Washington, DC/Jaipur – One of the western states of India recently came into the limelight as Bhagwati P. Agrawal, 68, was announced as the winner of the 2012 Purpose Prize for creating a system for collecting rainwater to quench the thirst of thousands in the parched land of Rajasthan.
Agrawal, now a naturalized US citizen and a resident of Vienna, Virginia, is one of the five winners of a $100,000 Purpose Prize, created in 2005 by Encore.org. The Purpose Prize, in its eighth year in 2012, is the nation’s only large scale investment in people over 60 who are combining their passion and experience for social good.
India America Today decided to visit and meet the top officials of the Government of Rajasthan in India to find out how much the infamous red tape of government machinery was hindering the process.
The visit also provided an opportunity to see the situation first hand in a state where the most common sight is village women carrying water vessels on their heads or on their waists for miles every day to cover the basic needs of their families, while the omnipresent village children can be seen running around, announcing the arrival of a periodic water tanker.
With water wells in Rajasthan often more than 400 feet deep, the women must take turns dropping a bucket, then hauling the water up by walking away with a rope tied around their waists, often in grueling heat.
Purushottam Agarwal, Principal Secretary for the Public Health Engineering and Ground Water Department of the Government of Rajasthan, told India America Today, “We have great difficult task in managing water resources in the state as Rajasthan is a desert state with only 1 percent of surface water in the country and about 5.5 percent of the population and 10.5 percent of geographical area.”
“The state is investing huge amount of money (in water projects),” said the secretary, disclosing, “My current year’s budget is around Rs 4000 crores (more than $700 million) and it is rising and rising. We are almost out 20-25 percent of the state annual exchequer in drinking water sector,” the water secretary added.
Asked to comment on the projects submitted, the water secretary said, “We have schemes for accommodating innovate projects, but the project is to be truly innovative. It is evaluated on merit. Then the Chief Secretary recommends that is truly innovative. There is window for innovative projects but it has to be truly innovative.”
On the same subject, C.K. Mathew, Chief Secretary of the Government of Rajasthan said, “We have state innovation council chaired by Prof V.S. Vyas, who is the deputy chairman of state planning board … We have invited anybody who has some new idea to offer through the web … We have invited all kinds of proposals.”
Mathew explained the funding mechanism, saying, “It is quite versatile in the that sense depending on the project, depending on (if) he (the person submitting the project) only requires a subsidy, or he requires full grant, or he is to be linked to some bank credit. This is an innovation kind of scheme. Depends on value of each scheme and that has started working.”
The general perception is often that rampant corruption exists in India, but Secretary Agarwal clarified, “Barring petty facilitation things … there is no major corruption in Rajasthan … Chief Minister is very honest … Corruption is no major concern in the state.”
Chief Secretary Mathew echoed these sentiments, saying, “ We have got a CVC, Central Vigilance Commissioner, in the state which coordinates anti-corruption activities. So I think we have a strong record of working against corruption.”
Purpose Prize winner Agrawal is yet to get a monetary nod from the state government for the large scale implementation of his projects, but he has proceeded with his work with dedication, which was aptly summed up by Encore.org, the organization behind the award, saying, “Through his nonprofit, Sustainable Innovations, he founded Aakash Ganga, or River from Sky, in 2003 to create a system for collecting rain – one of precious few sources of drinking water. Now, gutters, pipes and underground tanks gather the short-lived rains of monsoon season.”
“India’s chronic water scarcity keeps girls out of school and women out of the workforce. It denies people good health,” said the soft-spoken Agrawal, adding, “The Purpose Prize will help us improve the quality of life in the region where I was born, and I am grateful.”
“Because of B.P. Agrawal’s work, thousands of people in remote desert villages have access to a vital, life-sustaining resource,” said Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of Encore.org and author of The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Mid-Life, adding, “He’s an inspiration for all of us who want to use our experience in new ways to help others.”
Agrawal is not only working to expand Aakash Ganga to dozens of other villages, but is also focusing on unleashing the potential of the women and young people who no longer have to spend hours fetching water. His nonprofit, Arogya, or Kiosk-based Clinics, is training them as health care workers who can diagnose and treat common illnesses in their villages.
He is simultaneously busy on this project, which is aiming to treat common ailments and preventable diseases in rural Rajasthan at a $0.25 per visit cost. The Kiosks would be equipped with computerized best medical practices for the treatment of these ailments. Agrawal is working in close cooperation with the Jain Foundation floated by Atul Jain, the Founder-CEO of TEOCO, a multi-million dollar global company.
India America Today asked Deepak Upreti, Principal Secretary for Medical and Health of the Government of Rajasthan, about the process for getting government funding and help in health projects.
“It is Bureau of Investment Promotion looks after that and it is a single window. Where anybody has to contact and thereafter they take care whatever clearances that have to be obtained from the various levels in the government because normally a proposal would cut across several departments. You need power, you need land, you need water supplies, there might be other things that one might be requiring by way of clearances,” said Secretary Upreti.
Calling it “a single window,” the Health Secretary said, “You make a proposal project report available to them. Then they hand hold you through the project and keep on giving you updates. And they try to get it clear as fast as possible. As a matter of fact, it also works as a secretariat for investment. So anybody who is interested in either philanthropically or other work they move the proposal through Bureau of Investment.”