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Lessons learnt

Following the monsoon failure of 1999-2000, two states — Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh — launched crash programmes to encourage water harvesting. An appreciable shift, because governments in India have always gone in for high-cost, high-technology solutions to our water crisis. Ignoring the fact that rainwater has helped India survive through the millennia. The Centre for Science and Environment sent Eklavya Prasad to Gujarat and Binayak Das to Andhra Pradesh to assess the programmes. While the projects suffer from typical governmental functioning in several areas, the success stories cannot be ignored. Down To Earth scrutinises the programmes even as the region faces another year of drought

Overflow in July 2000, a drought year, simply shows the strength of water works taken up by the people of Dahisarda village in Rajkot

In the January 15, 2000 issue, Down To Earth had highlighted the situation in drought-struck areas of Gujarat. The conclusion was that villages with structures to harvest rainwater were faring much better than villages which had forgotten the value of rain. They had enough water to drink; some had enough for irrigation, too. By April, as the effects of drought became more apparent, the media discovered what the Indian subcontinent has known and practised for millennia: that the only source of water is rain, and the monsoonal bounty has to be stored through apt means for use through the rest of the year. There was widespread acknowledgement of the fact that large water supply schemes of governments would never be able to solve India’s water crisis by themselves. There had to be a paradigm shift in our management of water.

Two drought-hit states, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh (AP), came up with crash programmes that encouraged rural communities to build new water harvesting structures and revive old ones. The reason for these responses remains unclear; some say it is political, some say it is motivation from the civil society, some say it was the need of the hour. But the fact remains that
the Gujarat government launched the Sardar Patel Participatory Water Conservation Programme (SPPWCP) in January 2000; and the AP government launched the Neeru Meeru (Water and You) programme in May 2000.

No matter what their motive, the two state governments have to be congratulated for venturing into uncharted territory, into something essential that governments in independent India have consistently ignored. It becomes essential to assess the performance of these schemes. While it is certain that community-based water management, based on water harvesting, is essential to deal with drought, the future of this potential depends on how the Indian administrative establishment takes to it. If water harvesting falls victim to corruption and bureaucratic incompetence, India’s future would be so much poorer.

To look into all these issues, the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), which actively promotes community-based water management and the seminal importance of water harvesting, sent two researchers from its Campaign to Make Water Everybody’s Business. For about one month, they travelled to several parts of Gujarat and ap, visiting villages, panchayats (village councils), government departments, civil society groups, technical experts, research institutions, religious outfits, and what have you. Their experiences led to some conclusions.

In Gujarat’s drought-prone Saurashtra and Kachchh regions, there were clear indicators that the government programme has made a significant difference. Despite the fact that the rains were very poor in the year 2000 monsoon, there are claims that water overflowed in more than three-fourths of the 10,500 check dams built under the government programme over the last few months. In several villages which have built check dams, the groundwater table had improved and dugwells have water. The Indian media — at the regional as well as the national level — reported quite a few success stories of villages which are confident about facing drought in the future. The fact that the media took note of these stories is itself a good indicator, because the Indian media, biased as it is towards urban centres, regularly ignores the problems and successes of our villages.

While water harvesting is a crucial component of solving the water crisis, crash programmes to capture rain are not the answer. Better planning and decentralisation is the call of the day

Not only did the Gujarat government learn from its past mistakes in water management, but it also learned from the successes of villages led by civil society groups. The SPPWCP was formulated in a way that bureaucratic wrangling would be sidelined. The people responded with enthusiasm, submitting proposals for more than 25,000 check dams. This again proves that India’s problem is its governments, not its people. Another factor worth noting is that the success rate of the programme was seen to be better where civil society groups were involved. This gave fewer opportunities of siphoning funds to corrupt government engineers and contractors. It also helped in mobilisation of villagers. But, apart from some cases of exceptional effort by villages on their own accord, the programme actually led to corruption in several places where civil society groups were not involved. So much so that the government resorted to withholding of funds in some cases, again revealing a willingness to learn from mistakes and rectify them.

AP was more of a disappointment. Although the Neeru Meeru programme was initiated only a few months ago and it is early days for judging its impact, the initial indicators do not bode well. While the programme covers several aspects of water harvesting, one of the major thrusts in the initial stages has been to desilt old tanks, which has been carried out in 3,348 villages. But the way the programme has been planned, has left a lot of room for contractors and engineers to exploit poor villagers. The programme does not encourage employment of the rural poor in desilting operations, relying on the machines and corruption of contractors. Some exceptional success stories apart, there are numerous allegations of corruption and nepotism. Let aside the opposition political parties, even neutral groups and technical experts are critical of the ruling Telugu Desam Party for using the community-based programme to build up its own cadres and political base, rather than finding a lasting solution to the water crisis. Several villagers complain of exploitation at the hands of local politicians, bureaucrats, government engineers and contractors.

Prepared for drought: Villagers of Padodar in Bhavnagar district of Saurashtra, Gujarat, rejoice
in the water tapped by the checkdam they built

In the following pages, we present two reports, one from each state, to assess which way these programmes are headed. It is crucial to do this at present, because the spectreSPPWCPsss of drought is looming large over several parts of western and central India after the monsoon failed the states again this year. The story of villages and governments that have made sound investments in water harvesting need to be publicised far and wide. Only after they get due credit and attention can their examples be replicated.

The lesson is clear. While harvesting rainwater is the right direction, the bureaucracy and petty politicking will ensure that instead of solving the water crisis, it becomes another excuse for mismanagment and corruption. This would be a real shame, because it might close the last door for a developing country like India to sustainably manage its water needs. It would be an even greater shame if it were to prove that Indians have little to hope for a better tomorrow.

