Public drinking water points, known as ‘piyao’ across India and as water fountains elsewhere have quite a history. Though mostly popular across the West as ‘water fountains’ which is a perennially running water which quenched the thirst of city dwellers , the same in India have been visualized as small water tanks fitted with taps on the sides. Though common as a ‘set of pots under a tree’ all across India since time immemorial, the present model where in a ‘tank is connected to a municipal water supply’ as an impersonal (doesn’t require an attender to serve you) and self sustaining (no human intervention in filling the tank as in earthen pots) structure, is relatively new to the Indian cities. Usually set up by an NGO or a community organization in partnership with the local urban body as a measure of public welfare, they dot the city landscape and one can purely identify the traditional Indian mindset of ‘punya through quenching thirst of a stranger’ behind it. Once established, as with other structures erected or established as a onetime investment without a plan for its maintenance, such water points prop a question in front of the local governments whether such structures are actually an asset or liability. As with the creation of public toilets and public gardens which is not the only aspect but maintaining one also is, and doing so effectively in light of today’s ever aware and demanding citizenry. When pondering over this matter, there arise a few questions.
And so on…
We also need to briefly touch upon what has been the experience world over. Around the time when India saw First War of Independence in 1857, the first ‘public fountain’ dispensing free potable water was opened to the public in the city of London (The Huffingtonpost article on water fountains). Until then the water business was handled by profiteers who lifted the sewage laden water of Thames and supplied it to the cities poor at a premium. The fountain model caught on and saw its evolution from fountain to ‘taps with cups’ and from that to ‘faucets’ before settling at ‘slanted jets’ which prevent people from putting their mouth directly and which you most often may see across college campuses and airports. A model which has remained fairly stable when offering service to the thirsty customer without wasting too much of water and also preventing water misuse. Our existing model of ‘water tank with taps’ can be placed between ‘taps with cups’ and ‘faucets’ in the evolutionary trail of water dispensers.
Given that no headway was made in increasing customer satisfaction leave alone addressing their concern of hygiene and health, the urban water points soon lost their business to the bottled industry which captured the market, banking more on the fear of water borne disease threat and eyeing the increasing purchasing power the world over.
The bottled industry market continues to grow and so in an enormous pace and magnitude. The environmental impact too is huge, mainly on two counts- plastic usage/resultant trash and wastage of water/monetization of water. Monetization of water-one of the equitable resources, doesn’t augur well for a world based on equality. The race would only leave the poorer people with the worst of the resources, say left over contaminated resources. The aspect of trash being produced by this industry is the other edge of the sword. For example, come rains and you will see your drainage network which was functioning well until 15yrs back has suddenly turned obsolete. Many other factors notwithstanding, floating plastics and of them the ones used as disposable bottles and cups continue to be found in the network which has choked. Yes, people need to be educated not to dump their garbage in the drains and need to be told that throwing disposables in the gutter by the side of your shop may look convenient, but in future it’s your house that’s going to be submerged under rain water. Also, there needs to be a concerted effort to target and limit the usage of disposable ones; a luxury which has reached our populace before they could develop the responsibility to handle it. Talk of technology bye-passing social evolution!
Having prepared a premise, what are we arriving at here and how do we link it to the topic header?
To start with, City of Bhopal is no outsider to the woes faced by cities world over. From crumbling sewage network to ever increasing consumerism. Based on the global trends and the inherent experiences of the city we at the Municipal Corporation of Bhopal came up with an idea to replace the existing ‘piyao’ s across the city with modern and smart ones-
not compromising on the quality of water and hygiene (rather going a notch up and providing RO water);
not compromising on the principle of equitable distribution where a rich person as well as a poor one can quench his/her thirst free of cost; encouraging people to depend less on systems which make them dependent on ‘disposable culture’ which by the way has a huge carbon footprint and carry their own bottles hence limiting the trash that enters the system.
While doing this, ensuring that the system sustains itself and doesn’t become a liability to the ULB. Hence the PPP model on revenue sharing where bulk-sales is cross-subsidized to offer minimum free drinking water.
The result is ‘Shiv-neer’, which offers free RO water to anybody and everybody. We intend to replace each of our existing ‘piyao’ across the city of Bhopal with the new ‘Shiv-neer’ unit of community RO plant. As for the environmental angle, every drop of water is put to use, even the discharge produced. The name symbolizes the ‘smart element’ the project embodies while not loosing connect with the basic angle of humanity, all at minimal cost. That’s a smart city solution for you. That’s a Bhopali solution for you!