A couple of weeks ago (24th May, 2014), I got my first opportunity to participate in conducting a survey on water & sanitation facilities in one of the peripheral slums of Bangalore. Though I have been working on studying urban poverty for a year, the curiosity to learn the process of conducting surveys (qualitative & quantitative) excited me. We visited Nellorepuram, which is located near the International Technology Park Bangalore (ITPB), one of the busiest IT corridors in Bangalore. We reached the near by bus stop at 10:30 AM and walked almost 3 km to reach the slum. On entering the slum, I got a general understanding of the water facilities in the slum. Looking around, I could see water containers, drums and pots at the entrance of almost every house.
We began our first interview with an old woman who was busy with her daily activities. We requested for her time and explained about the survey. We were informed about the challenges the household has been facing with the frequency of water supply, expenditure on water, distance to water source, and quality of water . We were also informed about the sanitation facilities available in the slum and the challenges with the same.
In between the conversations, the respondent took small breaks to continue with her work. I felt it was kind of her to spare some time with us despite being occupied with her work.
The respondent informed that the public water (Kaveri water) was supplied only once in last six months and that they depend a lot on private water tanker and water tanker supplied by the area corporator. Every alternate day, the household spends Rs. 30 per container of water (20 litre) for drinking purposes. As the drainage system in the slum is not connected to the houses, the household uses pit for the sanitation purposes. They get the pit cleaned twice a year, by spending an amount of approximately Rs. 5000 – Rs. 6000 per year. After a rough calculation on expenditure on water & sanitation, it was shocking to think of how a family with pension as their primary source of income could even meet other needs, after spending a significant percentage of their income on basic utilities like water & sanitation.
We thanked the respondent for sharing the details and continued with our second interview with the next 10th household. Similar problems related to water & sanitation were reported by the second household. This household reported that it is highly expensive to stay in Bangalore and that they would prefer to move back to their home town in Andhra Pradesh, hoping that the new government would help the poor. Until after completing the second interview, I was under the perception that it is very easy to conduct surveys! The next respondent (this time a qualitative interview), told us about the variations in slum demographics, the availability of water, sources of water, and the mechanisms of fetching water in past 20 years. As we continued our discussion, the respondent informed that she is not comfortable discussing this further and requested us to close the interview. We made a few attempts to complete the interview but could not succeed in convincing the respondent.
We had a similar experience in our fourth interview, where in the middle of the interview, the mother of the respondent informed us that the interview will not be useful for them. She informed us that there were no measures taken despite informing the concerned authorities about the problems with water. She also informed that the water connection provided by BBMP rarely worked and they have to spend a lot towards drinking water and water for daily activities (cooking, washing, bathing etc.). This was the longest of the interviews we had conducted during the first half do the day.
We took a lunch break and continued with our next interview. This household appeared to be doing economically better when compared to the earlier households. They had a sump to store the water. While we were conducting the interview, a passer-by informed us that the major problem faced by households in Nellorepuram was water and sanitation. He showed us the community water tank that was not working and a garbage dump in the locality.
All the households we interviewed reported that they buy water separately for drinking and other daily activities, and they use a pit for sanitation. On an average, every household spent approximately Rs. 100 per week towards drinking, and Rs. 200 – Rs. 420 per week towards daily activities . They reported that the public water tanker comes either once in a week or once in two weeks.
When asked about the aspirations towards the end of each interview, most of the respondents said they wished for good water and sanitation facilities in the slum. Some of the respondents said they had aspirations of providing their children with good education and jobs.
In the last two interviews we conducted, a few other households nearby were interested in sharing the details and asked us to come the next day for conducting the survey.
From the interviews we conducted, it seemed that the respondents were not ready to trust us in the beginning of an interview. Towards the end, when we moved to the section on household income and expenditure, the respondents asked the reason behind collecting data with respect to household income and expenditure. While a few respondents seemed to have no issues with sharing the data on income and expenditure, a few others were not comfortable to discuss in detail.
For every such incomplete response towards household income and expenditure, I felt disappointed that we could not get complete data from some households. However, was my disappointment justified? During the follow-up discussions at work, I informed my colleague (a social scientist) that the respondents didn’t share complete details on household income & expenditure, and went further to say that the respondents were lying on income & expenditure data. In response, I was asked to think about the following :
- What will my response be if a stranger asks me for my salary and expenditure details?
- What right do I have as a surveyor/researcher to expect data of others?
- Who is doing whom a favour by sharing the data?
These were a realisation to me, and helped me understand the importance of respect the respondents deserve for their contribution. From the day we conducted the survey, I was intrigued by how the households in the periphery of the city could meet all their needs when they end up spending 10%-20% of their income towards water & sanitation.