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Learning the mantra

Report card:
The government realised its failures and learned from the civil society. Despite cases of corruption and some errors in planning, the government programme is an achievement

Success level: Good

It was quite visible in several districts, whether it was Rajkot, Junagadh or Jamnagar in Saurashtra or Bhuj in Kachchh. People in several villages of these drought-prone regions looked a lot more confident in September 2000 about dealing with drought in the future. Barely four months ago, they had looked doomed and defeated. But now they have water. The reason for the change: check dams built by the hundreds in the past few months. This has been possible only under the Sardar Patel Participatory Water Conservation Programme (SPPWCP) launched by the state government in January 2000 in response to the drought. The response from the people was tremendous; 25,234 proposals were received. Initially, the plan was to build 2,500 check dams at the cost of Rs 100 crore. This went up more than four times to 10,500 and the cost was doubled to Rs 200 crore.

Villagers of Padodar, thank the bountiful nature by performing religious rites

One such village is Padodar in Gharda tehsil of Bhavnagar district. In the past two years, no government water supply reached the village. Yet, in September 2000, there was ample water. Between March 17 and June 17, the villagers built 51 check dams. After the first showers of the monsoon, all of them had water. Madhujibhai Dadojibhai, head of the village committee to make check dams, says, “During last year’s drought, 20,000 litres of water was being brought in tankers. Now we are hopeful that drinking water will be available even during summer.” In Dahisarda village of Rajkot district, a checkdam had been built on Aji river 20 years ago. But water would stay for only 10-15 days after the rains, says Jagdanjibhai, member of the committee formed to raise the height of the checkdam by one metre in May 2000. After the height was raised, 300 dugwells and 50 handpumps have been recharged in 40 per cent of the village land which is under agriculture, he points out. The dams stop enough water to facilitate lift irrigation, improving the lot of farmers.

With the monsoon showers, 8,000 of the 10,500 check dams built overflowed with water. Wells in adjoining areas got recharged, improving water availability
— Nitinbhai patel
minister for minor irrigation

Nitinbhai Patel, Gujarat’s minister for minor irrigation programmes, says, “During the recent rains, water overflowed in about 8,000 (of the 10,500) check dams. Dugwells in the adjoining areas got recharged, improving the water availability. While tankers were providing water to 2,500 villages during the drought, the figure went down to 1,400 after the first rains.” He says almost all the work was accomplished by the villagers themselves and there was “no interference from anyone.”

M S Patel, secretary (water resources) of Narmada, water resources and water supply department, is confident that in places with check dams, the problem of drinking water will now get deferred to the months of May or June, instead of February. He says the sppwcp is not merely a temporary intervention to fight the drought but a reflection of our policy to deal with the water crisis in the long run. sppwcp is based on the ‘60:40 concept’. The government bears 60 per cent of the cost, while the villagers contribute the remaining 40 per cent.

“SPPWCP is a novel programme. It has provided the necessary impetus to the concept of water harvesting,” says Anil C Shah of the NGO Development Support Centre (DSC), Ahmedabad. “It is popular because the government has been sensitive to people’s problems. It has been formulated keeping the last person in mind,” says Ghanshyambhai Savani, head of the Gharada taluka panchayat in Bhavnagar district.

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Common sense dawns
How did the state government come up with such a decentralised water management programme, especially in a state that is in the middle of the colossal confusion over the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada, work on which lies stalled due to litigation? The drought in the past few years had created a compulsion for the government to look for additional strategies to deal with the water crisis. In 1997 itself, it launched the “Own your own checkdam” programme. Its failures were too glaring. It yielded merely 62 check dams in three years despite the fact that the government was bearing 90 per cent of the cost. (see table: A lesson in mass mobilisation)

Even after the Sardar Sarovar Project is implemented, the irrigation needs of more than 3 million hectares of rainfed kharif crop area in Saurashtra would not be met. With the small structures, they can have water for drinking and irrigation
secretary, Narmada, water resources and water supply

Even M S Patel acknowledges that the people stayed away from this programme due to complicated government procedures. It was obvious that a novel approach was the call of the day. Apart from the drinking water crisis, agriculture, too, was in doldrums. “In Saurashtra, the main crop in the kharif season is groundnut,” says the secretary. “The total cropped area for kharif in Saurashtra is 4 million hectares (mha). At present, water for irrigation is being provided by 113 dams for 0.3 mha. Even after the Sardar Sarovar Project is implemented, 0.4-0.5 mha will be irrigated. Therefore, 3.15 mha will still be dependent on rain. Threfore, even Narmada water cannot solve the problem. However, with the small structures in Saurashtra, villages would have water for irrigation and drinking.”

While the need of the hour was evident, how did the government hit upon the idea of a large-scale, decentralised programme to build check dams? The thought behind sppwcp lies in the success of several people’s efforts led by the civil society. “The government had seen the work of voluntary, religious and spiritual organisations. They were interested in replicating the process across the state,” says Sachin Oza of DSC.

In fact, the government circular dated January 17, which announced the creation of SPPWCP, says, “Several active workers and service-oriented non-governmental organisations have taken up several water conservation projects in these areas by collecting voluntary contributions from the people for preventing the rainwater from flowing out of their respective areas and to recharge the groundwater… and the results are overwhelmingly successful.” The circular also mentions that the scheme is in response to the fact that “the people of these regions are determined to implement such projects” and also due to public demand as well as representations from members of the legislative assembly and NGOs.

