Thursday, 26 April 2007

Meeting with the TWAD engineers

Tuesday, the third day of the tour, started very early with a breakfast meeting at the headquarters of the Tamil Nadu branch of the Communist Party of India (CPI), in Chennai. A heavyweight delegation had come to discuss with us. The CPI is one of the parties in India that is most clearly opposed to water privatisation.

After this meeting we went straight to the offices of the Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board (TWAD), where more than 20 water engineers were waiting for us. The engineers are all part of the Change Management Group, the collective that has been the driving force behind the experiment with democratisation of rural water management in Tamil Nadu. The transformation process, as the engineers described it, started in 2004 and has resulted in the “Total community management” approach, based on the notion that the widespread water scarcity is a problem of management, not of water resources. This new approach has led to very impressive results in improving access to water while at the same time lowering costs and water bills. Ramiyanahalli, the village we visited Monday, is not unique: out of the over 470 villages included in the experiment, more than two thirds experienced major improvements.

The enthusiasm of the engineers to share their experiences with us made the meeting a fascinating experience. The depth of their commitment to the democratisation process was striking, not the least because several engineers very honestly admitted that they had at first been sceptical about the proposed experiment and even initially opposed it. They stressed that the experiment was very much a self-critical process of re-assessing traditional thinking within the public water company and finding news ways to engage with the water users in rural communities, essentially by approaching people as equals. “The people are the ultimate masters, we must never forget that”, one engineer said. The engineers stressed that building trust can be a very lengthy process, especially because rural communities have often for very long time had little reason to expect anything from government officials.

A fascinating example of the changed mindset was the example given by an engineer who has worked with an indigenous community without access to clean water, in a remote forest area. Before the start transformation process the engineers would have disregarded villages that were far away or lacked electricity. Now exactly these difficult villages get priority because this is where those with adequate access to water and sanitation live.

The meeting ended with the very encouraging news that the democratisation process will be expanded to more villages in Tamil Nadu and gradually also to urban areas. There is also interest in other Indian states to learn from the democratisation process, possibly through public-public partnerships with the Tamil Nadu Water (TWAD).

For more information about the work of the Change Management Group, see for instance: “Democratisation of water management as a way to reclaiming public water - The Tamil Nadu experience”, V. Suresh and Pradip Prabhu (written for the Indian editions of the "Reclaiming Public Water" book).

20 comments:

Special K said...

Hi I am a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I am in Delhi now doing my Ph.D. research on water scarcity, water privatization, and the struggles against Coca-Cola in India. Unfortunately I just learned about the tour after meeting with some people at Parvaritan. I wish I knew about the tour before as I would have loved to attend. You are going to many of the places I hope to visit while I here and meeting with many of the activits and people I hope to talk to for my research. I would really appreciate it if Tamsyn or anyone else managing this site would be willing to be in touch with me and share some of the contacts that you have in Delhi and other spots in India. Also if any of you will be back in Delhi I will be here until May 16th and would love to meet you. My email is kbywater@umail.ucsb.edu and Indian mobile is 9876258422. You all are doing great work and I look forward to hearing about how the rest of the trip goes.

Special K said...

Hi I am a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I am in Delhi now doing my Ph.D. research on water scarcity, water privatization, and the struggles against Coca-Cola in India. Unfortunately I just learned about the tour after meeting with some people at Parvaritan. I wish I knew about the tour before as I would have loved to attend. You are going to many of the places I hope to visit while I here and meeting with many of the activits and people I hope to talk to for my research. I would really appreciate it if Tamsyn or anyone else managing this site would be willing to be in touch with me and share some of the contacts that you have in Delhi and other spots in India. Also if any of you will be back in Delhi I will be here until May 16th and would love to meet you. My email is kbywater@umail.ucsb.edu and Indian mobile is 9876258422. You all are doing great work and I look forward to hearing about how the rest of the trip goes. Thank you so much.
Regards,
Krista Bywater

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