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“Goats would go down, there would be bird droppings.” Fifty-year-old C. Guruamma was defining the state of the village well which is their main source of water, a few months back. “The water was dirty,” she said, sitting under the shade of a tree in Chittoor district’s Cherivi village, “So for drinking purposes we would get the water from somewhere else.” The “dirty” well-water, she said, was used only for, ironically, cleaning and washing. Fast-forward to the present day and the well is now restored, with a cover, and a parapet. The village user committee—a group of members who have undertaken the responsibility of the upkeep of the restored well and of which Guruamma is a part of—had just got the well cleaned and is happy to talk of the ‘muddy well’ in the past tense.

A well of floating problems

For as long as she could remember, water collection—separately, for drinking and cleaning—was a major task in Guruamma’s list of household chores. “I used to get five pots of drinking water from the (government) supply every day. It is about 300 metres away and the water comes from an overhead tank,” she said. This amount would suffice for the four members of her family. The rest of the water requirement was taken care of by drawing from the well. “Five families installed five motors near the well, so water would get pumped to their houses; rest of us did it with our hands,” Guruamma said.

Cherivi is a small village of 13 households. Most of the houses are concrete—so is the road circumventing through the colony—with lots of fruit and flowering trees in everyone’s courtyard. The well is in a central location of the colony.

Venkatamma, Guruamma’s neighbour and also a member of the village user committee, came and sat next to her. Her grandchild devised a fun game of jumping on and off her lap as the doting grandmother spelt another risk that the well had posed earlier, “With no parapet, it was unsafe for children.” And in the summer months, typically between April and June, the well would almost dry up. Silting was another major problem. The community would then be dependent on water tankers.

Hope renewed

In June this year, WaterAid India and Pepsico Foundation, along with its local partner, Rashtriya Seva Samithi (RASS), intervened and helped in the well restoration of Cherivi, thereby bringing in a wave of relief for the community. The five motors were replaced with one, and pipes were laid so that every household had access to water at their doorstep, quite literally. A water storage tank was installed too, and a parapet was built around the well. The well was also covered.

This immediately eased the load of water collection for the community. “Now we use the well water for both drinking and cleaning purposes,” Chinamma, a woman from the community said, “It’s clean and accessible.”

All for one, one for all

An important extension of this initiative was the formation of the user committee that women like Guruamma and Venkatamma are a part of. The idea was to hand over the responsibility of the well to the beneficiaries themselves, making them self-sufficient. The user committee has 16 members, all elected by the community itself.

Vijay Kumar, the president of this user committee, said that one of the first initiatives that they took was de-silting the well. “Three members of the user committee climbed in (the well) and kept passing on buckets full of mud and silt to members standing out. Together, we cleaned the well in a day,” he said. Since then, the members clean the well once a month on a rotation basis.

The user committee meets once a month, or twice if there is an issue to be discussed. Apart from cleaning, they also decided that the motor would be switched on twice a day, at a specific time. Punayya, a member of the committee and whose house is closest to the well, was entrusted with this responsibility. “Most of us—men and women—work in Sri City, in different workshops, and have to leave home early. Earlier, we had to get up at 4 a.m. to collect water and prepare for the day; but now with piped water, we can comfortably get up at 6 a.m. and do everything,” Venkatamma said.

The user committee also started collecting a sum of Rs 100 per month from every family for the upkeep of the well. “We started this collection only last month,” the president, who is also a doctor, said. The corpus has Rs 1300 now. “The community doesn’t mind contributing because they know it is for the well’s repair and other work. It also gives everyone a sense of ownership,” he added as the other members nodded in agreement.