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Political wrangling

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the SPPWCP. While Nitinbhai Patel was working out the details of the new, decentralised programme, the minister for Narmada and major irrigation projects, Jay Narain Vyas, was too busy foul-mouthing it as merely a diversionary tactic of the anti-dam lobby. Without Patel claiming that water harvesting was an alternative to the Narmada dam, Vyas began to cry wolf. Rather than seeing the two issues separately, he took it upon himself to belittle the media attention that water harvesting was getting.

How was the programme still successful? The irrigation minister says the chief minister Keshubhai Patel supported the programme, which led to the germination of a state-level initiative. Moreover, water has become one of the most important political issues in Gujarat, which meant the political will to tackle the water crisis was stronger than ever before.

More so after the water crisis started causing civic problems, such as deaths due to police firing against rural people rioting to protest government decision to reserve water for urban centres. Politicians started realising that their political survival depended on the availability of water. With the impasse on the Narmada dam continuing, they began to look at an ignored area: water harvesting.

Even with water harvesting gaining prominence, there were hurdles, especially in Rajkot district. Some reports in the media highlighted the urban-rural divide over the issue of water. A June 14 report in The Indian Express mentioned that the Bhadar reservoir, which supplies water to the towns of Rajkot, Jetpur and Gondal, had not received a drop of water despite 76 mm of rainfall in its catchment area. This, the report said, was due to the 25-30 check dams built in the catchment, which had got filled up after the rain. Several other media reports highlighted the condition of Rajkot residents scampering for water.

All these reports fail to understand a crucial lesson of water management: those who harvest rainwater are relatively secure even in a drought. Those who wait for others or the government stare at empty taps. This lesson has been reinforced by the success of sppwcp, and the local media has taken note of the fact. The political leadership has to be commended for finally considering the rural poor in its agenda.

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Generating awareness

Once the political will started driving water harvesting efforts, things started moving. To mobilise the masses, the government relied on the method of civil society groups: jalyatras (marches for water). The government jalyatra was organised in January 2000. It moved in three streams. While Nitinbhai Patel led one jalyatra, the other two were led by Narottambhai Patel, minister of water supply, Anandiben Patel, minister of education, and Kaushikbhai Patel, minister of energy.

The jalyatras visited 6,000 villages in Saurashtra and Kachchh. In each village, a gram sabha (village assembly) was organised. As it is, the people were quite eager for an initiative to get rid of the water crisis. The situation was all prepared for what was to become a major sociopolitical initiative.

…and exceeding expectations

Referring to the government decision to increase the number of proposed check dams from 2,500 to 10,500, M S Patel says the government reacted positively. However, this was done on an ad hoc basis, and this has come in for criticism as the programme became target-oriented rather than process-oriented. “They acted in great hurry. The planning should have been done from the tehsil level. To implement such a scheme, a minimum of 7-8 engineers are needed for sanctioning and monitoring,” says a government engineer, who did not want to be named. He said the department just did not have the infrastructure and the staff strength to deal with such a major initiative.

Technology, process and the flaws

The minor irrigation ministry came up with six designs for concrete check dams. However, there was a provision that if a village came up with its own design, it could be approved after a technical assessment, informs M S Patel. “We had to earn the faith of the people. Towards this end, we adopted a transparent and accountable style of functioning,” says Nitinbhai Patel. An effort was made to avoid the governmental system of issuing tenders and then dealing with contractors. “For the first time, the responsibility was handed over to the villagers,” says M S Patel.

A village-level committee with at least 11 members was made in charge of implementation. Each committee was to have a head, who was responsible for purchasing materials, arranging for labour, ensuring that the village contributed its 40 per cent share, and monitoring the work.

The formation of the implementation committee was followed by the selection of design and the site. The next step was preparing an estimate, for which the committee could consult whosoever they wanted. The sanctioning power of a district-level engineer was restricted to projects worth Rs 6 lakh. Anything over this had to approved by the secretary of the department at the state capital, Gandhinagar. These logistics had to be filled in a simple form, and work would commence immediately after the sanction. An inspection after three weeks of commencement of work was followed by release of the government fund.

Several concerned citizens said selection of sites was influenced by contractors in several places, paving the way for bigger structures which allowed better opportunities for corruption. The monitoring of the work is also being questioned. Despite a committee set up by the state government to monitor the progress of SPPWCP, monitoring was haphazard at best, non-existent at worst.

But the main problem was the several shortfalls in the decentralisation process, which was hurriedly implemented. As a result the intricacies involved in the formation of the village-level committees to supervise the construction were overlooked. The gram sabha and not government officials or contractors should have been in control of the formation of the village committee. The gram panchayat also had no say in the implementation of the project. The committee should have been made accountable to the gram sabha. Due the restricted involvement of the gram sabha there were several problems. In some cases people with little influence in the local community became members of the village committee. Ideally there should have been a
village elder as the head of the committee who could control 11-members, what was missing also in most cases was a representative of the gram panchayat and women members, the user group, were conspicous by their absence.

The jalyatra was the only medium used to make contact with the local people. It was firmly believed by the government that this strategy was sufficient to educate and motivate the people. But while the people got motivated they lacked the skills to effectively implement the projects. Capacity building and training was not done.

As part of the decentralisation process the government should have also handed over the costing of the projects to the village committee. The stakeholders were supposed to contribute 40 per cent of the total cost of project. But government approved rates were so high that it was possible for contractors to construct inferior structures within the 60 per cent allotted by the government and even make a profit. This negated the need for people’s own contribution — in labour or cash in these structures.

