Rainwater International

Students sensitised

Meeting the jal yodhas


Royal Water Crusader

Power of PIL

Brigadier's blue battle

Water becomes women strength

People show the way     

Rainwater Purifier
Reviving khooni bhandara

Drying history of agriculture

Tanks of south India

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Vol. 3                                      No. 5                               October 2001


Meeting the jal yodhas

"Ram and Laxman have come to our village," said an orange-turbaned villager in Nagar village, Rajasthan - the last stop on the fourth Paani Yatra. "In the Ramayana, they defeat evil," he continued, "Here, they are defeating the drought."

Ram and Laxman here, in rural Rajasthan are not the heroes of the Ramayana, but Ramjilal and Laxman Singh of the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Gram Vikas Navyuvak Mandal, Laporiya (GVNML) - two of the many community jal yodhas (water warriors) that the yatris (participants) met on their journey from 15-19 October 2001.

The Centre for Science and Environment, a New Delhi-based NGO, organised the yatra to raise awareness about community-led water management initiatives. The 24 participants, from all over India and Sri Lanka, had an opportunity to experience community-based water management practices of Rajasthan. The yatris also learned from one another, as the tour brought together people from different backgrounds with a common interest in water. (see box: Yatris reflect)

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Paani yatris in a relaxed mood at Siliserh lake

Bhaonta-Kolyala village in Alwar district, recipient of the 2000 Joseph C. John award for India's best environmental community, was the first stop. There, the yatris not only saw a series of anicuts (concrete-reinforced checkdams) constructed by villagers with the assistance of Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), an Alwar-based NGO but were also briefed about the community's initiative behind each structure.

In Hamirpura, the yatris saw one of TBS's first anicuts, built in the late 1980s. This village has seen many intense conflictual situations with different state departments over the question - who owns the river? Rodhmal Meena, a farmer and an active participant in village level activities said,"The State has promised water supply many times but it has never delivered. But now that we have made the anicut, things are better." The river Arvari, in the catchment of which TBS has built more than 200 johads (earthen checkdams, in Arvari watershed region), now flows the year-round. Downstream villages like Hamirpura benefit doubly from water harvesting: they store surface water behind their anicut, beside augmenting local groundwater reserves due to the reforestation and water harvesting practices of upstream villages like Bhaonta-Kolyala.

After Hamirpura, the yatris drove on to TBS's ashram in Bhikampura village. TBS's secretary Rajendra Singh, winner of the 2001 Magsaysay Award, talked late into the night with the yatris, the villagers, and other TBS activists. Several yatris questioned Singh on TBS's focus on water. Singh explained that in Alwar district, water must be the first step in development. Water is a tremendous social platform and once this resource is made available through community participation, it gives communities strength and confidence to deal with other issues.

The next day the yatris saw the water conservation works done by TBS in association with the forest department in Sariska Tiger Reserve. The impact of all these works was visible at the recently constructed Seeli Beri anicut in the reserve. Pandu Pol was another stop within the reserve, where participants saw the natural stream formed due to the recharge by the mud ponds constructed in Kraska village, about 5 km upstream. The group then moved on to Haripura village, located in the buffer zone of the reserve. The villagers shared their management practices and emerging concerns with the yatris.

In the afternoon the group visited the johad, at Lava ka Baas, made famous by the Rajasthan irrigation department's efforts to demolish it in July 2001. After dinner, the yatris gathered for two hours to share their experiences. The structure at Lava ka Baas drew yatris into an analytical discussion with everyone actively participating.

The next morning, the yatris left Alwar for Neemi village, Jaipur district, stopping for a break at one of Rajasthan's oldest continuously operating water harvesting structures, the dam at Siliser lake built by Maharaja Vinay Singh in 1845. The lake once supplied water to the township of Alwar via a 22-km stone aquaduct. Today, it provides year-round water to villagers in the valley downstream.

The yatris moved on to Nagar village, Tonk district. They stayed in GVNML's ashram for two days, which was made memorable by the warm hospitality extended by the villagers of Nagar.

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The chaukas

On the fourth day, the yatris saw how efficiently villagers of Nagar had redesigned their village with GVNML's assistance about 25 years ago. The group then moved on to Gopal Sagar, Nagar's traditional talab (pond). According to the villagers, "Gopal Sagar is almost 500 years old. It has never run completely dry since its construction, despite meagre rainfall." The reason is simple - the talab's catchment region is properly treated and maintained by the villagers. In 1990, it was repaired and the carrying capacity enhanced. The water is used for both domestic and irrigation purposes.

After Nagar, Laxman Singh led the yatris on a three-hour tour of the pastureland surrounding village Gugardoo. In May 2001, Singh and the villagers had constructed chaukas (rectangular plots of land) here, which store water in bund pastures. (see figure: The chaukas)

The chauka system divides the open, grassy plains into 66 meters (m) long and 132-m wide cells. About 1.5-m high bunds are built along the three sides, where monsoon water gets collected. As the amount of water stored in a chauka rises, it flows to neighbouring chaukas, finally flowing into the monsoonal drain.

The chauka system is the most effective and practical way of developing the open pastures. This initiative of water conservation has also lessened the severity of drought. According to Singh, "Though most of the farmers will not be able to take rabi crop this year, they will also not suffer from a 'survival - scarcity' situation, as the kharif was a bumper crop, despite low rainfall."

The group moved on to Laporiya, where a traditional welcome awaited them. Yatris and villagers had an invaluable opportunity to learn from each other's experiences. Laxman Singh introduced us to the experiments done by the villagers to enhance crop productivity.

In the evening, the yatris were treated to traditional Rajasthani dinner. Laxman Singh presented a slide show, followed by a discussion under the starry sky.

Yatris reflect

P J Mathew, Executive, Indo-German Social Service Society, Delhi: "This was my first visit to a village. I got exposed to the hard life of the villagers, their problems and how they find solutions themselves."

M S N Raju, Natural Resource Manager, BREDS, Orissa: "We have understood water harvesting practices in these areas and can now spread this knowledge in our area."

Daksha Hathi, journalist, Deccan Herald, Bangalore: "It has helped me to understand the role played by social mobilisation. The people themselves can work wonders even if the government does not help."

Dr Shrinivas Badiger, scientist, International Water Management Institute, Sri Lanka: "The yatra gave me a wider outlook into the issues relating to water harvesting that go beyond technicalities, such as its operation and sustenance with a social perspective."

S N Singh, Project Officer, UNICEF, Rajasthan Field Office, Jaipur: "Water is an issue which can unite communities as well as divide them." Dr Vimal Bhanot, Professor of Electrical Engineering, Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology, Patiala, Punjab: "Without community participation, it is not possible to protect water resources and trees. I now realise that I can be the agent for that change."

Dr Narendra Shah, Engineer, Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai: "People's participation and support of organisation's like TBS and GVNML are essential factors that make technology work at the village level.

Gunjan Pratap Singh, Activist, Taru-mitra, Patna, Bihar: "This yatra has helped me a lot in understanding the importance of water management and its influence on the socio-economic and cultural values of the society. Now I am fully convinced that drought is a myth."

Dr Archna Walia, Program management specialist, USAID, New Delhi: "The yatra provided an insight into approaches of community participation for water conservation. We would like to use such approaches in our programs on water and agriculture to make them effective."

Copyright CSE  Centre for Science and Environment