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A critique of decentralization and participatory approach in delivering clean water: the case of rural India.


'Development' as an ideology and as a practice is a highly debatable subject in the contemporary economics literature. The concept of development is not about transforming the economic and social basis of societies at large. Instead, it seems to deal with problems rather than searching for grand ideological alternatives (Thomas, 2000). Development as an ideology is seldom relevant now-a-days. The term 'development' is now used to mean practice more than vision or process (ibid). Thus, the process of development has been applied only to the areas where the issue of poverty and lack of access to resources are materially noticed. 'Development' is used to mean the process of transition or transformation toward a modern capitalist, industrial economy (Ferguson 2001). The success of development interventions focuses on the possibility of making globalization and neo-liberalism work. Even the centrally planned and bureaucratically directed development projects are relying on such theoretical underpinnings. Neo-liberal system has never been recognized as a base of development. The efficiency of centrally planned models is subject to new theorization i.e. lack of profit incentive, competition, financial discipline, etc. (Chang, 2003). This has been recognized in the current context of development i.e. liberal capitalism as the dominant mode of social organization and the basis ofglobalization (ibid). The interaction between individual and state has reached a critical juncture in development debate. Both the success and failure of development approaches are important. In fact the failure or inadequacy of grand narrative model is said to be the cause of new development initiatives. The failure is mainly attributable to the lack of participation of the stake holders (people) in modus operandi of 'development' i.e in the decision making process. Thus, decision making in development is a heterogeneous concept i.e make heterogeneous views with a homogenous need. This critical issue helps locate the importance of decentralization as a development approach. These changes are well reflected in clean water supply sector. The paper focuses on the implications of these changes on the clean water supply sector of rural India.


Decentralization has been defined as a transfer of authority in public planning, management, and decision-making from the national to sub-national levels (Rondinelli, cited in Mills, 1990). Decentralization can be meaningfully understood as a political process whereby administrative authority, public resources, and responsibilities are transferred from central government agencies to lower-level organs of government or to non-governmental organizations or the private sector (Crook and Manor, 1998: 6-7; Rondinelli et al., 1989; Meenakshisundaram, 1999; World Bank, 2000a: 3). In 1998, the World Bank estimated that all but 12 of the 75 developing and transitional countries with populations greater than 5 million had embarked on a process of political devolution (cited in Crook and Manor, 1998: 1). In principle, the process of decentralization means de-concentration, de-legation, devolution, and privatization. Decentralization during the early 1980s was centered on the public domain and, to a lesser extent, to the voluntary sector. However, in the later periods, the concept of decentralization had subjected to new interventions as part of a neo-liberal 'adjustment era', (Rondinelli et al. 1989) that include privatization and deregulation. The World Bank's own policies define decentralization to be "..... seen as part of a broader market-surrogate strategy" (World Bank 1983: 23). Since the mid-1980s, decentralization has become one of the mainstays of 'localizing good governance' and it was promoted in a wide range of countries (Bierschenk and Olivier de Sardan 2003, Crook and Sverrisson 2001, Boone 2003, Mohan 1996, Schuurman 1997). Hence, the project of decentralization has heavily been attached to the idea of localization as participation. Localization and participation originate from a cluster of different processes--decentralization, participation, social capital strengthening, and civil society building--that are often seen to contribute to a single entity called 'good governance' (Kawonga, 2001). This can be achieved through the participation of the local community and community based organizations (CBOs).

Participation in development process adopts a technocratic approach to development and work with the government in a subordinate role to deliver services and development (Heller 2003, Seekings 1997). The success of participation depends on the extent and demand for state led service. In development process participation has been manifested in the design and implementation of either community-based development (CBD) or community-driven development (CDD) projects. Majority of these systems are community-based, and hence require the community to collectively organize for its operation & maintenance (O&M). The voluntary mobilization of stake holders are bent on to the situation in which the state led services hinge upon the public wants. This paper discusses this issue in the light of participatory intervention on clean water sector in rural India.


The aim of this paper is to examine the role of participatory model in the provision of clean water and the differences of public perception between centrally planned and participatory models in service delivery. Based on the case study of a village in Palakkdu district of the state of Kerala-India. This paper attempts to examine the influence of economic and merit good concept in water supply. It also analyzes the reasons of public involvement in participatory model of water sector governance.

