Despite acute shortage of water for irrigation and the groundwater level going down, Punjab government has not only succeeded in implementing schemes related to drinking water supply in the rural areas of the state but has also set an example for several other states. It was in 2006 first that the Punjab government launched a medium-term program under the World Bank-supported Punjab Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project. The project had a target of providing all the 15,170 habitations with 70 litres per capita per day (lpcd) of safe drinking water.
Schemes for water meters and connections
The government prepared elaborate plans to ensure regular water supply to the villages which were targeted under its Medium Term Programme sans any financial support from the government. Though initially only a few villages were to be covered, in later phases, the plan aimed at extending the scheme to all the villages in Punjab. To ensure financial sustainability, and cover maximum areas, the government has also drafted a new water policy. The basic objective of policy was to encourage metered water connections in the rural areas and provide regular water supply in a feasible manner.
To start with, in a bid to give boost to the project, Punjab government proposed to provide water meters with water connection in 100 villages of state on pilot basis. With billing being linked with the consumption of water directly, the poor consumers were to be the main beneficiary. Metering and billing was promoted to encourage people to save water and prevent leakage and waste. It gave desired results and by January 2013, as many as 200 out of the 840 villages covered under the project had opted for metered household connections. What was more significant was that 15 of these villages round-the-clock water supply.
Complaint redressal system
In a bid to increase accountability in the rural and remote areas and make functioning of employees involved with the project and scheme more effective, a unique complaint redressal system was formed.
In November 2009, a Shikayat Nivaran Kendra was set up with a toll free number where rural consumers could call round the clock and register their complaints online, request services and track progress of their complaints. So as to ensure impartiality, the work was outsourced to an independent agency.
With every official remaining connected with the online system through phone or internet, it is now easy for top officials to directly monitor complaints.
The average time that should normally be taken to address a particular complaints was specified and if a complaint was not rectified within the given period, it was to be forwarded to a senior official. The system also ensured that the complaints were not shown closed till the consumer complainant was not satisfied.
Now covering over 16 million consumers in more than 15,000 habitations, the system is helping curtail absenteeism and non-performance of employees in remote villages, which was nearly impossible otherwise This has also made those involved with the management, more transparent, accountable and consumer-friendly.
The complaint redressal system about water problems has been so successful that the Union government has suggested to other states to replicate the redressal system. West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan have already approached Punjab government to emulate the functioning.