Since coordination between village committees was virtually absent, it led to bad planning in the management of the catchment area and poor choice of checkdam sites. In areas where ngos were operating, there was just one committee which supervised the execution of the project. But in other areas, every checkdam in the village had its own committee.

The scheme has also drawn flak for corruption. A May 17 report in The Times of India mentioned that “irregularities have been reported from at least 90 per cent of the check dams in Junagadh district.” The government decided to suspend construction of nearly 800 check dams in 25 talukas of Saurashtra and Kachchh after detecting the poor construction and overestimation of cost, said a May 21 report in The Indian Express. The cse researcher came across several examples of poor quality construction and misappropriation of funds in the building of check dams, particularly in Junagadh and Kachchh.

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Whither hence?
With problems sneaking into SPPWCP, should Gujarat do away with the programme? Or should it persist with the novel approach, all the while learning from past mistakes? The government has no choice but to work with the second option. After all, the government of Gujarat has at least come up with a positive response to the drought, as opposed to neighbouring Rajasthan, which also suffered a bad drought but has not come up with any long-term strategy.

One positive effect of the programme is that the villagers realise that alternatives do work. It is a positive step away from dependence on groundwater
— Nafisa Barot
Utthan, Ahmedabad

“The positive effect of the programme has been that the villagers have come to realise that alternatives do work,” says Nafisa Barot of the Ahmedabad-based NGO Utthan. It is a positive step away from dependence on groundwater, which has been rising frighteningly in the past two decades, leading to the present crisis. However, Barot adds a word of caution: “The government has completely hijacked the process of the participatory model, and has implemented it in a hurry. So the process has suffered.”

The programme could have achieved even more than what it has if the government had spent more time in planning the execution process
Development Support Centre Ahmedabad

Anil Shah also provides an insight: “The programme could have achieved more had the government spent more time in planning the execution process.But it is not all disappointment. Some steps have already been taken in the right direction. For one, the decision to withhold payments of all projects where irregularities have been reported will send the right message to fly-by-night contractors. One suggestion is that administrative shift can be in imparting better training to village-level institutions and strengthening the monitoring of the work accomplished. More than anything else, the government has to ensure that the programme grows into a mass movement for management of the entire watershed. The life of a checkdam is very short if the upstream area is not treated to prevent soil erosion as siltation inhibits its long-term effectiveness. As it is, several studies have shown that the rate of erosion in Saurashtra is quite high. For this the components of people’s control over decision making must be further strengthened.

While these measures will help the performance of SPPWCP, the government itself needs to learn. Jay Narain Vyas’ attitude won’t help. Nitinbhai Patel needs to talk to his colleague about the importance of the SPPWCP. Rainwater has to be central to India’s efforts in dealing with its water problems, regardless of the role of large dams — central, supplementary or otherwise. The state also needs to learn that crash programmes are good on a temporary basis, but long-term plans require better thinking. For Gujarat, it is time to take stock, to act with resolve and intelligence. To build upon what it has gained and learn from its mistakes. There is a lot at stake.

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Political harvest

Report card: A scheme that can help solve the water crisis has become a tool to promote political interests of the ruling party

Success level: Poor

Achampet mandal of Mahabubnagar district, Andhra Pradesh (AP), was in the clutch of drought six years ago. But it is doing well at present. “Satellite images show an improvement of about 300 per cent between February 1994 and March 1998 with regard to the groundwater table,” says Ramesh Reddy, head of the department of civil engineering at Osmania University, Hyderabad. He is also the chairperson of the Centre for Rural Youth Development (CRYD), a non-governmental organisation in Achampet.

In 1995 the people of this region, along with CRYD, took up the AP Groundwater Borewell Irrigation Scheme, known as apwell in short. This scheme of the state government was aimed at watershed development to improve groundwater resources and recharge borewells. The scheme was made available in seven drought-affected districts and was a result of an agreement between the state government and the government of the Netherlands to fund watershed development.

Tank desiltation operations under the Neeru Meeru program in Hyderabad

In 1999-2000, the state faced a severe drought. More than 17 per cent of the habitations in the state face drinking water scarcity, says a May 2000 report by ap’s department of rural development. The government responded by putting its various programmes like apwell into a concerted effort called the Neeru Meeru (Water and You) programme, which is the 12th part of the Janmabhoomi initiative of the of the ap state government. Janmabhoomi translates to motherland in English. Launched in May 2000 at the behest of the ap chief minister, N Chandrababu Naidu, Janmabhoomi aims to create self help groups — women’s groups, water users’ associations (WUAS), watershed development committees or youth groups. The message is that people should realise their duty towards the motherland. This is part of an ongoing initiative of the state government to involve communities in their own uplift, as is the idea of creating vana suraksha samitis (VSS, or forest protection committees) to protect forests through watershed development.

“All these activities were going on individually but there was no impact analysis and individual decisions were giving poor deals to the people,” says Chandrasekhar Reddy, special officer in charge of Neeru Meeru with the rural development department. This is exactly where the programme aims to make a difference by involving people in all development activities linked to water. The chief minister told Down To Earth, “Through Neeru Meeru I want to increase the percentage of rainwater we conserve… we are working in so many ways. Whatever the experiences of the many experts working all over the country, I am borrowing all these.” As the push for the programme was coming straight from the chief minister, there was hardly any opposition to it within the ruling party and the administration.

