Thursday, September 29, 2016

How do schools manage their finances?: Conversation with a Government High School Principal

Sometimes it is that one conversation in a day that motivates you. It instills a new energy to continue engaging, find ways to learn more and create new ways of engaging. It was that day yesterday!
We, Biome Environmental Trust, are engaging with couple of government schools in and around Bangalore on rainwater harvesting and activity based learning on water, sanitation and hygiene. 
Yesterday could have been any other day. But it was not. We were visiting couple of schools and we stopped to meet one Government High School Head Mistress (HM). We have met her before and at the first meeting itself, she seemed pretty clued in to what she was doing and what we were talking about rainwater harvesting, etc. Her passion for work and dedication towards her children was evident throughout the conversation. But what struck us most was her answer when asked 'why do you want to have RWH at school?' Unlike the usual reasons of less water (though that exists), she said, 'I want this to be installed because I want my kids to learn about water conservation, ways to save water'. 
While we were talking yesterday, we got into the conversation about education system especially the financial management part of it. I have always been intrigued about money raising mechanism by government schools for any of the activities in the school. How does the government grant structure work? What are the other options that the schools depend on? This question has been in the mind since, many schools call us to get the non-functional infrastructure components (filter, sumps, pipes, pumps, motors, etc.) to repair or clean. I always wondered can't the school raise the money themselves. So we started talking with the Principal about this. Below is the excerpt from the conversation (interpreted as per my understanding).
Every government high school received per annum grant of Rs. 50,000 under a scheme called Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA). The fund is given to improve in the physical structures at the school, quality and equity interventions in the school. Then that means, schools do get funds to improve on the physical infra part of it. In addition, High schools also get some contingency grants from Block Education Officers (BEO) grant as part of any maintenance activities. For getting the RMSA grant, school has to create an action plan and in the new financial year the money is transferred to the bank account. For BEO grant, cost estimate and list of works, need to be prepared and submitted. Usually the grant is received at the end of the financial year. This also imply that many a times teachers’ pay from their pocket initially and get it reimbursed later. The bank account is a joint account of school head master (HM) and senior teacher.
The primary schools, on the other hand come under Sarva Shikha Abhiyan scheme (SSA). Unlike RMSA, there is no fixed amount of money allotted per year. The school has to raise a request for the requirements for the next year, SSA authorities take a call and then the money is released. The Cluster Resource Person (CRP) is authorized to go and see the work done according to the plan. The money is transferred to the bank account. Now unlike RMSA, the bank account is jointly held by School HM and President of School Development and Management Committee (SDMC). SDMC is made up parent members, and nominated members and members from the school. The President is a Parent member.
The challenge is how do we engage with this group of people? The SDMC members and the school on the financial management part of it? 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Fluorosis and Rainwater harvesting in Bagepalli Taluk

22nd September 2016

We started from Bangalore towards Bagepalli Taluk, this time to understand the Sachetana program. The program was proposed to ensure safe water availability for Fluorosis affected population. This program was initiated in the year 2006, where project beneficiaries are provided with financial support to implement Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) system. 

Bagepalli Taluk was one of the project areas which has high concentration of Fluoride in water. Groundwater being the major source of Drinking and cooking water for people, they are at higher risk to Fluorosis. Hence as a response to this drinking water crisis based on the groundwater contamination, this project was implemented in some parts of the Taluk. Rainwater is the purest and source of all water on earth. By harvesting this water, a family can supplement its needs for drinking and cooking.

We met Mr. Ramesh, Field Coordinator with the Rural Water Supply department and his colleague Hanumantha and started out to field. We initially visited a Government High School of Achepalli Village. We could see the presence of connecting pipes, a big tank indicating the presence of Rainwater harvesting structures. However, the pipes were broken, tank was not in use, the entire system defunct.

Then we headed inside the village, to find Venkatanarsamma, who stopped her daily chores to narrate us her story about safe drinking water through RWH for years now. She used to suffer from lot of joint pains earlier and drinking rainwater has brought her relief from the pain and has positive impact on her health. She manages to give some documents about the Sachetana program and details about the tank size, amount of rainwater to be collected, costing of the structure. She talks about how she manages to clean the roof just before the rain arrives, managing to let out the first 10 min rain and then diverting the rainwater through cloth into the filter, which eventually leads to the underground sump.

