Dr. Vikram Vyas
Scientific Resource Centre, The Ajit Foundation, 396 Vasundhara Colony, Jaipur 302 018
Email: [email protected] satyam. net. in
“The village will have its own waterworks, ensuring clean water supply. This can be done through controlled wells or tanks.”
M. K. Gandhi, Harijan, 26 July 1942
The last half- century has been marked by attempts to solve various problems of rural India without involving local communities in any meaningful way. The solutions have always been imposed from above through the medium of all pervasive and centralised bureaucracy. This has resulted in the dying of local traditions and institutions while the alternatives that have emerged have been, at their best, less than adequate. With the advent of the Panchayat- Raj amendment to the constitution there is a glimmer of hope. Panchayats, or the local village parliament, now have a limited say in the use of the development funds for the village; further Panchayats themselves are accountable to the village through the institution of Gram- Sabha or the village assembly. Both these institutions are in their infancy and are subject to all the imperfections of the current political and social climate; still they remain our best hope. They can be the first step on the road leading to Swaraj.
It is in this context that the Ajit Foundation started in 1994 a Scientific Resource Centre with the task of developing tools based on mathematical modelling and information technologies (IT) that can help Panchayats manage their own water resources. The problem of meeting the water needs of a rural community is a complex human problem. In solving this problem IT can potentially play a useful role, but how to harness this potentiality is a question that has not received the attention it deserves. Jal- Chitra, which is software for managing water resources of a village, is a continuing attempt on the part of The Ajit Foundation to answer this question. The first attempt of The Ajit Foundation towards the use of IT for?2 rural water management was the development of a mathematical model for determining the reliability of rainwater harvesting systems with covered tanks against recurrent draughts. In 1997 this model was converted into an easy to use free software Sim- Tanka. A serious risk in the use of IT for rural development is that it can become a case of a solution searching for a problem. In fact the development of Sim- Tanka suffered to an extent from this pit- fall. Sim- Tanka was developed with the intention of helping a rural community design a reliable rainwater harvesting system using the past rainfall data. In a technical sense the software is indeed very useful, but the fact remains that while Sim- Tanka was received positively by various research organisation and was also given a fair amount of publicity in the press, its actual use in the building of rainwater harvesting systems, at least in Rajasthan, has been insignificant.
The development of Jal- Chitra started with the recognition of this failure of Sim- Tanka. More specifically it was the reluctance of the Barefoot College, Tilonia, to use Sim- Tanka in their program of constructing rainwater harvesting systems that initiated the process of trying to understand what kind of information and analysis is truly useful to a rural community. A continuos debate and dialog between the developer of the software and its eventual user marked this process, which soon became a collaborative project between the Ajit Foundation and the Barefoot College, Tilonia. An equally useful dialog was established with some of the members of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), who have been pioneers in the fight for the right to information. What was solicited most from this dialog with MKSS was how to ensure that the information provided by Jal- Chitra becomes accessible to the entire village.?3
The result of this dialog was recognition that there are three sets of information that can assist a Panchyat in managing its water sources:
- An estimate of monthly water budget of the village.
- A way of keeping track of the maintenance work required for the various water sources.
- A community based water resource map of the village providing information about the access to water
Further, to ensure transparency and accountability all this information has to be available to the entire village in Hindi.
The defining feature of Jal- Chitra is its ability to allow a user to draw a community based water resource map of the village. The map is interactive so by clicking on any of these sources user can enter information about amount of water available from that source, details of any maintenance activity in that month, and if available it also keeps record of the water quality test. The information so entered is then used to generate monthly water budget, and various maintenance and water quality reports. These reports are in Hindi and can be printed and shared with the village at large.
Figure 2 Conceptual Outline of Jal- Chitra
Jal- Chitra at a Glance
- Uses Hindi as the language for interacting with the user.
- Allows user to draw an interactive community based water resource map of the village.
- Allows the community to keep a monthly record of the amount of water available from each of the water sources.
- Facility for keeping record of water quality testing.
- Facility for keeping record of maintenance work required and the maintenance works that has been done.
- Estimates the water demand for domestic, livestock, and agriculture uses.
- The farm records also suggest the optimal water irrigation required depending on the crop planted and the amount of rainfall.
- Generates future monthly water budget based on the past records, as more monthly records are kept the corresponding estimates become more reliable.
- Informs community as to how much of its annual water need is being met from underground water. It also estimates the approximate amount of recharging that is taking place.
- Finds out the reliability of covered rainwater- harvesting systems.
- Estimates the amount of rainwater harvesting done by the village and compares it with total potentiality of rainwater harvesting in the given village.
Who Will Use Jal- Chitra ?
Since the aim of Jal- Chitra is to provide a tool for the village community, it naturally raises question how will the various rural communities access Jal- Chitra? The tentative answer that has emerged from the testing of Jal- Chitra at the Barefoot College, Tilonia and with Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), Devdungari is that two kinds of institutions have to be involved. Firstly, to involve voluntary organisations those are working directly with the village Panchayats and have an access to a computer. Their role is that of an intermediary and one that will change once Panchayats themselves have an access to computers.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly the village school has to be involved in the use of Jal- Chitra. The minimum information that Jal- Chitra needs for it to be useful is the monthly record of the amount of water available from various sources. This requires finding the discharge rate of handpumps, the area of the water cover in the rainwater reservoir, the average depth of water in the reservoirs. For more advance use it also requires maintaining meteorological records like the rainfall.
