Upcycling Water

A primary school rethinks dealing with scarcity

Sujata Devadas, September 24, 2019. Translator: Jayanti Chakraborthy 

Hitting headlines


“Oh it’s too complicated ! I can’t do it.” Really ?

A primary school did it, hitting the headlines again !!


That’s nothing new for Sonamui Harisabha Primary School. It hit headlines first when all the classes, led by Headmaster Arun Khan, 80 students in total, grew brinjal, coccinia, okra, pumpkin, spinach, broad beans, ridge and sponge gourds in 1.5 x 1 feet, 10 inch depth plastic planters on the school’s terrace for the school’s Cooked Midday Meal Program based on the norms formulated by Ministry of Human Resources and Development, India. Its students are from families living just above the poverty line at Sirajbati circle under Amta1 Block in Howrah district (West Bengal state, India).


To irrigate these plants, a 20 feet bore well was dug near the school building in April 2019 and equipped with a motor. A month later, water in this well began diminishing.


In 3 months … done !

Recharging declining underground water became a primary concern for Arun to ensure that the school’s midday meals continued. He spoke to Block Education Officer, the Sub-inspector of schools Aniket Mukerjee, the founder of Save Tree Save Life non-governmental organisation about this. Aniket searched for a practical solution and found one from an online social media source: a perforated drum. He passed this information on to Arun.

Arun, the school’s 2 teachers and the schoolchildren’s parents used a big plastic drum to ease out of the problem. Sewage from the school toilets connected to a pond close by, but water used in the school’s washbasins and in the kitchen, that was discharged as ‘waste’ earlier, is now channelled into a perforated drum put into a 3-and-half feet dug-out pit. Bricks were placed around this perforated drum. Stone chips surrounded the bricks layer. This whole 2 feet width arrangement between the drum and outermost stone chip layer for filtering the used water was covered with sand, clay and cement mixture, hard enough for people to walk on.

"This harvested grey water is not drinkable but is used to clean floors, toilets and to irrigate plants combatting the problem of receding underground water in that way" says Aniket. The school continued functioning as usual through the year.


In addition, rain water from the terrace with its vegetable garden is also sent through a pipe into a 200 litre tank that connects to the bore well to recharge underground water.

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Selected by Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, Howrah, Aniket Mukerjee (left) gives ‘Best out of 59 schools’ Nirmal Vidyalaya Award to Headmaster Arun Khan in 2018

Receding level of underground water is the inevitable result of severe drought due to urbanisation and the random cutting of trees in many states in India each year. Arun Khan accepted Aniket’s suggestion and used it. This unprecedented ‘hold water, fill water’ West Bengal primary school's action hit local newspaper headlines for their team spirit, full cooperation from the school’s teachers Sucheta Sahu, Banasree Bhowmik and parents. Grade 4 students Shipra, Rupam and Shubhasree got particular praise for their resourcefulness in collecting bricks and stone chips in their free time.


It all counted in upcycling used water in 3 months.

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