the year. They trudge bare foot in the hot sun for hours over wastelands, across thorny fields, or rough terrain in search of water, often life the colour of mud and brackish, but still welcome for the parched throats back home. On an average, a rural woman walks more than 14000 km a year just to fetch water. Their urban sisters are only slightly better off- they do not walk such distances, but stand in the long winding queues for hours on end to collect water from the roadside taps on the water lorries.

In every household, in the rural areas in Rajasthan, women and girl children bear the responsibilit of collecting, transporting, storing, and managing water. In places, where there is no water for farming, men migrate to urban areas in search of work leaving women behind to fond for the old and the children. Women spend most of their time, collecting water with little time for other productive work. This impacts on the education of the girl child, if the girl is herself not collecting water, she is looking after the home and her siblings when her mother is away.

In brief:


  • Water source being open dug well, the quality of water is poor; dirty, saline and has turbidity
  • Women have to make at least three trips at 5 am, 11 am and 5 pm
  • Sometimes, the number of trips is more
  • Total distance traveled is 9-10 km, even higher
  • Total Time spent is 6-9 hours
  • Total number of pots/buckets is about 3 pots, 30-45 litres (one pot of 10-15 litres per trip)
  • Due to long distance, they have to take rest in the middle of the way. Dust storms aggravate their problem
  • At some villages water from tubewells is too saline to drink. Even animals particularly cow gets indigestion after drinking this water, so the villagers add water from the dug well. The entire life of women in rural areas like Jaisalmer is spent on water collection and cooking. Even the girls of 8-10 years cannot be spared. They cannot afford the luxury of school. For instance for Pappu a girl of hardly 10 years, water collection has become her main job. In the words of her grandmother "Water fetching is the schooling for Pappu." There are so many Pappus in the villages and dhaanis of Jaisalmer.



In Sriganganagar, the Indira Gandhi canal is the main source for drinking water. However, during the crisis period (either because of no water in the main canal/sub canal or due to the erratic p9wer supply), the rich remain unaffected. In such crisis women from poorhouse hold draw water from the  village diggis, which is totally unfit for any kind of human activity. They use this water not only for washing cloth and bathing but also for drinking. Due to the formation of algae, water becomes greenish and filthy. Women add alum to purify it.

In Orissa drinking water is being privatized. The government first insists on the formation of water associations and conveniently pass the responsibilities on to these association. When this proves inefficient, water distribution rights are given away to private contractors. For example, the Orissa government initially stressed on the formation of Paani Panchayats (water associations).

Later using police the government suppressed these panchayats justifying this by claiming that the villages were not being responsible enough. Titlagarh is the hottest town of India, but it has no water, causing great misery to the women. As the highest temperature, is recorded here 52 degrees centigrade which is also the highest temperature in India. People called "Titlagarh" as "Tatlagarh", in local language Tatla means hot. In Titlagarh water problem is acute. People are buying water throughout the year for drinking and cooking purpose. In the month of May and June the rate of water increase three times, from Rs 2 per Dabba to Rs.8 per Dabba (container). This is the picture of urban areas, but in rural areas the problem is worse, where the tubewells all are becoming dry but people have no money to buy water. Due to the water problem some villagers are migrating to other places.

In Uttranchal women are suffering a lot in every village where water problem is severe. Natural sources are drying up which adds the kilometers for women everyday to quench the thirst of their family as well as animals.

Women are the major part of the workforce in Garhwal. They work from early morning to late evening to serve the family. They do all household work from cooking to cleaning and washing clothes and soiled utensils as well as look after their children and animals. Women also collect the water required for cooking, cleaning, washing, bathing and drinking both for human beings and animals.

During the survey in Jaunsar area of district Tehri Garhwal, in villages such as Nagthat, Duena, Vishoi, Gadol, Jandoh, Chi tar, Chichrad and Gangoa, it was  observed that water in the region is mostly acidic in nature. The water problem in Chi tar and Gangoa villages is very severe, where men and women carry water on mules from 8-10 Km to the village. Because of the poor water quality, most of the villagers in the regions are suffering from many diseases related to skin and teeth. Natural resources of water in the area are very few and they are also disappearing very fast. During the survey, Smt. Nisha Devi of Chi tar village explained that they are not getting enough water for their animals so they take their animals to the spring about 2-3 kms away.

In Bundelkhand, women have no work but to collect drinking water on their heads from long distance. The grim situation of water may be best illustrated by one Bundelkhandi saying which roughly translated as "let the husband die but the earthen pot of water should not be broken".

