South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People’s (SANDRP’s) Bhim Singh Rawat* has compiled several examples of successful community-driven water conservation initiatives taken in 2016, a drought year. A SANDRP report:
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 pan nation presenting a ray of hope amid gloomy scenario. The exemplary works being done by several villages, people and organizations across the country 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 of remarkable water conservation work has also happened in this State. Hiware bazaar village in Ahmad Nagar district has become a byword for watershed management for which it was specially mentioned in PM Narendra Modi’s `Mann ki Baat’ programme. During 1990s the village used to face a major water crisis due to scanty of rain. It was that time, when 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 each year, during which a review of the rainfall and available water is taken. As a result of several such steps and community formed norms, underground water table in Hiware Bazar is now available at 20 to 40 feet below. Women in the village are glad that they don’t have to trek miles in search of water.
Aurangabad: On the same line a tiny village Patoda, on the fringes of water-starved Aurangabad city, is offering valuable lesson in water conservation and harvesting. Villagers regard water as more precious than money. They follow strict rules about usage and strictly carry the water audits. Water meters are installed in every households and entire village recycles each drop of waste water 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 it did not happened over nights. In fact it is a result of over 10 year joint efforts done by villagers.
Jalna: Similarly the villages of Wadhona, Vizora, Sunderwadi, Padmavati, Bhorkheda & Vadod Tangda in Jalna district of Marathwada has been greatly benefited by using alternatives like water shed development, afforestation, farm bunding, organic farming, vermi-composting, agro-meteorology, farm pond, renewable energy, 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 the model is the work that the villages have undertaken to arrest and conserve rain water, regenerate ground water and plan water consumption. At each level, at each village, some amount of rain water should be held back or go into the ground. The mammoth task of developing a watershed, de-silting, bunding etc. 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 to become water secure.
Dewas: A district in parched Malwa region, it has won five national awards for rain water harvesting. Curtsey to the unique idea of farm pond now named ‘Pani Bachao Dhan Kamao’ (save water, earn money) campaign introduced ten years back. Under the campaign 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 ones, which are known as Rewa Sagar, were made without any government fund. The concept of farm ponds has made about 400 villages 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.
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 is working both ways as it is 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 s 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 water starved Bundelkhand region that has 113 farmers’ suicides since Jan. 2016, farmer Prem Singh is scripting a success story, and has set an example 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 which have improved the risk-taking capacity of the farmer and healthy cattle, which in turn provide manure for organic farming. Locals and activists are now approaching Prem Singh to find out how his practices have transformed his farm into a lush area and 22% of the people in his village have grown an orchard on their farms. Indeed his model of diversification can be replicated by small farmers in the region.
Jalaun, Hamirpur, Lalitpur Meanwhile women groups in Jalaun, Hamirpur and Lalitpur districts also in Bundelkhand have joined hands to form pani-pnachayat. 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 organization Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan is supporting both the initiative in Bundelkhand.
Similarly, a group of villagers from Malakpur in Shamli district of western UP are trying to breathe new life into local stream Katha, a 150-km long river which is dead 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. Over the last two weeks the villagers have launched a “one house, one pot” water donation movement.
Dharward: Farm ponds have been proving effective against the drought in Karnataka also where majority of farmers of 20 villages in Navalgund taluk of Dharward district are unaffected by the drought. The farm ponds dug in low-lying areas allow farmers to harvest occasion al rainfall, store water and use it to provide timely irrigation to their crops. As a result the farmers are able to irrigate and harvest 3-4 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. The Deshpande Foundation with the support of the Tata Trust carrying out the work.
Ramanagara: Likewise the 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 sings of drought in villages despite being drought prone. In fact, the Channapatna MLA, who used to haggle with the government earlier to get drought assistance, has categorically told authorities that his constituency does not need any relief.
Mandya: The farmers of Mandya district too which is 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 district in the State has been facing a severe drought. After 2000, the area has seen rapid fall in ground water table mainly due to subsidized power connections and absence of formal legislation or social regulation to govern extraction. Despite water shortage the cultivation of water-intensive crops continued resulting in increasing water disputes among farmers. Now working towards a solution, 25 farmers of Kummaravandla Pally have formed a collective Kolagunti Ummadi Neeti Yajamanya Sangham to “share groundwater with each other” 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 rain-fed crops of all farmers, irrespective of bore well 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 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 area.
Farmers are also using government schemes such as water and soil conservation works under the MGNREGS and NADEP 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; improvement in value of produce and profit.
Learning from the Anantpur success story, several villages in six districts (Mahbubnagar, Ranga Reddy , Warangal, Medak, Karimnagar and Adilabad) of neighbouring Telangana are also piloting this participatory groundwater management programme.