The following are the objectives of the study:

1. To examine, whether the community involvement increases the access to water?

2. To study whether the present form of decentralization actually helps overcome the institutional failure of state or centrally planned development models.

The data has been collected by using both secondary sources and primary field study. Primary data was collected during a three-week field study through semi-structured interview schedule, focus group discussions, and participant observations. A random method applied in village selection.

This paper is divided into six sections with the next section covering issues of water supply in the village. The fourth section analyses the importance of participatory model in water sector and the second part analyses the function of participatory model with the help of field study in a village--Kollengode in Palakkdu district of Kerala, India. The fifth section describes the implications along with some discussions, and sixth section concludes the paper with some final observations.


The project of participatory development model adopted in Kerala in the year 1993 with the 73rd amendment to the Indian constitution--Panchayati Raj institutions ( village level local self government) at district, block, and village levels are granted constitutional status. The Gram Sabha is recognized as a formal democratic body at the village level. The 74th constitutional amendment, granting constitutional status to municipal bodies, was passed soon afterward. Followed by this in 1998, the Government of Kerala had adopted a policy to transfer all single Panchayat (village) schemes operated by Kerala Water Authority (KWA) to the respective Gram Panchayats (rural local self government). One thousand and fifty schemes were notified for transfer during August, 1998. A separate quasi state administrative body named Kerala Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (KRWSA) was formed in 2000. The responsibility of KRWSA were to; (i) strengthen decentralization and good governance (ii) help financial and institutional restructuring of state run schemes, (iii) reduce financial burden of public scheme (KWA) (iv) improve efficiency of service delivery and satisfaction of consumers and (v) improve coverage with less household capital investment.

In the administrative level KRWSA-Jalanidhi introduced a participatory mode of clean water supply with numerous micro-level schemes. Government sought World Bank aid for the rehabilitation of such 1050 schemes (2). The proposal aimed at rehabilitating and transferring the schemes to beneficiary groups with full cost recovery of operating and maintenance expenditure. In the same year, four highly water scare districts had been selected for the implementation of the scheme (3). However, as o.n December 2007, only 200 schemes have been taken over by KRWSA for rehabilitation. Instead a large number of parallel schemes have been initiated. This study is based on one of the parallel schemes introduced in a village called Kollengode in Pallakkadu district of the state of Kerala, India.

Kollengode Panchayat was included in the 4th batch of the Jalanidhi project in Palakkad district. Twenty eight beneficiary groups had registered under Jalanidhi in 2004. However, in the same year, a huge public water supply scheme having capacity of 7, 50,000 liter was constructed in the Panchayath (4). This was constructed as a part of Panchayath's clean water scheme. The field study in the Panchayath revealed that 12 beneficiary groups which were close to the new scheme had voluntarily pulled out from Jalanidhi. The responses of the people were self explanatory in nature. Their reasons for the withdrawal were; a) availability of water from the newly built public source, b) free of cost, c) no fear of individual financial participation.

The new scheme by KWA is capable to supply continuous water supply to 10 wards in the Panchayath. The total capacity of the tank is higher than the combined capacity of Jalanidhi tanks as 1, 22,360 liter for 437 households. Among them, 198 households are dropped out from the scheme owing to the source failure. The following table describes the water consumption and monthly O&M cost of the Jalanidhi households.

The table explains the disparity in the water consumption. Members in 5 beneficiary groups (BGs) are getting 120 liter per day. These BGs started receiving water supply in January, 2007. This 120 lpcd (5) is above the targeted 70 lpcd. The basic water source (bore well) are having sufficient ground water source. These BGs are close to streams and ponds, according to the local people. This is the reason why they are able to pump this much quantity of water. However, while comparing the cost of Jalanidhi with state run system the cost price is much higher.

