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Can Decentralisation Improve Rural Water Supply Services?

A survey of households in six villages in Birbhum district of West Bengal provides evidence that decentralisation in delivery of water supply leads to better quality of services. The participation of the local government in distribution of water supply, and household contribution to operation and maintenance appear to have a positive impact on quality.

NOTESjanuary 3, 2009 EPW Economic & Political Weekly68Can Decentralisation Improve Rural Water Supply Services?Indranil DeA survey of households in six villages in Birbhum district of West Bengal provides evidence that decentralisation in delivery of water supply leads to better quality of services. The participation of the local government in distribution of water supply, and household contribution to operation and maintenance appear to have a positive impact on quality.Decentralisation in delivery of basic services to rural households has gained prominence in recent times especially after the 73rd Amend-ment of the Constitution. This has made provision for devolving powers and re-sponsibilities upon the local governments, the panchayats or panchayati raj insti-tutions (PRIs), for implementation of schemes to deliver essential services such as drinking water supply, sanitation, street lighting and roads.1 IntroductionDecentralisation as against centralisation is expected to take care of the needs and preferences of communities as powers and responsibilities are devolved to lower lev-els. It is also expected to increase account-ability of the government in the delivery of services. Therefore, delivery of services is expected to be better through decen-tralised institutions than through centra-lised institutions. Among these services, the provision of drinking water draws im-portance as it has a serious impact on pub-lic health and it is part of the global pro-gramme of poverty alleviation. This article compares the delivery of water sup-ply services through decentralised and centralised institutions and attempts to find out whether decentralisation leads to better delivery of water supply services. The study is based on a household level survey in six villages of Birbhum district of West Bengal. The participation of the local govern-ment in provision of basic services is expected to increase the efficiency of service delivery (Tiebout 1956; Oates 1972, 1977). This is because local governments operate more closely with the people than any other level of government. Therefore, local governments would be able to identify the needs and preferences of communities. If, instead of local governments, line agenciesareentrusted with the work of implementing programmes of provision of basic services like water supply and sanitation, it would then end up primarily in engineering solutions (Slaymaker and Newborne 2004; WSP 2004). However, the provision of these services by local governments in develop-ing countries may be hampered by the low capacity of local governments, cor-ruption, elite capture and political influence (Bardhan 2002; Bardhan and Mookherjee 2000; Asthana 2003; Slaymaker and Newborne 2004; Mtisi and Nicol 2003). Experiences of decentralisation in delivery of basic services like rural water supply and sanitation in developing countries reveal that the lack of political account-ability, people’s participation, transparency, policy coherence, capacity at the lower level, and monitoring and evaluation have held back the success of these pro-grammes (WSP 2004). This study illustrates the response of rural households with respect to water supply services. To capture the difference between water supply services of the state and local governments, the study has been conducted in both areas – where the service is provided by the state line department and also the local govern-ment. The line department for water supply in West Bengal is the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED). It is responsible for installation of sourcesand also operation and mainte-nance (O&M). The local governments are primarily responsible for O&M of water supply services. Therefore, only the quality of service has been investigated in the study to examine the impact of decentralisation on water supply. It is ex-pected that the quality of water supply service is better in areas where the responsibility ofO&M has been devolved to the local governments. Section 2 of the article describes the survey methodology and data sources. Section 3 provides an account of the vari-ous water supply sources available in the survey villages. In Section 4, the study probes into the quality of water supply in the survey villages. In Section 5, the study looks into the expenditure of survey The author is grateful to his PhD supervisor Ravi S Srivastava for his comments and suggestion on the study. Email:
