Villagers not ready to pay for RO water, pvt firms suffer loss

With over 1,000 reverse osmosis (RO) systems having been set up in various parts of the state, a majority of them in the cancer-hit Malwa belt, the state government has been claiming that it has stepped up efforts to provide clean drinking water to residents.

The ground reality, however, is far different. Private companies, that have been roped in for the project, are suffering huge losses for their ROs in rural areas and have not even been able to pay their electricity bills. A majority of the RO systems are installed in Mansa, Bathinda, Muktsar, Ferozepur, Fazilka and the Faridkot belt, where ground water has been declared unfit for drinking.

The private companies provide water in 20-litre cans that cost Rs 2 but the companies claim that villagers are not ready to pay this amount. The companies further point out that while the RO water penetration in urban areas is over 80 per cent, it is less than 30 per cent in rural areas.

Rajneesh Garg, superintending engineer (SE) in the public health department at Bathinda, confirmed the problem and said: "The problem is in rural areas. In many villages, there is not even a single taker while in a few others not more than 1-2 per cent prefer RO water. We are spreading awareness through ASHA and anganwadi workers to make people aware of the benefits of RO water." Garg also pointed out that villagers not using the RO systems were not drinking impure water. "They are being provided canal water as well. The RO systems are add on facilities."

The lack of customers in rural areas is affecting the private companies. Officials of one of the companies said the minimum electricity bill is Rs 1,500 even if the RO does not function. They admitted that they are facing serious problems in meeting electricity expenses and the cost of the RO operator. According to the private players, even the idea of providing water at the door step did not work as the villagers failed to bear the charges of this facility.

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