The table explains the price discrimination and policy differences. In the KWA scheme consumption between 0-10 kiloliters has been charged with Rs 20 and Rs 2 for every additional Kiloliters. The Jalanidhi water is costly in two respects; (a) high price in comparison with KWA scheme, (b) lack of sufficient quantity. The higher price represents the changing water sector policy-economic good concept. Water supply service has been fully unsubsidized. The entire responsibility is vested upon the needy- BG members. Moreover, as far as the BG members are concerned, the participation in the water supply scheme becomes necessary. This determines the success and failure of participatory model. In water sector cost of service in maintaining continuous supply of water on merit good base is expensive since it involves heavy capital and maintenance expenditures (6). The cost per kiloliter of water is Rs. 7.39 that is indefensibly high in comparison to the selling price of Rs 2 (7). This refiects the water sector governance policy of the government of Kerala-the policy of public initiative. In principle, the new initiative is also 'public'-participatory in nature. In this case, scarcity and lack of institutional assistance have determined the success of participatory approach.

4.1 Source Failure

It is quite problematic to state the issue of source failure in Jalanidhi scheme. Yet, this is an important issue prevailing among this scheme. A large number of schemes have been dropped owing to source failure-lack of water (8). In Kollengode scheme, 5 schemes have stopped water pumping four months back owing to source failure as on 18-03-2008. As part of the scheme, numerous water sources normally identified and make use for drinking purpose with stakeholders involvements in the operation and maintenance cost. This localization of water sources with community involvement undermines the water-people relationships (9).


* Participation as a developmental intervention does not have an existence of its own, unless the state led service failed to provide the service. Participatory model is hardly possible to maintain a merit good approach to natural resource-water.

* Scarcity and lack of proper access ensure by the state or public led services necessitate the effective implementation of participatory model.

* When participatory model based on economic good concepts came into being, the public responsibility of maintaining basic sources is threatened.

* Cost reduction or non subsidization increases the access cost of participants.

* The possibility of co-existence between non participatory macro level and participatory micro level in water sector is yet to be discovered. The experience shows that people do not prefer a participatory against a non-participatory model unless acute scarcities prevail.


The paper sought to analyze the problems involved in participatory model of clean water supply in a poor and backward society. Participatory model simply shifts the problem encountered by the state government to rural local self-governments. The process of responsibility shifting took place through increase in the economic burden on public. Apart from increase in the cost of access, the participatory model often re-defines the concepts of natural resources. In clean water sector, it is rather evident that the value of market has widely been implemented vis avis imposing the 'idea of pay' in the grass root level i.e potable water as an 'economic good'. The experience of the field study shows that participatory and state planned model hardly co-exist in the supply sector of clean water. The people who join the participatory sector are denied the state led services. To the contrary, the people who participate in the state led model do seldom come forward to be a member of the participatory model.


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(1.) The Dublin Conference of 1992 was significant in this regard it was for the first in the world which declared water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good. The conference declares;

* Fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development and the environment

* Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels

* Women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water

* Water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good (Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development Dublin, Ireland, January 31, 1992)

(2.) The loan amount was Rs 381 crore. The implementation is done through an institutional structure totally new to water supply delivery in Kerala. Panchayat share in the project is Rs. 25 crore (10%), BG's share is Rs 47.87 crores (15%) and WB (KRWSA) share is Rs 187.5 crore. The expenditure for maintaining the KRWSA with the crucial elements associated with the foreign assistance for consultancy, training and other expenses (including maintaining the central office) is Rs 97.46 crore.

(3.) The depth to water level measurements were made four times in a year in January, April, August and November while the water quality is monitored from the water samples collected during April. The number collecting stations in the four project districts are: Kozhikode-45, Malappuram-64, Palakkad-56 and Thrissur-64.

(4.) Kollengode Drinking Water Supply Scheme.

(5.) Littre Per Capita daily consumption.

(6.) KWA produces 596775 M1/Y and sells 459535 M1/Y. The total cost is Rs 339.51 crores per year. The total direct variable cost is Rs 169.90 crores, which includes power charges (Rs 108.00 crores), indirect overhead cost (Rs.169.6 crores) and administrative costs (Rs 78.11 crores). The fact that only 7.27 per cent is spend for maintenance.

(7.) Economic Review of GoK 2006 KWA website.

