A midsummer dream

  • 29/06/2002

A midsummer dream RAJ SAMADHIYALA: Rajkot, Gujarat
Population: 2,000
Initiation of water harvesting: 1986

Water is a major agent of change in this village. Hardev Singh Jadeja, the former sarpanch and the present block president of 90 villages in Rajkot district, is proud that his village has generated an income of Rs 5 crore, much higher than expected. In 2001, the village generated an income of Rs 4.5 crore (see Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 6, August 15, 2001). It is one of the few villages in Gujarat to have had three bumper crops in a single season.

Nearly 15 years ago, its people faced a major water crisis. The groundwater table had receded to a depth of 250 metres. By 1985, villagers started to build check dams and tanks by using funds under the District Rural Development Authority (drda) programme (see Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 2, June 15, 2001). They built 45 check dams over an area of 1,090 hectares (ha). Last year, the village received 400 mm of rainfall while this year, even with no sign of rain, water is available at a depth of 15 metres.

Easier availability of water also led to an increase in cultivated land area (see table: Water benefits). With last year’s bumper harvest, the village granaries are full. The villagers have planted trees and constructed pipelines to supply drinking water to individual homes.

Both Jadeja and Devji Baba, the present sarpanch are members of the powerful village development committee (vdc), the body that takes decisions on village welfare schemes, their management, finance and people’s participation. It has the power to even overrule decisions of government officials that may be detrimental to the interests of the village.

This body has also ushered in social change. “Anyone found littering or wasting water is fined Rs 50. “It is mandatory for all girls to attend school,” Jadeja informs.

Now the village uses remote sensing technique and geographic information systems (gis) to locate subsurface dykes to store water. These are natural underground water channels, which have gone dry over time. But once excavated and injected with rainwater, these help in faster recharge of ground water. Jadeja has a gis map of the entire taluk . He has also helped in building check dams in the neighbouring villages of Aniala and Kasturbadham, which has benefited the entire region under Jadeja.

This village shows all the necessary ingredients for success: A visionary leader, a village institution to take decisions and community participation in resource management.

Parameters 1985:Pre-water harvesting 2002: Post-water harvesting
Land under cultivation (ha) 865 930
Land irrigation (ha) 258 418
Ground water level (m)
250 15
Post-monsoon 50 1 to 3
Perennial drinking water wells 2 14
No. of trees 16,000 51,000
Per hectare income (Rs) 4,600 31,000
Source: Lalakiya, Jayesh, Unpublished Report, A Study on Efficiency of Check Dams as a Water Harvesting Techniques for Saurashtra, SBST, CEPT, pp21
MANDLIKPUR: Rajkot, Gujarat
Population: 3,000
Initiation of water harvesting: 1993

Villagers of Mandlikpur have benefited from well water recharging and check dams. In 1993, this village began recharging its 150-odd wells. Today, this village has about 300 wells in which water is available at a depth of 18-30 metres. Well recharging was initiated by the Saurashtra Lok Manch (slm), a non-governmental organisation (ngo) (see Down To Earth , Vol 10, No 2, June 15, 2001).

In 2002, villagers further invested in water harvesting infrastructure. With help from organisations like Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation (baif), villagers contributed 10 per cent of the cost through shramdaan or voluntary labour, to raise seven large check dams and make five farm ponds. Water will be diverted from the check dams to the ponds and recharge the wells in the coming monsoon.

But most of these wells are in the north and east of the village. Nearly 40 per cent of the households, geographically located at a higher level in the southwest, did not benefit from well recharging. “Simply because they are not interested,” says Vijay Bhai Senjhalia, a villager.

In the drought of 2001, the entire village had drinking water (see Down To Earth , Vol 10, No 2, June 15, 2001). But following the monsoon in 2001, villagers with land in the recharged zone could manage to cultivate crops (see Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 6, August 15, 2001) while the other side faced a crisis. Mandlikpur excelled in groundnut production. Most farmers netted an annual income of Rs 1 lakh. Last year before monsoon, Senjhalia managed 100 kilogrammes (kg) of groundnut, while this year he reaped 400 kg per ha.

Today, while the neighbouring villages and water-parched towns of Jethpur and Dhoraji depend on water tankers, nearly 50 per cent of the houses in Mandlikpur have rooftop rainwater storage facilities.

However, the absence of a central village institution like a local water committee fails to motivate the complacent. These villagers are excited about water benefits expected from the Sardar Sarovar project over the Narmada river. Hence even the panchayat is not interested in motivating villagers to recharge their wells. “We are getting Narmada water,” says Savadasbhai Sanjalia, the village sarpanch . Narmada water was recently made available to the village but the supply was erratic. “In their enthusiasm over receiving Narmada waters, villagers should not forget to recharge their wells and harvest roof water,” warns Shamjibhai Antala of slm.

