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PUPs: Alternative Approach to Governance Reforms

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Interesting story of an alternative vision of reform in government departments, from Tamil Nadu:

In 2003, Tamil Nadu was gripped by acute drought. The water engineers of Tamil Nadu Water Board (called TWAD) used the occasion to transform the way the water system functioned. No subject was taboo to explore. They didn’t shirk from self-critical examination of personal issues, nature of departmental functioning and crisis in governance. The churning made them stronger and gave them a sense of direction. The changes they aimed at were not asking for more money or improved facilities but to save water for future generations. The sheer vitality and exuberance of the new generation water engineer pulled in the community. Unreached communities were served water. Equitable distribution became a value. Responsiveness and accountability became internalized values.

NDTV is showing a documentary on this called 'Neerundu Nilamundu - Mission Posible' on 19th June @ 3 - 4 PM, and 20th June @ 1 - 2 PM. It is available on YouTube at :

`Neerundu, Nilamundu’ captures the dilemmas, joys and challenges of the engineer embarking on self-critical journey of change. The story is important not for the change it produced but for the lesson it has for all of us who are interested in changing the way systems around us work – in short in democratising our governance systems.

A PDF with more written information is at : From the introduction:

This essay is a story with a difference. It is not the story of a water movement brought about by social activists protesting against privatisation of water utilities or about non-supply of water for poor people. It is about the experience of a public water utility that realised a growing water crisis had to be addressed very differently from previous reform strategies and that `democratising water management’ required attitudinal changes by both water engineers and the community. It is also a story that illustrates how public officials and citizens who truly work as partners not only succeed in ensuring an equitable water supply for all, but they also conserve natural resources and ensure sustainable water management.

The documentary and the PDF make very good viewing and reading. They seem to have achieved something good. (The quotes are from a Hasiru Usiru post, link here: Yahoo ID required)


pdk's picture

May not air on NDTV as scheduled

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NDTV has other things on, apparently.

silkboard's picture

Thanks for sharing

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PDK sir, thanks for sharing. Noted this line in particular:

Years of being provided free schemes had not only made people habituated to receiving `free schemes’ but had also robbed communities the traditions of taking responsibility for conserving water sources, controlling consumption and safeguarding water. If democratisation had to take root and succeed, perspective shifts were needed amongst water professionals and citizens alike.

Read the pdf. Also noted the PUP bit

PUPs, referring to the partnerships between successful public sector utilities taking the lead to help other public utilities transform and change, has become a powerful conceptual tool to challenge the privatisation model pushed forward by international finance institutions using the concept of `Public-Private Partnerships’.
pdk's picture


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Thanks.  Without getting too mawkish, I'll just say that the documentary/PDF struck a deep chord within.  The challenges to this model are obvious and the PDF mentions them briefly, but it doesn't take away from what they've done.

murali772's picture

ideal in the rural environment

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While this looks perfect in the rural environment, and not just for water, I am not sure it will work in the urban set-up, where perhaps you have to have something closer to a business model. In that respect, the JUSCO team up in Mysore looks the best bet currently in the urban set-up, for want of anything better.

The rural power distribution co-operative societies, in our own Karnataka, were perhaps built along these lines (check, which after all is doing nothing more than tapping native wisdom. But, rather than nurturing them, and providing the correctives where required, the impression that I have been getting from my interactions with some of the senior level power officials (not Mr Jairaj), is that they are out to strangle them, and the 'free power to the farmer' policy of the government has come in quite handy for this lot. The irony is that our government's own revered icon, Sri Narendra Modi, had very clearly recommended reversal of the policy, quite in line with what is stated in the text here as "The most powerful myth that has been shattered is that people, especially the poor people, want only `free schemes’ and will not take care of their assets and resources".


Muralidhar Rao
pdk's picture

May not be copied in toto, but...

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I agree that the experiment can't be replicated exactly in an urban setting. Of course. But the process of bringing about change in the working of a public utility can be replicated. That is the important lesson and I don't see why that can't be applied in an urban setting.

As for Hukkeri Coop society, it is a cooperative society consisting of 72,000 members(link: Being a cooperative it is controlled by its own own members/users. How can the government force 'free' power on the cooperative? The Society can also procure power from which ever endor it wants, so it can't be pressurised that way too.  I'm a bit lost here.

About JUSCO. I've added a new post on Praja about JUSCO & 24x7 water supply  (link here). The question I pose in that post is: since JUSCO doesn't provide 24x7 water supply at Jamshedpur (and indeed anywhere else as of now), what makes it confident of providing continuous water supply in Mysore? There must be something specific about Mysore that JUSCO can do it there, while it has not been able to do it in its own backyard. comment guidelines

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