(8.) This is a serious issue which threat the sustainability of the scheme. I have conducted a detailed survey in 20 for my PhD work in four districts of Kerala i.e. Palakkad, Thrissur, Malapuram and Kozhikkode. The local people often question the method of erecting wells. For instance Mr Krishnan in Kozhikkode district; he has not joined Jalanidhi though he has no proper access to permanent drinking water. The reason for his resentment is the 'unscientific' method of erecting well in a stream and subsequently the stream drained away and so were the scheme. This has some follow up experience in other districts. The local people's experience in identifying water source often not taken on by the officials of Jalanidhi, this is mainly due to the availability of land for constructing wells and lack of active participation by the local people. The local knowledge often forced to keep idle owing to the micro level operation. This is because the beneficiaries are normally come under 30-50 families and they may not demand a water supply scheme beyond their close locality otherwise the cost would normally escalate and become un affordable.

(9.) The concept of water source has undergone substantial change in those Panchayats where the study conducted. Unlike before, the people's approach to water sources has changed in conformity with the economic use--financial commitment to maintain and operate drinking water supply from the source. Those source on the bank of which Jalanidhi wells constructed has given more chances to be preserved than other streams and ponds. This is completely new to the existing water-man relationship.


Tennessee State University, USA


University of Kerala, Thiruvanahtapuram
Table 1
Features of Kollengode Village

Demographic Particulars

Area in Sq Km No of Wards
49.33 17


Main Workers Total Marginal Workers Total
Male Female Male Female Total Male Female

6857 4251 11108 422 338 760 7195 4672

Area in Sq Km Population
49.33 28823

Main Workers Work participation
Male Female Total Male Female

6857 4251 11868 52.75 31.83

Individual Area Holdings Area in Bracket

Below 0.02 0.02-0.5 0.5-1.0 1.0-2.0 2.0-4.0
3928 (53) 13253 (1202) 1202 (870) 1379 (1940) 1270 (3545)

Below 0.02 4.0-10.0 10.0 above
3928 (53) 521 (2967) 93 (1469)

Area Under Important Crops

Paddy Tapioca Coconut Areacanut Banana Plantain Rubber
24321 242 2649 12 5 208 --

Cashew nut Pepper
7 1

Source: Panchavat Directorate-Palakkadu District

Table 2 Details of Households and Clean Water Coverage

1 Total number of Households in the Panchayath 5576 Nos.
2 Pre project water supply coverage of the Panchayath 82 %
3 Pre project sanitation coverage of the Panchayath 51 %
4 Post project water supply coverage of the Panchayath 90 %
5 Post project sanitation coverage of the Panchayath 64 %
6 Total number of Jalanidhi BGs in the Panchayath 15 Nos.
7 Total number of Jalanidhi Households in the GP 437 Nos.
8 Total number of BPL beneficiaries of the Project 183 Nos.
9 Total number of SC/ST beneficiaries of the Project 96 Nos.

Source: Jalanidhi website--Palakkadu/Kollengode

Table 3
Cost of KR.WSA Water Supply

Sl No Initial Capital Monthly O&M Quantity of Water
 cost (Rs) cost (Rs) (lpcd)

 1 2500 35 60
 2 2500 35 60
 3 2000 40 60
 4 2250 50 120
 5 2500 50 120
 6 2500 50 120
 7 3000 50 120
 8 3500 40 60
 9 3000 50 24
10 1250 50 48
12 2500 50 25
13 2500 50 25
14 2500 50 25
15 3000 50 120

Source: Primary survey in Kollengode Panchayat

Table 4
Comparative Cost of KAWSA and KWA Scheme

Sl. No. Monthly consumption KWA (Rs) Jalanidhi (Rs)
 (Kilo litter)

 1 7.2 20 35
 2 7.2 20 35
 3 7.2 20 40
 4 14.4 28 50
 5 14.4 28 50
 6 14.4 28 50
 7 14.4 28 50
 8 7.2 20 40
 9 2.88 20 50
10 5.76 20 50
11 3 20 50
12 3 20 50
13 3 20 50
14 14.4 28 50

Source: Primary survey in Kollengode Panchayat and KWA's tariff scale
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Author:Wahid, Abu N.M.; Irshad, S. Mohammed
Publication:Indian Journal of Economics and Business
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jun 1, 2009
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