NOTESjanuary 3, 2009 EPW Economic & Political Weekly70regarding taste, smell and colour of water. Additionally, information on incidence of waterborne disease on households and the availability of water has also been looked into. These quality indicators are expec-ted to be better wherever the local govern-ment participates inO&M. Taste, Smell and Colour: Households re-porting bad taste are 11%, bad smell are 15% and bad colour are 21% considering all the sample households. Within the GPs, in Ruppur none of the households reported bad taste, smell and colour of water, while the same is quite high in Illambazar and Pourandarpur (Table 3, p 71). It is impor-tant to note that the percentage of house-holds reporting bad colour is staggeringly high at 57% in Pourandarpur GP. It has also been observed that the percentage of re-spondents reporting taste, smell and colour of water to be bad is higher in MPV than in RLPV. This may be due to reporting bias in favour of quality of water in RLPV as the households are likely to be less quality con-scious due to their illiteracy and poverty.Waterborne Disease:The percentage of households getting affected by waterborne handpumps, and wells. It has been obser-ved that 78% of the sample households collect water from public water supply sources outside the premises (Table 2). Percentage of households collecting water from in-house tap is 9% and in-house othersources (handpump/tube well/well) is 13%. Within the category of public water sup-ply sources outside the premises, 40% of the sample households collect water from deep tube well, 32% from standpost, and 26% from handpump. The rest of the households collect water from masonry well and other systems like the govern-ment reservoir. Due to non-availability of piped water service, households in the Ruppur and Tapaipur village (RLPV of Ruppur and Pourandarpur GP respectively) do not collect water from the standpost. The percentage of households taking water from standposts is more than 50% in Ilambazar, Baruipur and Surul village. Household tap connection (in-house pub-lic tap water source) is only provided in Surul village. In all other GPs in-house tap connections are private. 4 Quality of Water SupplyQuality of water from public water supply sources outside the premises has been assessed by analysing the responses SAMEEKSHA TRUST BOOKSInclusive GrowthK N Raj on Economic DevelopmentEssays from The Economic Weekly and Economic & Political WeeklyEdited by ASHOKA MODYThe essays in the book reflect Professor K N Raj’s abiding interest in economic growth as a fundamental mechanism for lifting the poor and disadvantaged out of poverty. He has also been concerned that the political bargaining process may end up undermining growth and not provide support to those who were excluded from access to economic opportunities. These essays, many of them classics and all published in Economic Weekly and Economic & Political Weekly, are drawn together in this volume both for their commentary on the last half century of economic development and for their contemporary relevance for understanding the political economy of development in India and elsewhere.Pp viii + 338 ISBN 81-250-3045-X 2006 Rs 350Available fromOrient Blackswan LtdMumbai Chennai New Delhi Kolkata Bangalore Bhubaneshwar Ernakulam Guwahati Jaipur LucknowPatna Chandigarh Hyderabad Contact: info@orientblacksan.comTable 2: Distribution of Households by Sources of Water Supply(in%) Illambazar Ruppur Pourandarpur Ilambazar Baruipur Total Surul Ruppur Total Pourandarpur Tapaipur Total All Gram (MPV) (RLPV) (MPV) (RLPV) (MPV) (RLPV) PanchayatA Total 11.4 0 6.3 36.7 0 18 3 4 3.4 9.3B Total 22.9 3.4 14.1 10 3.2 6.6 24.2 8 17.2 12.6C Standpost 78.3 42.9 58.8 52.9 0 19.1 29.2 0 15.2 31.9 Deep tube well 17.4 35.7 27.5 35.3 93.3 72.3 29.2 9.1 19.6 39.6 Handpump 0 17.9 9.8 5.9 6.7 6.4 41.7 90.9 65.2 26.4 Masonry well 0 0 0 5.9 0 2.1 0 0 0 0.7Other 4.3 3.6 3.9 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.4 Total 65.7 96.6 79.7 53.396.8 75.4 72.7 88 79.3 78.1Source: Field Survey, 2006. A = In-house Tap Connection, B = In-house Handpump/ Deep Tubewell/Masonary Well, C = Out of the Premises Public Water Supply Sources.
NOTESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW january 3, 200971disease during the course of the last one year is around 20%. Incidence of water-borne disease as a quality indicator is also low in RuppurGP as none of the house-holds got affected by waterborne disease during the last one-year period (Table 3). Availability of Water: Almost 60% of the sample households reported that they do not get sufficient water throughout the year. The percentage of household getting sufficient water throughout the year is re-ported to be the highest in RuppurGP at around 89%. It is the lowest at around 14% in PourandarpurGP (Table 3). The survey results reveal that the per-centage of respondents reporting taste, smell and colour of water to be bad is lower in Illambazar and RuppurGP than in Pourandarpur. Moreover, the percent-age of households affected by disease is alsomuch higher in PourandarpurGP than in Illambazar and RuppurGP. It im-plies that quality of water is better in Il-lambazar and RuppurGP compared to Pourandarpur GP. In Illambazar and RuppurGP, the PS has a considerable role in the maintenance of piped water supply. On the other hand, in PourandarpurGP, PHED alone maintains the piped water supply. Therefore it appears that if the PS is involved in maintenance of piped water