Through the Neeru Meeru programme I want to increase the percentage of rainwater we conserve
— N Chandrababu

chief minister, Andhra Pradesh

The Andhra Pradesh government has formed a water conservation mission (WCM). This is a mission consisting of experts on water from various parts of the country. The mission has been formed under the chairperson of the chief minister, Chandra Babu Naidu. As a part of its activities on watershed management the government has already formed 5,260 watershed committees in the state. The principal secretary, department of panchayati raj and rural development have been made responsible to implement the programme. The village level committees have the village sarpanch as president and the village development officer as convenor. The stakeholders are the water users association (WUA), self help groups, village officials, women groups, ngos and research organisations. The mission also includes providing training, fund, technological assistance to the villagers.

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Top down approach
But the bureaucracy still drives the entire programme. This top down approach pursued by the state government, however, has given rise to resentment and non-participation amongst the stakeholders due to two major drawbacks. To begin with the process of decentralisation was seen as a means to promote the building of a cadre for the TDP, say experts working on minor irrigation.

The village community has to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the district authorities which gives total control to the bureucracy over what is supposed to be a participatory process. The local community is supposed to look into the aspects of planning; implementation and subsequent management of the watershed project. The MoU also mentions that the village community has to agree to a change in cropping patterns by not using water intensive crops and go in for social fencing. But the scope of participation is subject to strictly adhering to guidelines. Failing this the government reserves the right to convert the money released for the projects into a loan and initiate recovery proceedings.
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Desilting without channels
The programme planned for construction and revival of watershed development structures, including checkdams, contour trenches, rock-filled dams and gully bunds. Water harvesting trenches and other such structures are also being constructed in various villages, agricultural lands, temples, urban houses, institutions and open areas. Funds for all this are being provided by multiple agencies.

One programme that has received a major fillip is desilting of old tanks, which has been carried out in 3,348 villages, the work being stopped currently due to the monsoon. Contractors’ poclains (earth moving machines) extract the silt and farmers bring their tractors to carry the fertile extract to their fields. Desilting by the hour requires the services of 20 tractors. One has to be present next to the poclain every 2-3 minutes as costly machines are rented on an hourly basis. “This is how people were mobilised. They were present at the site with their tractors,” says Reddy.

The rural poor labour dig a rainwater harvesting pit in Achampet. The state government’s emphasis on mechanised operations has been criticised for failing to generate employment among the rural poor

Desiltation work has also been undertaken in the many tanks controlled by the Panchayati Raj and minor irrigation’s department. The tanks were traditionally under the maintenance of the community.

There are about 80,000 tanks in ap whose worth today stands at Rs 50 lakh per tank, says Uma Shankari, convenor of Neeti Samkhya, an ngo based in Chittoor district. They are in poor condition today due to neglect by the government and the people. Out of the total percentage of outlays for irrigation, the major and medium irrigation project gets three-fourths of the allocation.

The minor irrigation and the panchayati raj gets the rest of the onefourths allocated fund. Of this, 80 per cent goes as salary and administration work. The amount that gets involved in the actual work for the tank stands at 1-2 per cent. “The local waterbodies below 41 ha ayacuts should also be entrusted to the panchayats. New wua’s under these will be useless as they are too small but the panchayats can organise and maintain the tanks without professional help,” says Uma. The village of Gaur, Nizamabad, however, tells a story. Two tanks with total tank area of around 53 hectares have not been desilted in spite of the villagers’ appeals.

Yella Reddy, the village sarpanch expresses their anguish, “We have appealed to the irrigation department two times since last year to take up the work of desiltation of the tanks as these tanks are their sole source of agriculture, but the department people told us that there is no fund to renovate the tanks.” The silt has accumulated on the feeder channel of the upper tank which is stopping the flow of water to the lower tank. The resultant is the flooding of the kutcha village roads. The village does not have a link road to the state highway and now, the panchayat is constructing a pucca road on their own. Yella Reddy also says that if the tanks were under the panchayat instead of government department, then the village panchayat could have taken responsibility of the tanks, but now they cannot, for it is illegal under government law. This type of neglect is possible. Monsoon started in mid-June, so it was late for desiltation but the programme was implemented in May, then it could have been taken up but the Neeru Meeru officials came to the village three times to repeat that there is no budget. In many places like Ballamntary village of Nizamabad district, the feeder channels are blocked and not work has been carried out. In the case of Gaur also, there are two tanks, but the supply channel from one tank to the other has vanished due to no care being taken. “What is the point of desilting of tanks, if the supply channels are not in order and water does not flow into the tank? Desiltation programme should include supply channel cleaning too,” says Uma Shankari.

Despite the fact that the Neeru Meeru programme clearly lays down the importance of keeping contractors at bay, their influence has meant that money plays a greater role than the people

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Too many cooks
Innumerable committees have been formed at every level, leaving the common person confused. M S Kodarkar, zoologist with the Vivek Vardhini College in Hyderabad, who has a special interest in lakes and waterbodies, says, “There are already multiple government departments which are controlling one single aspect: water. There is the metro water supply department, the irrigation department and now various wuas are sprouting all over. Various authorities control different aspects of water right from supply to treatment of water to its use. There are a number of laws. Creating one more authority, in this case the wcm, the administrative structure has become vague.”

Siphoning of funds
The project funds are handled by wuas, and there are allegations of corruption in this area. While it is very difficult to prove how it is done, a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed how funds are swindled. “I can personally tell you what has happened in a particular case. A watershed committee president received some Rs 7,000. When I enquired about the source, he told me that he received it for signing a cheque for Rs 28,000.” Such stories are quite common.

