Bhim Singh Rawat narrates how villages all across the country are conserving water.
In 2016, India has been witnessing one of the severest droughts after independence. The phenomena has led to a ‘never before’ kind of water crisis across the country. As a result the surface water sources are under severe stress and aquifers beneath ground have been over drafted. An already depressed agrarian community is worst hit. Thousands of parched villages have been dotting the rural landscape. Many somewhat immune urban centers are also facing the wrath of heat.
However, there is no dearth of inspiring tales in the field of water conservation around the country presenting a ray of hope amid a gloomy scenario. The exemplary works being done by several villages, people and organizations offer some lasting solutions to growing water scarcity. So here is an attempt to present a State wise account of drought hit areas which have been wading through the water crisis sound and safe by reinventing the community driven and local water harvesting practices.
Ahmad Nagar: The State is among worst drought hit, particularly the Marthawada region. It is interesting to see that the most remarkable water conservation work has also happened in this State. Hiware Bazaar village in Ahmad Nagar district has become a byword for watershed management . During the 1990s, the village faced a major water crisis due to scanty rainfall. Various watershed management programmes and water conservation initiatives were started by the villagers including refraining from sowing water-intensive crops and opting for crop diversification. Dairy development was also encouraged.
The villagers meet on December 31 every year, during which a review of the rainfall and available water is taken. As a result of several such steps and community formed norms, the underground water table in Hiware Bazaar is now available at 20 to 40 feet below the surface. The women in the village are glad that they don’t have to trek miles in search of water.
Aurangabad: On similar lines, a tiny village Patoda, on the fringes of water-starved Aurangabad city, is offering valuable lessons in water conservation and harvesting.
Villagers regard water as more precious than money. They follow strict rules about usage and strictly carry out water audits. Water meters are installed in every household and the entire village recycles each drop of waste water that it generates. Today, no rain water flows out of the village. Percolation has recharged the aquifers and the water table has risen. So effective is its water conservation model that Patoda has now become a model for the rest of Marathwada and has won 22 state & national awards. But this transformation did not come about overnight. In fact, it is a result of a decade long effort of villagers to conserve rain water and regenerate ground water.
Jalna: Similarly, the villages of Wadhona, Vizora, Sunderwadi, Padmavati, Bhorkheda & Vadod Tangda in Jalna district of Marathwada have been greatly benefited by using alternatives like water shed development, afforestation, farm bunding, organic farming, vermi-composting, agro-meteorology, farm ponds, water budgeting, micro-irrigation, fodder cultivation steps initiated under a watershed development project by WOTR. The project is built on a hill, with the first village, Jaydevwadi, on top followed by Wadhona, Vizora, Sunderwadi, Padmavati, Bhorkheda and Vadod Tangda.
The most important aspect of this model is the work that the villages have undertaken to arrest and conserve rain water, regenerate ground water and plan their water consumption. At each level, at each village, some amount of rain water is conserved or goes back into the ground. The mammoth task of developing a watershed, de-silting, bunding has also led to massive employment opportunities for the farm workers giving them additional income.
Osmanabad: Moving a step ahead, farmers of Horti village of Tuljapur Taluka in drought stricken Osmanabad district have resorted to online crowd funding to de-silt and renovate a canal. Around 700 farmers have come together to widening, deepen and de-silt an 8km long canal that runs across their farms to increase its water holding capacity ahead of the monsoon. The cost of the work is approximately Rs 6 lakh, of which the villagers have collected approximately Rs 3 lakh for the work and the rest of which will be raised through an online crowd funding campaign that has been put together to help them raise the remaining amount. The crowd funding campaign has collected over Rs 1.9 Lakh in less than a week. The work started on May 17 and is almost completed. Villagers now are hopeful that this attempt to revive a water source and the prediction of a good monsoon will wash away all their woes.
While under Participatory Ground Water Management Project, Arghyam organization has brought the villagers of Muthalane in Pune, Randullabad in Satara and Pondhe in Purandar taluka together and got them to understand the issue of ground water management.
Accordingly, groundwater management plans based on aquifer mapping were made in the villages. This experience showed that the use of groundwater and aquifer based knowledge by demystifying it for the villagers and combining it with local knowledge helped them become aware of the common nature of their water resources and the need for its better management.
Dewas: A district in parched Malwa the region has won five national awards for rain water harvesting courtsey of the unique idea of creating farm ponds now named ‘Pani Bachao Dhan Kamao’ (save water, earn money) campaign introduced ten years ago. As part of the campaign, the local administration chipped in with technical inputs and farmers were urged to dig out one tenth area of their land and turn it into farm ponds. After knowing about the benefits of farm pond, farmers started digging ponds on their own land with the help of tractors. Today, there are more than 1,000 irrigational ponds out of which 564 were made without any government fund. The concept of farm ponds has made about 400 villages in Dewas drought proof.
The United Nations also had selected Dewas district’s community water management works in the best three water management practices in the world under the category of ‘Best Water Management Practices’ for 2011-2012. Over 3 lakh truckloads of soil had been excavated and works worth Rs 40 crore had been successfully completed by farmers.