She is convinced about the benefits of drinking rainwater who along with her neighbor in the front undertook RWH. The fluoride concentration from the nearby bore well was 2.0 ppm tested from Caddisfly, while rainwater the fluoride concentration from both these houses were 0.1 and 0.01 ppm respectively. But she seems unhappy with some who managed to get the system defunct after initial years where only 4 systems were working out of 10 systems installed.
Alternate supply sources like RO filter water and even borewell water have been taken up by the community as they have reliable and convenient supply
Next we visited, the Mittemari Primary School, the Prinicipal Srinivas, says the borewell water is used for drinking and cooking. Using Caddisfly, the Fluoride concentration of this source (400 ft) was 0.9 ppm. We decided to see students and check for any cases of Fluorosis. We found few cases of Dental Fluorosis, both Boys and Girls as shown below.

We tested the filter water from nearby RO plant. The fluoride concentration was 0.61 ppm. We also spoke to the High school teachers, they said that they use RO water for drinking and cooking. But the principal said that there are cases of Dental Fluorosis in their school. As part of their mid-day meal scheme, the school provides the children with Rava balls and Dal with four vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, gourd, and radish) in it. The schools teachers have been requesting to provide them a list of vegetables that can be used in the mid-day meals to improve nutrition.

After that we met a PHC doctor at Mittemari Division, Dr Harish and asked him about the condition of Fluorosis in the region. He said in most cases, it is dental fluorosis and report of muscular and joint pain etc. Skeletal Fluorosis cases very low in number. He wasn’t sure of the exact numbers of the Fluorosis patients in the region. He usually advises Vitamin- C tablets and Painkillers but due lack of supply of medicines, there is shortage of these tablets.

Later we visited Kanagamakapalli High School and met Mr Hussain, who is a physical education Teacher. This school has a borewell, which is a source of both drinking and cooking water for the children. There is presence of the Survana Jala Scheme, under which only the underground sump remains. It is used now as storage for borewell water. The fluoride concentration was found to be 1.7 ppm. The access to safe water has become difficult as the RO filter plant for the village has gone defunct. After a scan with the students there, we found few cases of dental Fluorosis. It is this village and more importantly the school, which needs help in form of providing safe water. Maybe rainwater harvesting or RO plant or both.

After this school, we went to meet Mr Pawan, who is the divisional Manager of Swasti Organisation. He discussed the working of the organization especially on the health aspect of the people. Initially they started with work on HIV-AIDS awareness. However, he mentioned that safe water has now become one of the core areas of their work, given the Fluorosis is a major issue due to groundwater contamination. They have helped established nearly 8 RO plants with funding from different donors. However, the reach of these plants is an issue and hence they are planning to increase the reach by establishing kiosk system. Mr Pawan seemed interested working with the network on ways to increase access to safe water. 

There are many ideas like Nutrition gardens, repairing the existing RWH systems and installing new ones in needy areas, nutritional list for schools etc,  to begin the work towards Fluorosis mitigation in Bagepalli taluk.


Kiran Kumar Sen and Shreyas S
Biome Trust and Fluoride Knowledge and Action Network

Monday, September 19, 2016

Book Reading, Citizen Science and lakes/groundwater at Kaikondrahalli Lake

An interesting Lakes, Bangalore and Science event was held at  Kaikondrahalli Lake on 7th August. Renowned ecologist and author of the recently-released book Nature in the City, Dr. Harini Nagendra, spoke about  this city's history seen through the lens of green spaces and lakes. Kaikondarahalli Lake has a pride of place in her book as it is mentioned in the very first page!

After the interaction with Harini... Shubha Ramachandran and team from Biome spoke about the work that they are doing at the Kaikondrahalli lake with water testing, shallow aquifer mapping and bathymetry studies

Date: 7th August
Time: 10.30AM
Venue: Kaikondarahalli Lake Amphitheatre (its a brisk 5-minute walk from the main gate to the amphitheatre)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Open Wells and Lakes (Wells beside Lakes)

Traditionally most lakes had 1 or 2 wells close to them. These were the points for withdrawal of water. People withdrew water not from the lake but from the Wells. The water in the well is normally of better quality than the water in the lake. The soil between the lake and the well being the natural filter
Some of these wells still exist. Most are dry - despite being close to a dry or rejuvenated lake with water. Often times you also see a borewell that has been dug inside the open well to further extract water.  A well might be dry due to falling water tables or due to siltation at the lake/well that is preventing water from flowing below ground.
As part of the lake rejuvenation exercise, it would be good to dig new wells as well as desilt old open wells
In recent times, this has been demonstrated by the Renuka school near Kaikondrahalli Lake that is using a shallow well as its source of water. Wells near Jakkur Lake are sources of Water too
The well can be located and designed both for water utility as well as water-culture-education
An old well near Jakkur Lake