The government of newly formed State has also been receiving a lot of appreciation for its flagship programme Mission Kakatiya aiming at de-silting, reviving and restoring the minor irrigation tanks ponds and lakes. The programme with the tagline “Mana Ooru, Mana Cheruvu’’ (our village, our pond) intends to create storage capacity of 265 TMC in the 10 districts. It has received kudos from the many governmental agencies and leading water experts has described it as historic decision to revive water sources. The tanks and ponds are important to Telangana because both rivers Godavari and Krishna flow at a lower level while the agricultural lands of Deccan plateau are at a higher level. Irrigation was possible only by using water from the tanks and ponds.
Village tanks and ponds are not just sources of water, they are also cultural centres for the communities where festivals like Batukamma, Katta Maisamma bonalu, Teez festivals of Banjara community, Ganga jataraas of fishermen community etc are celebrated on the banks of tanks in the villages. In first phase of the mission a total of 6,551 tanks, ponds has been de-silted by May 31 and work at 1,490 will be done by June-end. Under Mission Kakatiya phase-II, 10,184 tanks have identified of which 9,031 were approved for revival at a cost of Rs 3,071 crore. Work has begun at 8,272 tanks. According official estimates so far 10 crore cubic metre of silt has been removed creating 3.77 TMC of water storage in the revived tanks and ponds. Some 3 crore tractor-loads of silt has been removed and farmers have used their own tractors to take the silt to their fields.
Jaipur: Laporiya, a village 80 km from Jaipur, has been defying drought for the past 30 years with a collective effort of water harvesting by 350 families. While ground water has gone down to 500 feet in nearby areas, it is found at 15-40 feet in this village. Not only does lush Laporiya have enough water for its population of nearly 2,000, it even supplies water to some 10-15 surrounding villages. This journey from scarcity to self-sufficiency started in 1977 when an 18-year-old Laxman Singh realized that the only way to make the area agriculturally prosperous was making the area water rich through traditional method of water harvesting called Chowka. Under the chowka system, small, interconnected, sloping rectangular pits, nine inches deep, are made in pasture land. Over 15 years, the chowka system was developed on about 400 bighas of pasture land. The villagers came together and contributed money and labour to make the bunds. With the soil gaining moisture, villagers were able to harvest their rabi crop without irrigating their fields. There’s been some smart crop planning too. Villagers stay away from water-intensive crops.
Barmer & Jaisalmer: In certain areas of Barmer and Jaisalmer districts in west Rajasthan, communities have taken it upon themselves to handle their water, food and fodder needs, and have come up with long-term sustainable solutions following Sambhaav Trust’s initiative. Just in the last two years, more than 100 beris (small community wells for drinking water), 10 lakes, 5 wells, 100 acres of agricultural land and 1,200 bighas of common pasture land have been revived. In more than 60 villages, people now have access to water, and are able to produce food and fodder for their livestock. This work has brought many changes with it. Villagers who had to walk 10 km to get water now have water in their village. Communities which never ever did agriculture now have their own lands to do so. People who would migrate to other states for work now live and work in their own villages. What is remarkable is how communities have pooled in their resources to work towards self-reliance. The youth are more attentive towards conserving natural resources and have become active in local governance.
Jaisalmer: Ramgarh area where it rain scantly, has also become water sufficient due to harvesting every drop of rain water in ponds without any aid from Government or NGOs. The Viprasar pond holds special significance for this region. Villagers still practice community farming to save water and all the people have equal right on water bodies as the collective assets of the entire society. As a result, the area in the heart of desert today has plenty of water, foodgrains, and fodder and gives employment to the people belonging to areas which receive good rainfall.
Purulia gets ample rain but the district has a very undulating terrain due to this nearly 50% of this water is wasted in run off making the district prone to droughts. But things started changing in some portions of the district over the past 3 years. A Kolkata-based NGO SAFE with funds from NABARD has taken up rain water harvesting through farmers club. At present there are more than 70 such farmers clubs in 5 blocks of the district. Along with rain water harvesting other innovative measures such as ‘collective farming’, wherein farmers harvest a single crop over several acres of land instead of growing various crops in their fragmented individual farmlands and ‘water budgeting’ in which the members of the club decide on what crops to grow according to availability of rain leaving some water for daily use and growing fishes have also helped the farmers. With yields increasing more farmers are now showing interest to form farmers clubs.