Indore: Inspired by the success of the campaign, the neighbouring Indore district administration has also worked out a smart plan. It has asked farmers to de-silt water bodies and transport the mineral rich soil to manure fields. The idea has worked in both saving the district administration money in deepening water bodies and giving farmers mineral-rich manure for the fields at an affordable cost. All they have been asked to do is dig 3-5 feet deep and use 1/10th of the soil to strengthen the embankment.
The plan has begun to pay rich dividends to both government and farmers in water crisis-hit areas.
Betul: In another example of people’s initiative in water sector, the Korku tribals in Betul district planned, designed and constructed the check dam without any aid from the government. To construct a check dam over the Mandu Kheda stream, about 35 tribals worked tirelessly every day, for five months. The structure measuring 40 metres in length and 16 feet in height is almost ready. Likewise 100 of villagers from Bastagua, Tori, Ratangua and Lidwara villages in Teekamgarh which is part of Bundelkhand got together and have built 150 ft long, 15 ft wide and 5 ft tall stop dam in Sanghani river to conserve water during monsoon.
Banda: In the water starved Bundelkhand region that has 113 farmers’ suicides since Jan. 2016, farmer Prem Singh has been quietly scripting a success story by practicing organic farming, horticulture and animal husbandry for past many years. On his farm in Banda district, one can see full water bodies, fruit-laden trees and healthy cattle. Locals and activists have approached Prem Singh to find out how his practices have transformed his farm and inspired many in his village to grow an orchard on their farms. Indeed, his model of diversification can be replicated by small farmers in the region.
Meanwhile, women groups in Jalaun, Hamirpur and Lalitpur districts also in Bundelkhand have joined hands to form pani-panchayats. The focus of these paani panchayats, mostly led by dalit women is to create more water resources, revive old ones and conserve natural water bodies with the help of traditional and modern technology. The first paani panchayat was formed in 2011 in Jalaun district. By September 2011, a total of 96 such water resource management councils were formed. Local organizations Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan have been supporting both the initiatives in Bundelkhand.
Similarly, a group of villagers from Malakpur in Shamli district of western UP are trying to breathe new life into the local stream Katha, a 150-km long river that has been dead for sometime now. With help from a local scientist, farmers are leading the effort to turn a 1 km of the barren riverbed into a lake. The plan is to put up check dams to harvest monsoon water along the 1 km stretch of the river bed which is 5-40 feet deep. At present, in the absence of check dams, it flows into the Yamuna.
Dharwad: Farm ponds have been proving effective in Karnataka where the majority of farmers in the 20 villages of Navalgund taluk in Dharwad district have remained unaffected by the drought. The farm ponds dug in low-lying areas have allowed farmers to harvest occasional rainfall, store water and use it to provide timely irrigation to their crops. As a result, the farmers are able to irrigate and harvest 3 to 4 crops in a year. Their income has more than doubled and they are experimenting with commercially viable crops like papaya, beyond traditional ones such as cotton, maize, onion, chilly and pulses.
Ramanagara: Likewise, villages in Channapatna taluk, which used to suffer from acute drinking water shortage, are finding this summer much more comfortable than the previous ones in the last 17 to 18 years. This transformation happened owing to a project taken up in Dec, 2014 that recharged the groundwater in the parched area by filling up tanks in the villages with water from Shimsha river, which is a tributary of the Cauvery. Under the project, 65 tanks, including Kanva reservoir and 17 major tanks, were filled with water pumped up from the Iggaluru barrage that stores Shimsha water. As a result, there are no signs of drought in villages despite the region being drought prone.
Mandya: Mandya district, that has been notorious for farmers’ suicides is presently experiencing an agricultural revolution of sorts as farmers are now selling organic produce for a profit. The man behind the initiative is Madhuchandan SC, who left a lucrative career in the US in August 2014 and started the Mandya Organic Farmers Cooperative Society with 270 farmers, who produce and sell their own organic farm products.
Anantapur: This district in the State has been facing a severe drought for over a decade. Since 2000, the area has seen a rapid fall in ground water table mainly due to subsidized power connections and the absence of a formal legislation or social regulation to govern extraction. Despite water shortage, the cultivation of water-intensive crops has continued resulting in increasing water disputes among farmers. Now working towards a solution, 25 farmers of Kummaravandla Pally have formed a collective called Kolagunti Ummadi Neeti Yajamanya Sangham to “share groundwater with each other” and to sustain their crops with the help of government bodies and NGO WASSAN. The joint efforts of all three stakeholders have led to the concept of networking of bore wells to secure the rain-fed crops of all farmers, irrespective of borewell ownership. By linking all bore wells with a network of pipelines and outlets, all farmers can now access groundwater. To ensure compliance, the farmers have also signed an agreement which aims at sustainable use of ground water resource by encouraging farmers to switch to crop diversification, System Rice Intensification, horticulture, micro irrigation systems etc. The farmers’ committee has also put a ban on new bore well connection in critical areas.
Farmers have also been using government schemes such as water and soil conservation works under the MGNREGS and NADEP to build compost pits. The mutual agreement has led to a new way of agriculture in the 72 acres of land of 25 farmers. Since 2010, the cropping pattern has changed, leading to diversity of crops, reduction in costs of cultivation and an improvement in value of the produce and profits.
Bhim Singh Rawat