The WUA president is responsible for signing cheques to release money to contractors. Even when half the work is done, the contractors claim the money for the work in connivance with the wua president, who gets a cut. The projects suffer extensively due to this. “A lot of corruption is going on, though no one comes forward to point it out,” says Rukmini Rao of the Deccan Development Society, Hyderabad, who is working on watershed projects in Rayalaseema district. “Small ngos are forced to give money. After the work has been taken up with the community, the government funds do not reach and these ngos have to bribe to get the money released. It could be as small an amount as Rs 2,000-5,000.”

A government poster promoting water harvesting

This was reflected in Mahabubnagar, where a handful of elite farmers formed a watershed committee which released all the goodies to their relatives. One beneficiary got Rs 72,000 for horticulture. Clearly, the distribution is biased against the landless as well as people from the schedule castes. When asked about what they received, they say most have not even been called for work. Those who were called for work had their wages deducted and contributed to the fund as part of the 10 per cent contribution to the wua fund. The wage employment aspect of watershed-related works suffered tremendously. Instead of the schedule of rates, local wage rates were followed. These were discriminatory to women. So, if the schedule of rates in Mahabubnagar is Rs 9 per cubic metre of silt removed, this got reduced to Rs 7. The members demanding a reduction are invariably landholders.

“Money from the village development fund is taken for the watershed fund. When government officials come visiting, they are received using the watershed funds. They have to make a tent for the dignitaries, put a few chairs and give them tea and snacks. All the money comes from the fund. After the rains, tanks have breached. But there are no funds for repair,” says Rukmini Rao. The watershed fund is there, but cannot be used for a period of four years due to a faulty policy.

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Employment degeneration
While the Neeru Meeru programme clearly lays down the importance of keeping contractors at bay, this has not been the case. “Because of the contractors, the money has been involved more than the people. There is a vast humanpower in the villages. People could have gained employment if the private contractors were not involved,” says B N Chetty, who works on vss watershed development with Jan Vikas Sangh in Kurnool district.

Poclains have been used on a large-scale to desilt tanks. People commonly point out that the poclain contractors are connected to political parties. “They immediately put the poclains to work and the money goes to the political boss and the work is not executed properly,” alleges Ramakrishna Reddy. “The problem of migration could have been addressed if the local villagers had been employed,” says Ramesh Reddy, head of the department of civil engineering at the Osmania University.

Rajendra Singh, secretary Alwar-based Tarun Bharat Sangh, which has transformed the ecology of the Rajasthan district through water harvesting, visited some parts of the state. “AP waterworks are not in accordance with people’s vision,” he points out. “It is technocratic and work has been done at a very fast pace.”

The Neeru Meeru programme is fast becoming a problem bigger than the one it was meant to solve. It is clear that the crash programme won’t take the state anywhere. It is of utmost importance that the government does a serious review of the programme and looks into all the irregularities. The current approach is to become technology-friendly and contractor-friendly. The only group to which it is unfriendly is the poor and the downtrodden, for whom the programme was formulated in the first place.
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Drought is in the mind

Good news: There is more evidence to show that water harvesting can go a long way in dealing with drought and solving the water crisis, and even governments in India are learning

Bad news: Crash programmes are not the answers by themselves. A long-term partnership has to emerge between governments and people to weather the coming drought

Several messages emerge from the analysis of crash programmes to harvest rainwater in Gujarat and ap. It is amply clear that the government of Gujarat has been much more successful in addressing the need of the hour than the ap government.

Politicians’ response: The way the political establishment has gone about social mobilisation in Gujarat needs to be commended. The state government recognised the failures of its past programmes and learned from the examples set by the civil society. It did not let the controversy over Sardar Sarovar Project get in the way of people’s wellbeing. In AP, however, despite the thrust from the chief minister, the programme has got caught up in the corruption of petty politics. The government needs to listen to its critics and learn from the positive examples of civil society groups.

The government needs to reach to the people and
win over their confidence

Decentralised approach: The Gujarat programme succeeded because the government let the people decide their response to drought. When common people are allowed to have a say in governance, they cease to be victims and become stakeholders. The tank desiltation programme in ap has suffered in its initial stages due to indifference of the masses. This undermines the sustainability of decentralised water management, making drought more sustainable. As India’s problems lie more with the government than with its people, the first step to any improvement is a government’s recognition of its mistakes.

Corruption: While this plague of India’s governance system is difficult to uproot — even the successful sppwcp in Gujarat has suffered — a decentralised approach to development brings about greater transparency and accountability to the system. Again, the civil society’s influence helps limit this problem, checking the deadly engineer-contractor nexus.

Planning: This seminal aspect of any development effort is still not receiving the due attention. The best of intentions simply crumble under the absence of foresight. That the ap government did not spend enough time planning is obvious. But, experts say, Gujarat could have achieved a lot more if a little more care had been put into planning of government activities, especially monitoring of ongoing work.

Urban-rural conflict: In Rajkot district of Gujarat, there have been voices of discontent among urban populations about the issue of checkdams stopping water from reaching reservoirs that feed urban populations. This is a major problem for the future, and requires immediate intervention to prevent incidents of rioting and deaths over water rights. To this end, promoting water harvesting in urban areas can be a great solution. The government of Gujarat would show great leadership if it were to promote water harvesting in all walks of life. If urban people can manage their own water, there would be no reason for conflict. The ap government deserves to be commended for taking up the issue in the state capital Hyderabad. But the implementation of the programme leaves much to be desired.

Crash programme mentality: This will be a major threat to all that has been achieved. If the Gujarat government treats SPPWCP as a temporay measure to deal with drought, it would not only worsen the water crisis but will also show the best available strategy to deal with it in a poor light. the lead taken by Gujarat has to emerge as an example to the rest of the country, especially its neighbour Rajasthan, where the government has done little beyond the traditional crisis-mongering to deal with drought.

