The other Nitish Kumar of Bihar
Everyone in Bihar knows the name, Nitish Kumar. It is of the chief minister of the state. The people of Lodhipur village in the Gaya district, however, know a second Nitish Kumar who also holds a very important portfolio in their lives. That of being the motor operator of the village piped water supply.
Switching on everyday life
Only 19, the ‘other’ Nitish Kumar is keenly aware of his responsibilities. “If I don’t do my work, the village will not get any water,” he said. Thrice a day—at six in the morning, at one in the afternoon, and then again at five in the evening—Kumar switches on the motor for an hour, allowing water to gush through the taps of every household, leading to an excited flurry of activities. Pots and pans clank as utensils are washed, mugs of water wash off sweat and grime from bodies, and buckets are filled to be used for cooking and cleaning purposes later. Everyone waits for the ‘operator’ to push on the button of their everyday life.
When he first started working as the operator of the motor pump four years back, Nitish had no idea his job would be held with such high regard by everyone in the village. Or that people would start sharing their problems and their stories with him. “My father heard from the village mukhiya (village head) about this job, and told me about it. He also said that I would be paid Rs 1000 for the job. So my first reaction was, ‘Why not?’ It’s better than sitting idle at home,” Nitish said.
Doing his job and more
Taking up this responsibility meant that the young man’s day became busier. He has to wake up early to switch on the motor for an hour in the morning, then attend classes for two hours, go for extra classes in the afternoon, and keep in mind about the water timings in the afternoon and in the evening. “If there is a power cut during the usual time, I make compensations and switch on the motor later,” Nitish said, “Sometimes, if the villagers have an additional need for water, they ask me and I switch on the motor.”
Over time, and amid their little conversations about everyday life, some people started sharing their problems with him too—not always related to water. “They tell me about the difficulties at home or in work. I give everyone a patient hearing,” Nitish said. The Water Management Committee, which comprises members from the community elected by the village, looks into any water-related problem faced by anyone in the village. A model of self-sufficiency, the mini piped water supply system which was initiated here by WaterAid India and its partner NGO, Pragati Gramin Vikas Sansthan (PGVS), encouraged the community to contribute 10 per cent of the installation cost of the project with the aim of building a sense of ownership. After the initial hand-holding, the smooth functioning and maintenance of the MPWS was also handed over to the community—to the water management committee in particular. As part of this, the committee deposited Rs 1000 for maintenance costs; every household contributes Rs 30 every month further towards this corpus. Nitish’s salary comes from this corpus.
“If the motor breaks down or there is any problem, the committee calls for a repairman. But most of the times, I do the repairing myself,” Nitish said. The water is also tested in a nearby-town-lab at regular intervals to guard against any contamination. “When the boring of the well (for the MPWS) was done, the water was tested for purity,” the enthusiastic operator said, “Last it was tested was three months back.”
So what is his favourite part of his job?
“Earlier people had great difficulty in getting water and the hand-pump would often break down, particularly in summers,” Nitesh said, “Now all those problems have disappeared. Now when I switch on the motor, water comes right at the doorstep of every home.”