Two kinds of people live In the villages of Jhabua. a poor
tribal district of Madhya Pradesh (MP). Those that saw the forest,
and those that worked as migrant labour a few years ago. 500 people
migrated every year searching for work. the women were left to tend
Gula Ralu 80. is
the eldest In the 105-family Ambakudra village. He saw the forest,
saw It vanish. But. he feels, there is a change In the air. In the
last three years. Now- again -the women dress better and the men migrate
From 1963 to 1993. more than 15 per cent of the district forest
and village commons turned to farmland. By 1993. the dense forest
cover had shrunk to 4.9 per cent of the area. Deforestation resulted
In the uplands being cultivated, land became less productive. Also.
there were fewer jobs and less Income. People began to migrate to
towns for work.
Then the Rajiv Gandhi Mission on Watershed Development (RGWMD) came
to Jhabua. August 20. 1994, to give a date to lt.The mission was bureaucrat
R Gopalakrishnan's brainchild. "Jhabua made me certain."
he says. "that we needed one such system under which not only
the problem of poverty could be tackled, but also environmental problems."
Jhabua's regeneration is striking because It has the three key Ingredients
that go missing from most government programmes: political will. competent
and committed bureaucratic support, and people's participation.
The RGMWD mission broke all the rules. People became decision-makers.
All watershed activities, hitherto scattered across departments,
were pulled Into one body. The mission was a major effort to convert
community demand Into community action. RGMWD:
- Created Infrastructure at the block and district level.
- Involved rural folk as the key players.
- Helped locals In decision making.
- Developed Integrated approach to land and water conservation.
- Involved people's representatives and Panchayati Raj (local
governance Institution) members.
The mission was Introduced In 42 of the 45 districts of MP. beginning
October 1994 In Jhabua (here. at present. 218 micro-watersheds have
started off. covering 1240 sq km of land - nearly one-fifth of the
district). 12 government agencies and seven non-governmental organisations
(NGOS) Implemented It. Jhabua Is a model of watershed management.
Nearly 30 per cent of Jhabua's terrain tilts one way or the other,
just the kind to respond to watershed treatment. The now verdant
hills retard surface runoff. the ground has water to absorb. The
groundwater table has risen. Soil and water conservation has changed
crop patterns, too. In the valley area of the hills, farmers now
cultivate two crops. Including water-Intensive paddy.
All this came cheap. Gopalakrish-nan says It takes just Rs 3.000 to
treat one hectare of land. No extra official crowded Into the project.
All project-Inspired minor construction work used local raw materials.
Project benefits were self-explanatory, more people began to volunteer
to do work for It. The 86 per cent tribal population was a boon. they
were attuned to such resource use.