supply, then thequalityofwater turns out to be better. The quality indicators demonstrate that quality of piped water is the best in Ruppur GP. In thisGP, the PHED lifts the water to the tank and purifies it. After that it is the responsibility of thePS to distribute the water. Any problem in distribution (leak in the pipeline, contamination, etc) is tak-en care of by thePS. On the other hand, in the other two GPs either thePHED or PS takes the responsibility for maintenance. It appears that the division of O&M activity between two different institutions has made the system more efficient.5 Expenditure in Water SupplyHousehold contribution to water supply is expected to promote a sense of com-munity ownership, which in turn may lead to betterO&M. It has been observed that most of the public water supply sources are funded by government in the survey villages. Individual households generally do not contribute to setting up of sources. Only in the case of a few schemes, households spent onO&M. Household contribution for maintenance is either monthly or irregular. The local government or the community decides the amount to be contributed and the fre-quency of the contribution. Within the sample households who use piped water supply, around 48% have made contribution for maintenance. Per-centage of households who contributed for maintenance is much higher in Rup-pur GP as compared to the other two GPs (Table 4).In Surul village, all the house-holds using piped water supply have made contributions on a monthly basis. The monthly contributions for standpost is Rs 8.50 in Surul village. Households of other GPs do not contribute on a monthly (or regular) basis to any of the public water supply systems. Household contribution in water supply has been found to have a strong impact on quality indicators. Due to the high per-centage of households’ contributions in Surul village of Ruppur GP and Baruipur village of Illambazar GP, the quality indica-tors are better in these villages. In addition, monthly contribution probably produces some extra benefit as compared to irregular contribution. Quality indicators appear to be better in Surul village where contributions are all monthly, as compared to Baruipur where contributions are all irregular. 6 ConclusionsQuality of piped water has been observed to be better in villages where the local government participates inO&M. Quality indicators are found to be better in Illam-bazar and RuppurGP where the local gov-ernment participates inO&M. These indi-cators are worse in PourandarpurGP where the PHED alone participates inO&M. Moreover, quality has been found to be best in RuppurGP, where the PHED shares some of the maintenance activity along withPS. Division of responsibility accord-ing to the comparative advantage of local government and PHED has yielded the best result. Household contribution for mainte-nance also has been found to have a posi-tive impact on quality of water supply services. Overall, the results of the study suggest that decentralisation has a posi-tive impact on quality of water supply.ReferencesBardhan, Pranab and Dilip Mookherjee (2000): “Capture and Governnence at Local and National Levels”,American Economic Review, 90(2): pp 135-39.Bardhan, Pranab (2002): “Decentralisation of Gover-nance and Development”, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 16(4), pp 185-206. Mtisi, Sobona and Alan Nicol (2003): “Water Points and Water Policies: Decentralisation and Commu-nity Management in Sangwe Communal Area, Zimbabwe”, Sustainable Livelihood in Southern Africa, Research Paper 15.Oates, Wallace (1972): Fiscal Federalism (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich).– (1977): “An Economist’s Perspective on Fiscal Federalism”, Wallace Oates (ed.),The Political Economy of Fiscal Federalism(Lexington: Lexing-ton Books).Slaymaker, Tom and Peter Newborne (2004): “Implica-tion of Water Supply and Sanitation Programmes”, Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, Water Policy Programme, Overseas Development Institute. Tiebout, C (1956): “A Pure Theory of Local Expendi-tures”, Journal of Political Economy, 64: pp 416-24.WSP (2004): “Rural Water Supply and Sanitation in Africa: Global Learning Process on Scaling Up Poverty Reduction”, Shanghai Conference, 25-27 May.Table 4: Household Contribution for O&M of ‘Outside the Premises Public Water Supply Source’ (%)Quality Indicators Illambazar Ruppur Pourandarpur IlambazarBaruipurTotalSurulRuppurTotalPourandarpurTapaipurTotalAllGPContribute 11.183.34077.877.842.942.947.84Monthly 0 0 0 100 100 0 0 19.57Irregular 1001001000010010080.43Source: Field Survey, 2006.Table 3: Household Response on Quality(%)Quality Indicators Illambazar Ruppur Pourandarpur IlambazarBaruipurTotalSurulRuppurTotalPourandarpurTapaipurTotalAllGram (MPV) (RLPV)(MPV) (RLPV)(MPV) (RLPV)PanchayatBad Taste 16.7 0 10 0 0 28.6 28.6 10.87Bad Smell 33.3 0 20 0 0 14.3 14.3 15.22Bad Colour 27.8 8.3 20 0 0 57.1 57.1 21.73Incidence of Water- borne disease 27.8 8.3 20 0 0 42.9 42.9 19.57Availability of sufficient water throughout the Year 22.2 41.7 30 88.9 88.9 14.3 14.3 39.13Source: Field Survey, 2006.

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