Chief Minister of Odisha Naveen Patnaik inaugurated the Sujal Project or Drink from Tap Mission for Puri town on 26th July 2021 to provide quality drinking water straight from tape to its 2.5 lakh inhabitants and thousands of pilgrims annually visiting the holy place of pilgrimage. It is indeed historic and revolutionary. Other parts of the State would be covered by it in subsequent phases. Puri has become the first town in our Country in this respect and the quality of water is in conformity with standards of IS 10500. So far in London, New York, Los Angeles and Singapore people have the privilege of getting quality drinking water directly from the tap and now Puri joins that distinguished club celebrating the provision of high standard potable water to people. Ample facilities to have access to such drinking water are widely available in the town. It was best expressed in the statement of Chief Minister Patnaik who said, “Puri residents, tourists and pilgrims can now drink water from taps across the city, be it at home or across the drinking water fountains.” I spoke to some people in Puri and they confirmed that drinking water supplied through taps is available in several parts of the town.
5 T Initiative and Drink from Tap Mission
Drink from Tap Mission is launched as part of Odisha Government’s 5 T initiative which, among others, is sustained by technology, team work and timely completion for achieving quality transformation in the lives of people. It has an architecture unmistakably guaranteeing stringent quality control of water. It is done by employing not only technology but also human resources for monitoring and surveillance of the entire operation of water supply from the start to finish. Through the blend of human endeavour and technological intervention leakages are taken care of, required pressure is maintained for smooth flow of water to desired destination and water quality is displayed in public places on LCD screens so that the general public is assured of the high standard of drinkable water and sensitised not to use plastic bottles for storing and carrying water. The deployment of quick response team is aimed at addressing such issues. It is quite heartening that some women hailing from self help groups are being deployed as Jalsaathis and they have been trained and groomed up to take up responsibilities, among others, for testing water quality at the field level, reading meter and collecting revenue.
Drink from Tap Mission Invokes Values of Freedom Struggle
Apart from appreciating and celebrating its national and global significance it is equally important to underline its historical import which would throw light on the Drink from Tap mission and locate it in the context of the vision of Utkal Gaurab Madhusudan Das, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Ambedkar and ideals of freedom struggle.
The provision of drinking water from tap to Puri fulfills more than the vision of Utkal Gaurab Madhusudan Das. Hundred and nine years back on 7th March 1913 while moving a Resolution in the Bihar -Odisha Assembly regarding increase of allotment for Non-recurring Grants for Education, Sanitation, etc,. for Bihar and Odisha, he had demanded special allocation for Puri so that its sanitation could be improved. He persuasively argued that due to lack of sanitation specially during the Rath Yatra, car festival of Lord Jagannath, thousands died of cholera. Cholera being a water born disease Madhubabu through his demand for more allocation for Puri for improved sanitation was indirectly demanding improved access of people to quality water so that occurrence of cholera could be prevented. Relatively better quality of life has almost wiped out chances of cholera emerging in the same ferocity as it used to be . Naveen Patnaik regime by assured supply of water adhering to standards of IS 10500 is doing much more than fulfilling that vision of Madhubau.
Gandhi’s Vision and Drink From Tap Mission
In a deeper and fundamental sense the Drink from Tap mission made operational in Puri fulfills the ideal of Swaraj as envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation.
On 1st January 1918 while addressing a meeting organised in Ahmedabad to protest against insufficient and irregular supply of water by the Ahmedabad Municipality Gandhi talked about water along with air and grain as aspects of Swaraj. He flagged the significance of such aspects on public health. The historic Drink from Tap mission, therefore, has the imprint of the ideal of Swaraj so illuminatingly expounded by Gandhi by making the provision of water as an integral aspect of it.
On 22nd March 1931 Gandhi reflected on just administration in his article "Of Princes and Paupers" and wrote "A just administration implies an era of truth or swaraj, dharmaraj, Ramarajya or the people’s raj (democracy). He then added that under such an administration both rulers and ruled would enjoy pure water and pure air. It is indeed instructive that Gandhi understood democracy from the perspective of people's access to clean air and water much before our country got independence and the Supreme Court expanded right to life in terms of right , among others, to clean water. And in 2021 Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik’s pioneering measure to provide quality drinking water to residents of Puri directly from tap is a step in the direction of realising that vision of democracy in practice.
Yet another larger historical dimension of Drink from Tap Mission can be understood by putting it in the context of what Dr. B R Ambedkar had said on 8th November 1945 when he as the Labour Member of Government of India addressed a Conference organised in Cuttack to discuss the possibilities of developing rivers of Odisha. He very sensitively observed that Orissa (now Odisha) apart from possessing vast amount of valuable mineral resources had in its possession precious water wealth which, he said, was not utilised by putting the best method. In fact he attributed the poverty of Odisha to several factors one of which was the lack of ability to use its vast water wealth and conserve it. The Drink from Tap Mission embodies the vision of Ambedkar to put to best use the water wealth by finding and applying the appropriate method. And the method is to adhere to the IS 10500 standards by employing technology and human resources so that there would be transformation in the way people would get high quality drinking water directly from the tape.
The criticality of Drink from Tap Mission to quench thirst of people bears epochal significance for our time marked by severe water scarcity and emergence of what P Sainath, the Magsaysay award winning media personality, calls “thirst economy” in several parts of the country and specially in Maharashtra for over several decades. The “thirst economy” in a way is founded by exploiting the thirst of people who deprived of local water security because of the control over water resources by tanker mafia and water mafia remain a victim of such mafias who sell water by monopolising the precious water wealth. In contrast to “thirst economy” the Drink from Tap Mission implemented by the Odisha Government in Puri and to be extended to other parts of the State is a mission which aims at providing drinking water security to people of Odisha. It is in tune with the vision of Utkal Gaurab Madhusudan Das, Mahatma Gandhi and B R Ambedkar and embodies in it the ideal of Swaraj of which water security formed an invaluable component. The leadership of Odisha has set an example for the rest of India in implementing such a Mission which deserves to be replicated in the whole of India for fulfilling people’s access to quality drinking water which is a fundamental right.
#The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.