GANDHIGRAM: Kachchh, Gujarat
Population: 400
Initiation of water harvesting: 1995

Gandhigram is today experiencing reverse migration. “When I learnt our village has enough water and agricultural work, I decided to return and work in my own fields,” said Mohanbhai, a villager, who returned from Muscat.

Since 1995, Gandhigram has consistently built its water harvesting infrastructure with the help of the Shri Vivekanand Research and Training Institute (vrti), an ngo and contributions from the drda, government of India and private donors.

In 2000, when the dte team visited the village there were 4 big dams, 30 small ones and 31 nullah plugs. “Today, we have 5 big dams, 72 small ones and 72 nullah plugs in the village” says Bhimji Premji Chowdhry, president, Gram Vikas Mandal .

These structures have helped in drought proofing this village. During 2001, although the village received only 165 mm rainfall as against the average of 340 mm, the reservoirs were brimming with water. Groundwater was recharged and villagers received an uninterrupted piped water supply from their well. The distribution of this water is managed by a pani sanchalan samiti , a local body that collects Rs 3 per month from each household, towards operation and maintenance costs. Villagers prefer to pay and get water rather than depend on the government’s unreliable water supply system.

Villagers have also set up the pani vitharan samiti (pvs), a village institution to manage water. “After the rains, we visit reservoirs to assess the quantity of water harvested and the extent of land that can be irrigated with it. Accordingly, villagers discuss the crop pattern and individual requirement,” informs Mohanbhai, president, pvs. This local body also prepares a time schedule for farmers to irrigate their fields. Farmers pay Rs 250 per ha for irrigation water. “These deposits are earmarked for maintenance of the structures,” informed Arvindbhai, secretary, pvs. For instance, this fund was used for repairing cracks caused by the earthquake in January 2001.

Sensible water management practices have yielded results. “This year we were able to grow groundnut in nearly 121 ha and 50 ha of land was brought under rabi cultivation,” says Gangaram Lalji Chowdhary, a villager.

Gandhigram’s success does not stop here. It topped in groundnut production in Mandvi district this year. The villagers also introduced new crops like wheat, onion and jeera (cumin) and increased their agricultural yield. Profits flowed in. Work availability has also benefited landless labourers.

These riches were channelled back into the village. In April 2002, farmers repaid Rs 2.5 lakh out of the Rs 5 lakh loan from Mandvi Gramin Bank for the construction of the Lokshakti dam (see Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 16, January 15, 2000). They also invested Rs 2 lakh in fencing the village to protect their crops from wild animals. “Another indicator of economic growth is the increase in the number of tractors from two in 2000 to 14 in 2001,” says Arvindbhai.

“The village is now planning a cooperative for processing and marketing agricultural products,” says Kanzariah, director, vrti. Rainwater harvesting is paying dividends.

MAHUDI: Dahod, Gujarat
Population: 600
Initiation of water harvesting: 1992

Just four days of rain have given this village drinking water security! “This would not be possible without our check dam,” says Surtabhai, an old villager. The village valiantly battles the threat of a fourth consecutive drought year.

In 1992, the villagers constructed the first check dam on the seasonal river Machhan, with the help of N M Sadguru Water and Development Foundation (nmswdf), a Dahod-based ngo. A decade ago, the village was just barren land. Just one check dam made all the difference. Subsequently, the villagers built two more check dams.

This year, villagers have put in labour to construct a pipeline system to bring drinking water on tap, from a well near the check dam to each falia or house cluster. Women no longer have to go long distances in search of water.

Villagers also control the use of water through the local village institution, called the lift irrigation committee. It ensures an equitable distribution of water and helps villagers take critical decisions to mitigate the impact of drought. For instance, last year, the committee decided to save water for drinking (see Down To Earth , Vol 10, No 2, June 15, 2001). It therefore banned use of water intensive crops like groundnut.

This year too, the committee has similarly prioritised the use of water. In early summer, the committee after taking stock of water availability allowed the cultivation of maize to provide fodder for livestock. It also has rules for judicious use of water.

Water sufficiency has impacted agriculture too. “The check dams have ensured water availability and good agricultural yield. Consequently, migration into nearby towns for work has virtually stopped,” said Kanhaya Choudhary, senior project executive with nmswdf.

The village committee also enjoys good relations with neighbouring villages. When Mahudi ran short of water for irrigation, the committee successfully negotiated with Kharsana, the neighbouring village situated upstream, to release water from their check dam, earlier than scheduled. Kharsana obliged and Mahudi could meet its immediate water needs. Mahudi thus saved its crops from ruin. “This incident has helped the two villages to strike a strong relationship,” said Nansalai of Mahudi.