Ranchi: Simon Oraon, popularly known as Baba in Bero block of Ranchi area has transformed the lives of thousands of villagers in Jharkhand with his massive tree-planting and water conservation efforts, The 84-year-old man, a Padma Shri awardee, has been working in 51 villages of Bero to protect natural flora for decades. The residents of these 51 villages owe him the agricultural prosperity he brought them through simple water conservation efforts. Today, his village is one of the state’s agri-produce hubs, supplying more than 25,000 metric tonnes of vegetables to various districts and nearby locations.
Bargarh: In Kharamal village under Jamseth gram panchayat of Paikmal block, which is often hit by drought but farmers Sitaram Majhi & Dambru Majhi, who have created water harvesting models in their agricultural land, using which the farmers have managed to irrigate vegetables and earn profit. In 2005, Water Initiatives Odisha, a group of people working on water issues, motivated villagers to develop an integrated ecological revival plan for the village. Locals then revived a community tank in the village but Sitaram and Dambru dug up small water bodies on their land, locally called Muda.
During monsoon, the run-off rain water from the hill range would flow through their land and get collected in the Muda. A few years later, the soil moisture content improved with ground water being recharged due to the Mudas.
Pauri: In Ufrenkhal village, Sacchidanand Bharti has created a lush, green mountain covered with deodar, banj and utees trees over few decades. The forest has replaced a formerly barren land. The man along with villagers has also revived a local stream with the help of the Chal-Khal method. Under this system small percolation pits on every bit of available land on the slopes of stream were dug by villages. Grass and trees were planted around and in the pits to secure the edge and prevent the soil from being washed away. Once grown, they helped in retaining soil and water. The pits and the trees developed a mutually beneficial relationship, which rejuvenated an entire system. Today, more than 40 villages have adopted chal-khal system. Earlier, this work was carried out by the villagers through shramadaan drives. Today, it is done in the monsoons, for wages of Rs. 50/- per pit. This is an on-going process, having continued for over 30 years now.
Kapurthala, Moga, Fatehgarh Sahib: Even as concern over declining water table and over exploitation of water in Punjab for paddy continues to grow, some farmers in the state are innovative techniques to save water. Avtar Singh, a farmer in Phagwara has inter-cropped cotton crop with cucumbers and is practicing capillary action irrigation which also helps in conserving water. He irrigates his fields after every 2 weeks, helping him save a lot of water which would otherwise have been used to flood the land. Paramjit Singh Gill of Moga cultivated red garlic, a crop that is not familiar to Punjab, and has reaped profit of Rs 1 lakh per acre. Another farmer, Sukhvir Singh from Fatehgarh Sahib has grown onions on 7 acres, muskmelon on 5 acres, tomatoes on 2 acres, chillies on 2 acres and pumpkin on 1 acre.
Kutch: As the state reels under water scarcity this summer staring at empty dams on minor rivers, several areas in Kutch are still satiating their drinking water needs from carefully managed groundwater. A total of 300 villages of four talukas on coastal area Abdasa, Mandvi, Mundra and Anjar are involved in an aquifer management project for the past 4 years. This summer has showed a marked difference in several, if not all, villages that are part of the network. The mapping of aquifer took place five years ago along with Central Ground Water Board as three of the four talukas were declared ‘dark zones’ with high TDS and over 50% saline water. It is one of the few projects at aquifer level going on in India, with such a large population base.
As a large part of country is facing water scarcity due to drought, there are villages and districts in several States which have revived their local water harvesting structures like Chowka, Muda and Kakatiya in Rajasthan, Odisha and Telangana and devised new methods like farmers club, farm ponds, pani-panchayat, check dams, bore well networking, aquifer management, participatory ground water management in West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra which not only have provided the villagers and farmers security against water crisis but also ensured gradual increase in livelihoods.
The water conservation efforts taken up by Punjab farmers and Simon Oraon in Jharkhand are also encouraging. At the same time the organic farming initiative started by Prem Singh in Banda and Madhuchandan SC in Mandya shows alternative farming methods to stressed farmers. It is also worth mentioning that countless NGOs and many government departments with relevant schemes are helping the villagers in their uphill but successful initiatives.
The compilation underlines that community driven and local water conservation methods even today, remain viable and cost-effective alternatives to rejuvenate depleted groundwater aquifers. With government support, these structures could be upgraded and productively combined with modern water harvesting & conserving techniques. This may be a far more sustainable approach to alleviating the water scarcity crisis across India.
No doubt this drought is exceptional but at the same time it offers a golden chance to draw lessons from local and community driven water conservation initiatives. In this defining moment, it depends on us how we convert this adversary into an opportunity by reinventing time-tested and local water harvesting structures with community participation and by incorporating innovative ideas to keep severe drought like this at bay.