Yatra with a purpose
Influencing individuals for water harvesting


Udaipur lakes: action at last







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Vol. 2                                    No. 3                         June 2000

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Yatra with a purpose

During the recent drought in Gujarat there were many villages that used to wait for their supply of water through trains or tankers. However, residents of villages such as Raj-Samadiyala in Rajkot district considered it to be a ‘shame’ to get government water. Nor have they felt the need. A sound water management system has ensured perennial water in their wells even as the rest of Gujarat reeled under a severe water crisis. The New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment organised a Paani Yatra for media persons to a few of these model villages.

This yatra was a water pilgrimage of sorts. The yatra highlighted the initiatives of water harvesting in three districts of Gujarat where people-led water management approach has sustained them to survive the present crisis. These are excellent examples of community efforts in drought – proofing.

The Paani Yatra was a guided tour to areas where communities have cohesively harvested water and are presently sharing the benefits of their labour. The yatra highlighted participatory, efficient, and sustainable water management strategies. It also provided an opportunity to the pilgrims to interact with organisations that have brought about community transformation through cohesive action. The yatra also visited villages where water harvesting has not been implemented, thereby highlighting the intensity of the crisis being encountered by such villages and the difference between the two sets of villages.

Enthusiastic pilgrims of the yatra at Mahudi village in Dahod

yatra at Mahudi village in Dahod

The Paani Yatra kick started from Dahod, where the work of N M Sadguru Water and Development Foundation was observed. The yatra moved on to the village Raj–Samadhiyala at Rajkot to observe the water harvesting work accomplished by the people under the leadership of sarpanch Hardevsinh Jadeja and culminated at Savarkundla (Amreli district) where the work of Kundla Taluka Gram Seva Mandal under the guidance of Manubhai Mehta was experienced.

The purpose of the yatra was to give an opportunity to the media to see for themselves the dramatic difference that community based water management could bring about. The visit had the desired affect. The pilgrims returned with a firm belief that drought is indeed a result of human folly.

The Paani Yatra included the participants from various print and electronic media. The participants were Suman Tarafdar – Press Trust of India, Anupreeta Das –The Indian Express, T K Sreevalsan – United News of India, Ravindra Shukla – Nai Duniya, Gaurav Dwivedi and his team – Rozana TV, Shoma Chakravarti – The Statesman, Chandrani Banerjee – The Asian Age, Anuradha Raman – The Pioneer, Pankaj Dave – Hello Saurashtra, V. K Chakravarti – The Financial Express and Mridula Chettri – Down To Earth.

Groups of women and children were seen peering into holes dug into the aptly named Sukhi riverbed in Dahod district — the yatra’s first stop. Young girls, middle aged women as well as elderly women all were engaged for hours together to get a pot full of water for drinking purposes. Water, after being collected from the pit with the help of small vessels, was later filtered into an earthenware pot using a fine cloth. At another pit, Latabehn, 35, was engaged in a similar activity except that she passed it on to 60-year-old Lakibehn. Patli, was into her eighth month of pregnancy and had a family of seven to feed. For months, women from villages like Retia and Doki, a good three to four km away, have been making the day-long trip to the river bed everyday to collect a mere two pots of water.

Compared to this was a nearby Mahudi village. Kirkibehn and her family of five did not have much to worry about. The Machchan, which flows past their village, had kept the water crisis at bay. The rivulet has managed to retain a portion of the water collected during the 1998 monsoon season, thanks to their rainwater harvesting practices.

A series of check dams, 14 in all, were constructed on the rivulet. The villagers constructed the Mahudi check dam with a capacity of some 1,100,000 cubic metres of water in 1993 with technical and financial assistance from N M Sadguru Water and Development Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working in 350 villages in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. There was still enough water for people in Machchan. As a precautionary measure the villagers had decided to use the Machchan water strictly for domestic purposes and irrigating a single crop. Despite the restriction on the usage of water the villagers were not unduly affected. Kirkibehn, for one, had four drumloads of gram, maize and lentils carried over from last year’s harvest.

A similar situation prevailed in Polapan village in Rajasthan’s Banswara district. The Sadguru-initiated watershed measures had ensured water availability in the wells at depths of only 3-4 metres. After the visit to the villages in Dahod, the yatra moved on to Raj-Samadhiyala village, 20 km from Rajkot city. This land is of the ‘benevolent dictator’, as sarpanch Hardevsinh Balwantsinh Jadeja refers to himself. The 48-year-old sarpanch has been working for the last 28 years to foster economic, social and cultural values amongst the villagers.

Endless walk for a pot full of water
Endless walk for a pot full of water

According to the sarpanch "A decade ago, the village was declared a dry area and put under the arid zone development programme of the state government". Jadeja — who also heads the 11-member village development committee — took upon himself the task of creating a rainwater harvesting programme for the village. A hydrogeological survey was conducted using Indian Space and Research Organisation’s satellite imagery to locate fissures in the topography where percolation of water is maximum. He then led the villagers to construct 12 check dams between 1986 and 1988. Since 1998, they have also implemented 50 microwatershed projects. The results are phenomenal. Despite poor rainfall in the last two years, the village has plenty of water. The annual income of the village is Rs 2.5 crore. They earn Rs 50 lakh from the sale of vegetables alone. So far the villagers have planted 50,000 trees in the village. They hope to plant another 50,000 by 2002. Now, adjoining villages like Aniyala, Aili Sajadiyala and Laklapur are taking a cue from Raj-Samadhiyala.

The final destination was Savarkundla taluka (block) in Amrelli district. The Mandal began work in the taluka in 1936 when three members — Amulakhbhai Khimani and the late Keshubhai Bhavsar and Lallubhai Sheth, established it.

Among the numerous projects started by the Mandal, of which Manubhai Mehta is the project coordinator, is the water management programme in 58 out of the 82 villages in the taluka. This was also borne out of the realisation that given the topography, it was unlikely that the Narmada dam, if completed, would bring water to the villages.

The water management programme was started in 1991-92. So far, they have constructed 78 check dams, 826 kacha bandhs (earthen dams) and 30 ponds. Besides, soil-leveling work has been undertaken across 3,711 hectares (ha) of land and plantations on 1,21,800 ha.

The water table has risen considerably to sustain them through the drought period. In Dedakadi village, for instance, all the 150 households have piped water. In fact, according to a villager, they even provided fodder to the affected villagers to tide over the difficult times.

After visiting the prosperous and distressed villages the pilgrims of Paani Yatra were convinced that water harvesting is an effective approach to drought-proof the affected areas. Thus, the objective of organising Paani Yatra was successfully accomplished, as the pilgrims extensively wrote about the findings of the yatra. As they had personally experienced the accomplishments of rainwater harvesting approach, they were of the opinion that information pertaining to such effective modus operandi should be disseminated so that people in similar state of adversity could adopt them to minimise the water crisis.