Sucheta Dalal :Saurashtra 'water women' make a splash
Sucheta Dalal

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Saurashtra 'water women' make a splash  

June 9, 2005

How women in Saurashtra, armed with a bank loan, have beaten the water mafia that exists around our water-starved country.





AHMEDABAD: In parched Saurashtra, it is water that is bringing about a social change. Women who walked miles to fetch a pot of water are now providing succour to hundreds of water-starved people. And, taking on established social mores.


Unlettered rural women in Sayla and Chotila talukas of drought-prone Surendranagar district have started the business of selling water through tankers at nominal rates in the face of fierce competition. In the process, they also stormed the male bastion of tanker business in Saurashtra. Using an Asian Development Bank (ADB) loan, these women have made a splash, literally, in just 20 days, sparking a price war with those in the business slashing prices to take on the women brigade. The business is driven by a core committee of 11 members, supported by other women in the two talukas.


"We charge Rs 150 a tanker, half the market rate, while a pot of water is supplied for just Re 1. As demand pours in from various villages, we send hired drivers with a letter.


People deposit the money along with the order," says Samuben Dhalvaniya, member of the core committee that manages the tanker service in Sayla, currently supplying water to six scarcity-hit villages. In Chotila, the women's group has started supplying water to around 25 villages. Each of these talukas has one tanker each.


Samuben, who has never been to school, admits the going was not good to begin with. "We are all illiterate and had to work hard to convince people that we mean business," she says.


Surendranagar district is drought prone and receives an average rainfall of just 17 inches only. Women are the worst hit, having to walk miles under the blazing sun to fetch water. The situation only worsened with the erratic and poor quality of water supplied by the government, providing an opportunity to private tanker owners to make a killing.


"The women realised that private tanker owners were fleecing the people. This prompted them to start their own business and an impressed ADB provided the tankers free," says Vitthal Kikania, cluster manager of Aga Khan Rural Support Programme in Sayla, which lends support to the women who are part of the mahila mandals and mahila manch established by the programme.


The private tanker owners are already seeing red. * They have begun a fierce price war to prevent the women from carrying on with their business. "Twenty days ago, we began by charging Rs 250 a tanker, Rs 50 lower than the market rate.We were forced to cut it down to Rs 150 soon as the private operators slashed rates further," says Lakhuben Vashrambhai of Chotila Mahila Manch.

-- Sucheta Dalal