Gujarat has championed industrialisation in the country. It is time it shows that its achivements are not merely economic in nature. That it can do what governments in India have consistently ignored: real development lies in sound environmental governance. For AP, which features as an ‘also-ran’ in this report, it would be a good idea to send some ministers and bureaucrats to Gujarat for training. Gujarat is not very far from ap. And the example of Gujarat is also not very far from replication.

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Still blind to rain
Gujarat’s minister for Narmada and major irrigation projects, Jay Narain Vyas, has a difficult job. He is in charge of handling an issue that draws extremely emotional and polarised responses. He wants to have the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) completed, and several activist’ groups have been vehemently opposing the dam for uprooting the rural poor of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. It is but natural that any effort to come up with additional methods to solve the water crisis seem like ploys of the anti-dam lobby to him. But does it mean that his political insecurities are dearer to him than a solution to the woes of Gujarat’s parched villages?
Sitting in his plush office with wallpaper depicting a small waterfall, he spoke to the researcher from Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) for about 45 minutes about the controversy that has been brewing around him on the issue of water management in Gujarat. “In Saurashtra, about 1,000 checkdams have not yielded good results. How can an environmental organisation like CSE propagate small structures as an alternative to major or macro structures,” he said.

In a May 2000 interview with the India Abroad News Service, he had said, “There is a hidden hand behind the current campaign in favour of small dams and traditional systems of water harvesting because the so-called experts of water management and environmentalists are keen to divert the attention of the nation from the Narmada project even though the project is the real solution to Gujarat’s perennial problem of potable and irrigation water.” Never mind, that CSE has never advocated for small dams against big dams, believing that small ones are necessary for drought proofing and meeting drinking water needs. Big dams, if necessary, could be built provided that the resettlement needs of communities are handled well.

He was not willing to consider the several successful initiatives in Saurashtra, which CSE has highlighted: “This is a generalised approach towards water management, and is not going to work.” According to him, all environmentalists tend to have a generalised approach: “Before recommending an approach, CSE should look into the approach in totality rather than in isolation. And the bias element should be removed from their approach.”

But when quizzed about the success of the Sardar Patel Participatory Water Conservation Programme, claimed by his own government, he did not have an answer. He could not say if the programme had been implemented in a ‘general manner’ or in an area-specific manner. “Ask the minister concerned,” he quipped. When he was reminded that the minister, his own colleague Nitinbhai Patel, never mentioned an area-specific approach, Vyas had the standard Indian politician reply: “It is none of my concerns.” Later in the conversation, Vyas adopted a middle path, saying that large and small structure could complement each other. But he kept insisting

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One per cent inspiration

Khopala waterworks
before the rains

After the Gujarat government realised the failure of its water harvesting programmes between 1997 and 2000, it turned to civil society groups (CSGs) for solutions. There are some outstanding efforts of CSGs and individuals in Gujarat that have not only inspired the government to change its approach but have also provided ways and means to bring about awakening among the people.

One truly remarkable story has been that of Mathurbhai Savani, a diamond trader now based in Surat who hails from Khopala village of Bhavnagar district’s Gharda tehsil, and of the Saurashtra Jaldhara Trust (SJT), an organisation instituted by Savani and like-minded people in October 1999.

Moved by the acute water crisis in his native village, Savani set about understanding the problem. He realised that there was too much dependence on groundwater and rainwater was going untapped. He visited Raj-Samadhiyala village and interacted with the village head, H B Jadeja (see ‘Standing the test of drought’, Down To Earth, January 15, 2000). Then he paid a visit to Alwar, Rajasthan, to see the work of the voluntary agency Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), which has been instrumental in the ecological and economic transformation of the area through water harvesting.

He started work on social mobilisation, and adopted TBS’s idea of organising jalyatras (marches for water). Soon enough, 25 check dams were built under the “Own your own checkdam” scheme of the Gujarat government. But there were too many procedural hassles. He realised that about 200 check dams and 10 ponds were required in the area.

Savani decided to raise the money on his own. His skills at communication and social mobilisation generated Rs 48 lakh from within the village through monetary contributions as well as voluntary labour. By the time he finished tapping traders in Surat, Mumbai and Baroda, the amount had crossed Rs 2 crore. The work was initiated at Khopala in December 1998 and completed within a record six months. SJT has contributed in several ways to building of check dams. In Padodar village of Bhavnagar district, SJT provided 2,000 bags of cement free of cost. The remaining cement was given at a discounted rate of Rs 105 per bag against the market rate of Rs 130. But there was a condition. The village had to work as a cohesive unit while constructing the check dams.

“During the first round of rains in the 1999 monsoon, which was about 180 mm, all the check dams got filled up, recharging about 200 dug wells and another 200 borewells,” says Ghanshyambhai, a resident of Khopala. He proudly says that his village has become a model now, and people from all over come here as if they were on a pilgrimage. But Savani was not content with merely increasing water availability. He started working on conserving water. Babubhai Jhabalia, trustee of SJT, points out that Savani made arrangements for installation of a drip irrigation system at reduced rates in the village. One-fourth of the agricultural land of the villages is fed by drip irrigation today.

If Bhavnagar is one of the districts with the largest number of check dams constructed under the Sardar Patel Participatory Water Conservation Programme (SPPWCP), it is largely due to the efforts of SJT. “The interest generated among the villagers by our padyatras was evident when the state government launched the SPPWCP,” says Jhabalia.