These records can be kept by the school children, and the process of keeping these records can become a part of a child’s education. The involvement of the village school in the use of Jal- Chitra not only allows the school children to participate in the development of the village but also gives them an opportunity to apply some of the abstract concepts from elementary mathematics to real life situation. This has the potentiality of making the learning of science and mathematics more interesting, relevant and rooted in the child’s own environment.
Testing of Jal- Chitra
Since January 2002 Jal- Chitra is being used in more than a dozen villages of Rajasthan. The use of Jal- Chitra in these villages roughly follows the following steps.
- First a rough community map of the village is drawn on a paper.
- Survey of all water sources is done.
- Survey of village is done to determine approximate human and livestock population.
- Water sources are then marked on the paper map
- The village community map showing all the water sources is then drawn on the computer using Jal- Chitra.
- Information about each of the water sources is then connected with the map of the village in Jal- Chitra.
- Every month a survey is done of all the water sources to determine if they are functioning or not, kind of repairs required, and approximate amount of water being withdrawn from each of the sources.
Using this information Jal- Chitra generate following monthly reports
- A monthly water budget of the village.
- Maintenance report, indicating water sources that require some form of maintenance.
- A maintenance log of every water source in the village, showing all the repair works done on that source.
It is hoped that these reports will be shared with the village community during the Gram- Sabha. To make a full utilisation of all the tools incorporated in Jal- Chitra requires a basic hydro- geological survey of the village and an incorporation of the monthly meteorological records. Unfortunately this information is not available for the villages where Jal- Chitra is currently being tested. Incorporation of these records and an independent validation of the monthly water budget generated by Jal- Chitra are some of the pressing future tasks.
For the testing of Jal- Chitra in Silora Panchayat, the collection of the monthly information is the responsibility of the workers of the Barefoot College Tilonia. Ms Lalita, who had formal education only till lower high school and does not know any English, records the collected information in Jal- Chitra . Some of the reports generated during the course of this testing are included below as computer screen shots. The testing of Jal- Chitra in Todgadh is of particular importance as it is being done in a manner close to its envisioned mode of usage. The high school students collect the monthly data of the amount of water available from various water sources and Vivek Ramkumar, a member of MKSS, then enters the information into Jal- Chitra . Testing of Jal- Chitra in Todgadh also involves Tejaram who is the head of the Todgadh Panchayat. It is hoped that his involvement will teach us how best to incorporate Jal- Chitra into village Panchayats .
Figure 4 Schematic Community Water Resource Map of Kacharia Drawn by Ms. Lalita of the Barefoot College Tilonia
Figure 5 Monthly Water Budget for the Village of Kacharia for the month of May
Figure 6 Report generated by Jal- Chitra showing the water sources that require maintenance in the village of Kacharia
Even the limited use of Jal- Chitra has validated the basic premise behind its development. For example, the records of handpumps maintenance and their maintenance log are vividly bringing out the water situation in various villages. Once these reports are shared with whole of the village through Gram- Sabha then, hopefully, one will be able to see the use of Jal- Chitra as an advocacy tool. There are still many unanswered questions whose answers will emerge only after a more extended use of Jal- Chitra. One particularly important issue that has to be understood is how should Panchayat use the monthly water budget, which is generated by Jal- Chitra, in its planning and water management exercise. The development and the use of Jal- Chitra have suggested two related projects. One there is a need for documenting the experience of developing, testing and of using Jal- Chitra so that the lessons learned from this work can be carefully analysed and shared with the wider community. Secondly, based on the testing of Jal- Chitra and through a continuous dialog with the members of various Panchayats where Jal- Chitra is being used, the development of a new version of Jal- Chitra has to be started. It is hoped that the future development of Jal- Chitra will take place with in the paradigm of open and free software, so that users, software developers, and planners from all over the world can collaborate in its continuos development.
Obtaining Jal- Chitra
Jal- Chitra is free software meant for Panchayats and voluntary organisations working with them. To obtain a copy of Jal- Chitra please contact The Ajit Foundation.
Jal- Chitra is a result of collaboration between the Ajit Foundation, Jaipur and the Barefoot College, Tilonia. I am grateful to my colleagues at both these organisations. At the Barefoot College, Tilonia, I am particularly grateful to Ms Lalita for her insistence on the Hindi version of Jal- Chitra and for her diligent testing of it. I am also grateful to Vivek Ramkumar of MKSS and to the students of Todgadh High School who have been involved in the testing of Jal- Chitra in Todgadh.
My views on the use of information technology for rural development have been greatly influenced by my conversations with Bunker Roy, Dr. Kamla Chowdhary, Laxman Singh, Prof. Narendra Singhi, Nikhil Dey, and Prof. Vijay Vyas, I would like to thank them all for sharing their insights with me.