Aakash Ganga ── Social Enterprise for Drinking Water
Sustainable Innovations (SI) has matured an enterprise model for delivering social services in a holistically sustainable manner. Aakash Ganga (“River from the Sky,” in Hindi) provides safe drinking water to vulnerable people and rural communities. Aakash Ganga was implemented in six villages, home to 10,000 people. The six villages are Raila, Harinagar, Indrasar, Lasedi, kakreu Kalan, and Pilani campus, Rajasthan, India. The enterprise or social enterprise model is ready for large scale replication in thousands of villages serving millions of people.
Sustainable Innovations secured $500 + K for Aakash Ganga from, among others, World Bank, Jain Family Foundation, Rajasthan Association of North America, Government of India, and Indian diaspora.
What makes the enterprise model holistically sustainable are its innovation that address: Are cultural traditions a liability or an asset? Can social bonds be monetized? What institutional structure will ensure longevity of the program? What industry model will rhyme with the people? How can technologies be adapted for absorption at the village level? How to pool government and private funding? What will restore public trust in the community-based systems amidst rampant corruption? Are the village governments too poor for financial participation? Do we have the right lexicon to communicate with the people?
Aakash Ganga Description
Aakash Ganga (or River from the Sky in Hindi) is a rainwater harvesting system, see image below, specifically developed by Sustainable Innovations or SI to assure safe drinking water to the rural communities.
The program is based on a public utility model, where every homeowner in the community with a roof is asked to lease the rights to harvest their rooftop rainwater. They are provided with the gutters, spouts, and pipes that are connected to a network of interconnected underground storage reservoirs. The reservoirs are of two types. A Griha Tanka (home reservoir in Hindi) of typically 25,000 liter capacity is connected to each house for the sole use of the home owner’s needs. Some of the water is channeled to a larger Gram Tanka (village reservoir in Hindi) of about 400,000 to 1 million liters to provide drinking water to those who live in houses with thatched rooftops that cannot be used for harvesting. In addition, a portion of the water in the village reservoir is used to generate enough revenue to cover operational costs and then to pay a return to social investors.
Our partner Birla Institute of Technology and Science led the engineering designs of the reservoirs and the Aakash Ganga network.
Unique Features and Innovations
Aakash Ganga is designed to be a holistically sustainable Public-Community-Private Partnership (PPCP), one that is sustainable economically, culturally, operationally, institutionally, socially, technologically, and ecologically. The success of this design depends on numerous innovations, some of which are described below:
- Utility Enterprise Model: The project is based on a public utility model of resource distribution to ensure scalability and communal engagement. By agreeing to lease their rooftop rainwater harvesting rights to participate, villagers both contribute to the utility as co-owners of its infrastructure and draw on its output as customers. The village government contributes 10,000 M2 land to be used for revenue generation and to increase catchment surface. Aakash Ganga maximizes revenue per unit of irrigation water and unit of land.
- Cultural Integration: Aakash Ganga builds on existing cultural traditions (for example, well-worship and respect for elders) and social bonds. These help ensure the program is viewed as a community asset that is aligned with the villager’s own values and that it contributes to social harmony.
- Engineering: The network is designed using readily available technologies such as satellite imagery (such as Google Earth), geographical information services (GIS), and Global Positioning Satellite (GPS). Engineering automation helps to reduce the capital outlays for the project and to shorten implementation by several months. The two tier structure (Griha Tanka and Gram Tanka) promotes socially equitable distribution of drinking water.
- Monitoring Water Quality and Utilization: An IT network monitors water quality, utilization, treatment, and repairs. Using a package-delivery type of tracking process, water samples and repair requests representing several million reservoirs can be managed from a single dashboard.
- Transparency and Accountability: Aakash Ganga’s “social audit” approach affords the villagers the same access privileges to project records as enjoyed by the corporate auditors. Such transparency wins the trust of the people. The example of the project becomes a potent tool that can empower the villagers to challenge and eliminate corruption around them.
- Replication and Sharing: SI is building a knowledge repository of best practices, including bill of materials, cost and schedule estimates and blueprints that can be shared with anyone interested in replicating the model.
- Local Partners: SI has selected several India-based partners for design and implementation and to help build local capacity for a future larger scale roll-out. Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), the premiere engineering institute of Rajasthan, is SI’s lead technology partner; Humana People to People India (HPPI) and Bhoruka Charitable Trust (BCT), and Samgra Vikas Sansthan are field implementation partners, the later with at least 10 years’ experience with community mobilization and implementation of rainwater harvesting systems; Other partners included the Society for Community Organization and People’s Education and the Indian Institute of Health Management and Research.
- Multiple-Source Public/Private Funding: To be able to have a significant impact in India, the project must be able to fund expansion through multiple sources. In addition to its own donation and grant fund-raising activities in the US, SI raises money for the project through a combination of for-profit social benefit and non-profit organizations in India. Having a for-profit organization in India enables social investors to make an equity investment in the project. The existence of an Indian non-profit organization makes Indian government funding more accessible. Village governments are also able to make in-kind contributions of land to the project that have to date averaged 10,000 M2 per village to the project.
PHASE I – Feasibility Program Successfully Completed
Aakash Ganga was successfully implemented in six villages in Rajasthan: Raila, Harinagar, Lasedi, Pilani Campus, Indrasar, and Kakreu Kalan. Funding was provided by the World Bank ($200,000); private individuals in the Indian diaspora ($200,000), Lemelson – Massachusetts Institute of Technology ($100,000), Purpose prize ($100,000), Energy Globe Foundation ($15,000), and the Government of India ($150,000), among others. The key benchmarks met are summarized below:
- House attached reservoirs 200+ each of 25,000 liter capacity
- Shared reservoirs 3 each of 400,000 liter capacity
- Construction cost/liter of water $0.032 – $0.07 per liter
- Capital layout $3- $4 per person per year
- System Life 25+ years
- Contribution by local Government 10,000 M2 land per village
- Contribution by home owners 15% – 50% cost of the house-attached reservoir
- Water Quality Meets or exceeds WHO standards
PHASE II: A New Opportunity for a Public-Private-Community Partnership
The Phase I Pilot results were shared with the government of India and the state governments of Rajasthan and Gujarat. Each expressed a strong interest in co-funding an implementation of Aakash Ganga for up to 1000 villages if (i) SI can demonstrate success on a larger scale (approximately 100 villages), and (ii) if successful, provide a feasibility assessment and project plan for up to an additional 1000 villages demonstrating that the model can work on a larger scale.
In the second phase, SI plans to implement Aakash Ganga in 100 villages, approximately, providing clean drinking water to 250,000 people. The exact number will depend on the available funding. SI and its local NGO partners have already surveyed villages in Churu, Jhunjhunu, and Nagaur districts of Rajasthan. Improvements to the model design will also be evaluated, including the possibility of building a rainwater harvesting park in each village to double or triple the rooftop area for capturing rainwater. At the conclusion of the implementation in the additional villages, a report will be prepared assessing the feasibility of expanding to 1000-villages. The report will be aligned with the National Rural Drinking Water Program and be provided to the Indian government to support their participation.
 Dr. Rajiv Gupta, Sr. Professor, Birla Institute of Technology and Science, headed the engineering design.