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The checkdam built at Jodia village in Jamnagar lies breached. The villagers hold corrupt contactors responsible for poor construction quality
Unchecked corruption
The check dam constructed at Jodia village in Jamnagar lies breached today. Residents of the village point out that the checkdam, constructed in May, was finished in a hurry by the contractor. Now, they just stand next to the natural drain and watch the water flow away — water that would have been invaluable to them in the drought that is looming large this year.

In the Sardar Patel Participatory Water Conservation Programme (SPPWCP), under which the checkdam was built, the Gujarat government took extra care to avoid the typical administrative procedures that lead to corruption. Virtually all the work was decentralised to an 11 member village-level committee to avoid the engineer-contractor nexus that is often at the root of corruption in most construction activities. But with the role of the gram sabha left undefined, in many cases contractors were free to influence the committee members.

Several people contacted by the researcher from Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) narrated tales of corruption. It was obvious that those who took advantage of the villagers were small-time local contractors. This gave them greater pliability with the villagers, helping them skew the project to their advantage. Contractors pushed for selection of sites where bigger structures could be made and more money could be siphoned off, raising the cost of the project without concern for quality of construction. They also tried to lure villagers by claiming that they would build the checkdam within the government share of 60 per cent of the total costs, thereby preventing the village from contributing its 40 per cent share as stipulated in the SPPWCP. “Mera bahut saalon ka experience hai aur mein kaam kam daam mei karta hoon” (I am an experienced person and I know how to construct a good quality checkdam in a small amount), said a contractor in Bhuj, while speaking to the CSE researcher.

“A major fallout of the project has been the absence of the 40 per cent contribution by the villagers. This happened because it was not the villagers who had constructed the structures but professionals like contractors,”

says Vinod Kevariya of the Shree Sahjanand Rural Development Trust, which has been working in Bhuj, Kachchh, on several issues including building of check dams. It is clear that the maintenance work of these structures will suffer as soon as the contractors withdraw, because the stakeholders are marginalised.

Nowhere was poor quality construction as evident as in Junagadh. At one checkdam site in Keshod taluka, the concrete from the structure could easily be removed, as well as the boulders inside. In Khamrod village of Junagadh, the structure had already begin to crack when the CSE researcher saw it in July 2000. Stones from the base of the embankment could be removed without much effort. Sources revealed that the proportion of cement used for mortar in some cases was as low as one-tenth of the amount of sand used, while the correct proportion is one-third of the amount of sand. And it wasn’t just cement on which the contractors had made money. Villages also indicate that big stones were used in the mortar instead of crushed metal.

While the proposals for new checkdams were coming in, the executive engineer, who had recently been posted there, was acting in a hurry as the government was dead keen to show impressive figures.

Sources inside the government reveal that this led to approval of a lot of applications that were driven by the contractors’ greed and not by the villagers’ need. There are also reports of officials’ complicity in the murky dealings as a lot of worthy proposals did not get approved because “palms weren’t greased.” Of the 250 proposals from a particular chapter of Swadhyaya, a spiritual movement that is major social force in Gujarat today, only 15 were sanctioned, while proposals from contractors, submitted in different names, got approved in a day or two. The discouragement of civil society groups also made the villagers more vulnerable to the contractor-engineer nexus.

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Cyber city’s subsidy culture
In the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, neeru (water) is scarce. Like so many other Indian cities, water supply from government facilities through pipes has been extremely poor — one to three times a week, depending on the area you live in and the number of influential people in the neighbourhood. Residents buy water at rates as high as Rs 400 per tanker of 10,000 litres. The groundwater table has fallen drastically due to overexploitation of underground aquifers. To address this problem, a plan to harvest rainwater was initiated by the state government in 1998, which was included in May 2000 in the Neeru Meeru (Water and You) programme of the state government.

The Hyderabad Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HWSSB) was entrusted the task of implementing the programme in the residential and commercial complexes under a Rainwater Harvesting Cell (RWC). Other agencies that were involved included the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority (HUDA), the department of roads and buildings and the Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad (MCH). Private individuals were encouraged to take up the work. A 100 day crash programme was initiated to promote the same. In 1999 water harvesting was made compulsory for all new buildings bigger than 300 sq m. However, no time limit was set for these guidelines.

The response from the people has been indifferent. “There are two things, one is the failure to motivate the public and the other is the failure of pilot experiments in assessing the needs of the people,” says D Muralidharan, a scientist with the National Geophysical Research Institute.

J V Mukhedkar, the HWSSB official in charge of the RWC, disagrees: “The campaign has not been a failure. In response to a 1998 advertisement in the newspapers, Padmashali Nagar, a colony in the Hyderabad, took it upon itself to work in this area. About 60-70 people, who had done the work, are benefiting each year. The people are responding slowly.”

One aspect of the programme that has come in for severe criticism is the issue of subsidy. The regulations laid down that any residents’ association interested in water harvesting, is entitled to 50 per cent subsidy from the HWSSB for the work. The government buys the construction materials through contractors that it appoints. “They want the people to first pay their share of 50 per cent, after which the government contributes it half in the form of construction materials through contractors,” says C H Ramachandriah, social scientist with the Centre for Economic and Social Studies (CESS). “This policy is keeping the people from coming forth. They cannot trust the government in the case of materials which might just be spurious,” explains Arun K Patnaik, economist at CESS. They suggest that instead of the materials being brought by the government, the residents should be allowed to pay for these when the contractors bring them, saving the residents the problem of spurious material.

Source: Down To Earth, January 15, 2000


October 31, 2000
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