Featured image: Water ATM kiosks across Jaipur. Photo: Nivedita Khandekar
Jaipur: Gone are the days when commuters could accept free drinking water from a roadside pyaau (earthen pots wrapped in wet red cloth) or pay to draw cold water from a 4×4 steel dispenser painted green, with a tumbler propped on top.
Instead, cool treated water is available 24×7, at a nominal cost, from a sleek kiosk, known as a ‘water ATM’.
The pink city has several such kiosks around town, including in schools, although they are most commonly found at railway stations, bus stands and Inter-State Bus Terminals.
Not only commuters and travellers, water ATMs cater to people who are out for any reason at all, especially when the mercury levels rise above 40ºC in peak summer. Which is why their smooth functioning is essential.
Naandi Foundation, through Club First, has been running ‘iPure’ water ATMs across several low-income pockets in Jaipur, which benefit well off neighbourhood areas too.
One of them, which has been running successfully for two years, is at Veejay Colony near Malviya Nagar. There are no long queues and people actually get water around the clock. They have been given swipe cards that can be read by the computerised kiosks. Each holder has access to 200 litres of water which they can draw across 20 trips. People are able to withdraw a maximum of 20 litres of water at once.
“We get municipal supply of water but that is poor in quality, so we use it only for non-drinking use. For drinking, all of us here use water from the water ATMs,“ said a resident, Narayan Lal Badwal.
Another such water ATM is installed at Nandpuri, near the underpass, in ward number 45. This kiosk sells 20 litres of water for Rs 10, if paid by cash, and for Rs 8, if paid by card. “Most regular customers have cards for this reason,” Kalyan Sahi, who manages this water ATM, said.
The need is not universal here. A local, Mukesh Ghapola, said, “We get municipal water supply twice a day. Even in summers, there are no supply issues and the water quality is okay. So, I don’t think many people go to get water from that machine.”
Sahi, however, disagreed. “The area has a huge student population for whom this is a huge draw and the poorest of poor too benefit from this facility,” he said.
The picture is not so perfect at all places.
For instance, a water ATM that was installed at the premises of a Balaji or Hanuman temple in Badarwas village near Mansarovar Metro Station about two years ago, sourced water from a borewell in the temple’s premises.
Locals lodged a complaint and stopped the water ATM about a year ago as there were allegedly people who purchased 50 litres from there for very little money and sold it outside. “It was our groundwater and the ATM was supposed to be meant for us,” said Mahipal Dhaka, a social worker from the area.
Other water ATMs
The situation for water ATMs run by another company, Ekajal, that has promised free alkaline water, is no different. The company offers absolutely free alkaline water with silver content to avoid health issues. It has 15-odd water ATMs across Jaipur.
A water kiosk stands right across the famous Ganesh Temple at Moti Dungari. It is next to a police outpost. The temple is often crowded, especially on holidays and festivals. The kiosks ran for few days in the end of 2018 before being abandoned in early 2019.
Now sindoor used on idols stain the kiosk, its steel body has come apart and the wiring has been pulled out. The temple management had supplied well water to the kiosk, the management said, but later stopped. In the meantime, a traditional pyaau continues to serve people coming to the temple.
The temple management has also installed a water cooler.
The water kiosk at the Sodala Subzi Mandi run by Ekajal has met with a similar fate. It was installed with much fanfare to cater to the crowded vegetable and fruit market, and a huge slum that is spread over a large area behind the mandi.
But it went dry just a few months after installation. The vendors themselves contribute and maintain a pyaau which also has a cooler system attached which is especially useful in summers.
In another area, Pinjrapol Gaushala on Tonk Road, one Pappu Rana, who is a band party owner, claimed that the water ATM machine has worked for just one month and then never again, since it was installed one year ago.
Ekajal’s machine installed at the Central Park gate number 3 has the most users as the park is frequented by both regular walkers and casual visitors. Guard Laxman Singh assured that the water was good quality and that he has been drinking it for about a year now. “I was in this area, walking. It is afternoon, I was thirsty and when I saw this neat kiosk, I drank the water. It is indeed good,” said a passerby, Har Gyan, from Mohupura, near Jaipur.
According to Paras Bachhawat, managing director of Ekajal, the machine purifies water in 25 stages. A single unit costs about Rs 15 lakh. Most kiosks use groundwater because of existing systems. For instance, at Central Park, the groundwater system is in use for watering the plants. “Our treatment is not reverse osmosis-based,” Bachchawat said.
The process started in September 2018 but soon after a few kiosks were installed, the then city mayor became an MLA. “It took quite some time to iron out the creases with the new dispensation,” Ekajal claimed. The installed kiosks are now fully functional, the company has said.
Within this calendar year, Ekajal plans to install a total of 200 such kiosks, reaching out to 40 lakh people across Jaipur’s urban area. It has garnered international funding and is also looking at local funding for operations, including advertisement revenue from display ads. Costs of input water and power are borne by the company itself.
Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes on environmental and developmental issues. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @nivedita_Him.
This report was possible due to the WaterAid India’s Media Fellowship ‘WASH Matters 2019’ on the theme of ‘Urban Water’. This is part one of the series of three reports, work for which was carried out during December 2019 until the lockdown in March 2020.