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Camera: Sanjoy Deb
Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam
"We had to fetch water from the river multiple times a day and climb up and down the hill with huge pitchers full of water," says Sangeeta, a 37-year-old woman from Botoshi in Maharashtra.
About 140 km from Mumbai, people in Botoshi — a small, quaint hamlet in the Palghar district — were introduced to clean drinking drinking water only in the year 2016.
This came after the collective efforts of a not-for-profit in Palghar called Aroehan, which established solar energy-based filtration and pumping units in the village with the help of students from IIT-Bombay and an energy distribution firm, Siemens India.
To mark the National Renewable Energy Day, The Quint visited Botoshi to understand the impact of the initiative on their lives and the way ahead for them as they continue to face several other challenges.
Water Stress in Botoshi and Other Palghar Villages
Botoshi falls in the Mokhada block in Palghar district. While the area receives adequate rainfall in monsoons, summers are particularly dry.
The lack of large-scale water storage systems means that water collected during the monsoons cannot be stored to be used in summers for agricultural or drinking purposes.
This has resulted in acute shortage of water in the region and has left the villagers, mostly tribals, with no choice but to practice season agriculture. The villagers are dependent on rivulets like Pinjal and Devbandh which go dry during summers.
The Solar Solution
The Quint spoke to Nitesh Mukhane, a project manager at Aroehan who has been an integral part of the initiative set up in Botoshi. "Back in 2016, we did a survey in the area and found out that water scarcity is one of the biggest issues being faced by people in Botoshi," he said.
"We then collaborated with students from IIT-Bombay and power distribution company, Siemens India, to set up a solar energy-based off grid filtration system in Botoshi. We installed pumps in the wells at the bottom of the hill and laid down pipes which connected them with overhead tanks uphill, in the village."Nitish Mukhane, Project Manager, Aroehan
A light weight filtration was then attached to these overhead tanks and from where filtered water is supplied to villagers via taps.
Previously, women of the village, like Sangeeta, had to walk up and down the hill to fetch water which was further not filtered before consumption.
'It's a Burden Off Our Heads'
For Sitabai, 68, the filtration unit has ended decades-long struggle for women and children to fetch water. She says that for the last four years, she feels that somebody has "taken a burden off her head".
"Earlier, we would fetch water in pitchers and carry it on our heads. But they have now provided us with tanks and relieved us of the burden. We had to search for water earlier, but now we get it filtered right here."Sitabai, Resident, Botoshi
Sangeeta and others concur. "We are able to save time now and the issue of children's health is resolved. We can focus on other work. It's a welcome initiative for women. It's like someone has literally taken the burden off our heads, making everyone happy," Sangeeta says.
Of The People and By The People: How Villagers Have Taken Charge of The Unit
With Aroehan phasing out, the villagers have now completely taken charge of the filtration units. They have formed water committees where young men and women of the village are trained in technical skills required to clean the tanks, solar panels and the grids.
"We have set up a water committee now. We clean the filters, panels and tanks every 15 days," says Govind, a member of the village's water committee.
"Previously, even the children of the village would walk for kilometers to fetch water during the summers in May. The water would be so contaminated. But now we have filtered water. Our happiness knows no bounds," he adds.