The scenario is worst in Patha in Chitrakut district where women have to travel a long distance to collect water for drinking. Half of the time of women is spent to collect water, which affects their health and the well-being of their children. The paucity of time due to water crisis aggravates the domestic problem.

Instead of solving the water crisis, attempts are being made to create a disastrous situation in the region. Banda city entirely depends on the Ken river. If Ken is linked with Betwa, then it will not affect only Banda, but would also jeopardize the survival of farmers who depend on Ken.

Even in Delhi the water scenario is no better, being worst in Delhi slums. For example Sanjay colony slum of New Delhi has population about 15,000-20,000 with about 4500 households in the locality. Majority of the population is self-employed and are engaged in making daris, mats and other clothes for sale. In this area people collect water from different sources depending on the availability such as DJB tanker, MCD pipe water supply and from Sulabh International. DJB tanker comes daily but it has no fixed time for water distribution. The water that comes from MCD pipe water has fixed time for water supply but it only comes for 1-2 hr in the evening (around 4.30 p.m.). At MCD pipe line people made bore and fetch water from it. If the people don't get water from the above sources they are forced to get it from Sulabh International near Kalkaji temple for which they have pay @ Rs. 2 for 20 litre or so.

The Water crisis is same in West Bengal. In all the districts, the water commons have ceased to exist, and have become open-access resources, with hardly anyone responsible to take care of the resources. In North Bengal, some women reported they had opinions regarding the use of the water body, but their importance in management decisions is cipher. The absence of the community from the management of the water resources is indeed a tragedy, because now the resources are at the mercy of either the market or government officials.

Punjab; the name stands for abundance of water, but the present situation of water resources in the state is highly critical. The ground water availability is drastically hampered. The village ponds are drying day by day. Women in the villages desperately need water. Near Talwandi Sabo, for some villages, the source for drinking water is about 8 km away. Near Jajjal due to contaminated water, women are suffering from a number of diseases including cancer. There have been several deaths attributed to polluted water.

For Maharashtra, water is an abiding concern. In many villages women have to walk more than 3 kilometres everyday to fetch two huge vessels of water illegally from a government reservoir. They have to make at least three trips everyday. The state government do not send tankers to the villagers. At some places, women spend Rs 5 for two canes of water. Images of women carrying the pots of water, walking miles and miles for one single pot are common in the state of Maharashtra. Women in Maharashtra have carried the water burden both as a result of scarcity and abundance. Drought displacement due to dams and irrigation have contributed to increasing water burden of women. Women in Nandurbar district of North Maharashtra share their woes "forget about getting safe drinking water from wells, we spend most of our time locating streams and springs that quench our thrust". Many Women came as brides, their hair have gone dry, but the search for water has not ended.

Karnataka is facing the worst kind of water crisis. In Bangalore, only 35% of the city gets water on daily basis, the rest on alternative days. In addition to the scarcity, erratic water supply is another problem. In Samadhanagar area, water generally comes in the morning at 11 A.M or in the middle of the night. Both these timings make it very difficult for women to collect water as they leave early in the morning to go to work. In Doddanagar slums in the city, women and children who are also breadwinners of the family spend 3-4 hours filling water, losing their wages. In Hosapalya locality women get severe joint pain in their shoulders, hips and knees due to carrying water pits from water sources outside their colony. In Peenya industrial area, many street fights occur among the women over water. Social conflict and tension is high due to water crisis.


In brief, at an estimate about 150 Million-Woman Days and Rs 10 Billion are lost in fetching water.


Recommendations and Suggestions


  • To mitigate the women water burden; the study suggests the following measures
  • Restore the conventional methods of water conservation like Baolis, Jhods, Ponds, Tankas
  • Introduce rainwater harvesting
  • Change the cropping pattern of agriculture
  • Instead of growing water intensive crop like paddy and sugarcane, introduce crops like millet, ragi, which consume less water
  • In cities instead of Public Private Partnership (Privatisation of water) Public-Public partnership (Public and Government) is an alternative for water cnsls
  • Proper water conservation measures should be used. People should be made aware and trained on the techniques of water conservation
  • Government schemes should be implemented properly
  • Involve Public Raj Institutions (PRIs) and NGO in the management of rural water supply
  • Women should be trained as water managers for the better utilization of water
  • Future programmes/projects should be designed, keeping in view the women as water users





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