Although, the village has sufficient water for drinking and irrigation, they are surviving on ground water. This year, at the brink of monsoons, villagers are hoping that the rains will help them reinvest in their water bank.

DOTAD and KALAKOONTH Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh
Dotad Population: 4,500
Kalakoonth population: 2,500
Initiation of water harvesting: 2001

Villagers of Dotad and Kalakoonth in Jabhua district of Madhya Pradesh can swear by rainwater harvesting. Water has changed their fortunes, even though water harvesting measures were initiated just a year ago.

The region probably faces its fourth consecutive year of drought. But both villages are water sufficient. They have drinking water and Kalakoonth even gives five to six tankers of potable water daily, in charity to Pittol, its neighbouring market town.

Both these villages achieved water sufficiency with the help of Action for Social Advancement (asa), a ngo that helped villagers to desilt the pond in Kalakoonth. In Dotad, asa helped villagers to construct its first check dam, in 2001, on the seasonal river Modh. While asa contributed 75 per cent of the total cost, villagers bore 14 per cent with the balance 11 per cent being funded by drda. The damming of the river allowed villagers to irrigate at least 144 ha and cultivate two crops.

“With the check dam we have created a sea. We can hope for a better life now” says Galla Nardi, a Dotad resident. With water available round the year, agricultural productivity has increased by more than 50 per cent, contend the villagers.

Inspired by success, Dotad village has nearly completed construction of its second check dam with help from asa. There is no government funding and villagers have contributed 25 per cent of the cost and labour. They waited in vain for government funding, then decided to go ahead with the construction of the dam. “We could not have waited for the government indefinitely. The monsoon is round the corner,” says Laloo Kaka, a respected member of the gram sabha .

With the new check dam, the total catchment area will increase to three kilometres, enough for all falias in the village,” informs Apradip Bannerjee, project executive with asa. Villagers have also taken up recharging their wells so that this monsoon does not go waste.

GHELHAR CHOTI: Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh
Population: 1,100
Initiation of water harvesting: 1997

The MP government’s Rajiv Gandhi Watershed Mission (rgwm)that initiated rainwater harvesting in the village shut shop after four years of work, which could turn success into failure.

In 1997, the watershed development committee (wdc) desilted the village pond and constructed two check dams. This made villagers self sufficient in drinking water. They also had water for rabi and kharif crops.

When rgwm withdrew in 1999-2000, as per central government guidelines, it handed over water harvesting structures to the village panchayat for maintenance. But the panchayat , which handles three villages, was unprepared for this task of managing village assets, as it was never involved in the implementation of the project. Since then, there have been consecutive drought years. For a village that tripled its irrigation potential in just three years, the wheels of change were reversed (see Down To Earth , Vol 10, No 2, June 15, 2001).

By 2001, the village faced a water crisis. The handpumps went dry. The pond still had some water, which villagers used for drinking. But there was none for irrigation and villagers migrated to nearby towns.

Relief came after a good rain in the last four days of the monsoon when all the structures formed under the watershed programme filled and recharged the groundwater. In 2002, villagers had drinking water. The wells and the eight handpumps in the village have water. Some villagers could irrigate their fields. They realise that water harvesting structures have to be revived. But the onus rests on the village panchayat . “Even if the wdc working under the panchayat fails to maintain the structures, people themselves will get together to do so”, says Jawar Singh, a resident of Ghelhar Choti.

Meanwhile, the panchayat has woken up to strike a deal with the neighbouring village, Jheri. In return for water sharing rights, Ghelhar Choti has agreed to provide the labour to construct a pond in the common land between the two villages.

It works!

What is clear is that rainwater harvesting works. Even after four years of below average rainfall and certainly after three years of consecutive backbreaking drought, rainwater harvesting has helped these villages withstand the worst. Sceptics have maintained that rainfall is too variable and so rainwater harvesting is not viable. But we have learnt that it is. It works. It is possible to build livelihoods, indeed economic well-being by investing in capturing the rainwater endowment. Just note their generosity. In each village we have found stories of villagers sharing water with their neighbours and nearby towns.

But it is also clear that rainwater harvesting is not about building structures. It is about collective leadership. In all the villages this time we found some critical changes. Water security was possible. But only because villagers took critical decisions about how to ration and prioritise the scarce water for drinking, which crops they should grow and which not. It was not that water was abundant and forever, but that these societies had learnt to manage their water collectively.

It is also for this reason that we need a second generation of water reform in some of these villages. Even if villagers know that rainwater harvesting is the answer, they don"t have the institution to build and maintain their assets. The villages in Jhabua are a case in point. The guidelines issued by the Union government for centrally assisted, watershed projects stipulate that the scheme must only invest in a village for four, maybe five years. After this, the assets created under the scheme must be divested to the local panchayat

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