A Chronicle of the sixth Paani Yatra
An eclectic mix of students, engineers, non- governmental professionals,
academicians, hydrologists, defense personnel, and state government
employees from 12 states in India witnessed firsthand the community-based
rainwater harvesting and management initiatives during the sixth
paani yatra (water pilgrimage) from June 24 to 29, 2002.
The six-day pilgrimage, organized by the Centre for Science and
Environment, a New Delhi-based non- governmental organization (NGO),
took the 27 yatris across several Rajasthan villages where water
harvesting is not an intangible concept, but a living reality.
These local rainwater harvesting initiatives in Rajasthan were supported
by Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), an Alwar-based NGO and Gram Vikas Navyuvak
Mandal Laporiya (GVNML), a Jaipur- based NGO.
After a half-day orientation on CSE's water campaign, rainwater
harvesting and the paani yatra at the CSE office in New Delhi, the
group started for Alwar on June 25.
Their first stop was village Bhaonta in Alwar district, named the
nation's 'most outstanding environmental community' and recipient
of the Joseph C John award for the year 2000.
Paani yatra's at
|Paani yatra improved
my understanding on water related issues very much.
Sr. Collete Molomoo
Taru Mitra, Patna, Bihar
|By first hand inspection
and exposure, I have learnt what was not possible by reading
O P Goel
Soybean Processors Association of India
Indore, Madhya Pradesh
|I have got an idea
about the different techniques that the communities can initiate
without any help from the administration to solve water related
Sanjeev K Jha
3rd year, B. Tech,
Indian Institute of Technology,
Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh
|I came to know that
we could do miracles with community participation.
G S Raju
Action Water India, WEDT
|It has given me a
lot of details pertaining to water harvesting that were previously
obscured, i.e., different types of structures in use, importance
of catchment area, gradient, natural drainage, proper positioning
of structures etc. It has given me insight into community related
problems and solutions to the problem of water shortage. It
has highlighted to me the immense potential of this concept
to solve water problems of the country.
R S Chowdhary
|With the discussion
with the village samiti members and villagers, my understanding
regarding community participation improved.
Howrah Jila Parishad
Howrah, West Bengal
|It has increased my
understanding about environmental issues at the ground level.
Gramya Sansthan, Varanasi
The community's efforts at rainwater harvesting and forest protection
consist of Johads, or small earthen dams designed to capture and conserve
rainwater, and a series of anicuts (small concrete dams) built with
support from TBS.
While the more elaborate and costly structures built by expert engineers
have typically failed in these conditions, the water harvesting structures
built locally using the skill and ingenuity of gajdhars, village engineers,
attest to the abilities of the community in managing its natural resources.
Yatris again encountered local ingenuity, indigenous knowledge-and
pride-of the villagers who pointed to the regenerated forests of Bhaonta,
earlier declared Bhairon Dev Lok Vanya Jiva Abhyaranya, or 'people's
wild life sanctuary'.
The yatris next destination was Samara on the banks of the river Arvari,
where villagers pointed out that even after three consecutive years
of low rainfall, the village wells did not go dry.
Here water could be found at just 30 - 40 feet deep in the soil. Yatris
visited an anicut under construction, one of several water harvesting
structures built with help from TBS in 200 villages in the Arvari
catchment area that have recharged the groundwater and have revived
an endangered river.
Local governance is key in such programmes. With encouragement from
the founder of CSE, the late Anil Agarwal and TBS, 70 villages in
the Arvari catchment areas joined forces to create the Arvari Sansad,
or Arvaric 'Parliament', to manage the endangered river and its water.
Four years later, more than 142 members representing all the 70 villages
meet every six months at different villages to discuss and deliberate
upon water management in the member villages.
Lively conversation between TBS staff and the yatris flowed late into
the night at the TBS ashram at Bhikampura village. Some engineer yatris
wondered why were professional engineers not employed to build water
harvesting structures. Communities that design and construct their
own structures also learn maintenance methods. Also, local control
translates to lower costs and more sustainable structures, the yatris
learned. In a push towards self-help, programmes such as TBS seek
to minimise dependence on outside "expert" assistance.
The next day, the yatris trekked for an hour to reach Kraska village,
nestled in the core zone of the Sariska Tiger Reserve. Here, the johads
and earthen dams built by the villagers with support from TBS have
transformed the village. Although the village never had a water source
and faced acute scarcity, today villagers have access to water throughout
the year for their fields, livestock and for their own consumption.
That afternoon, the group visited Gopalpura, TBS's first water harvesting
intervention, and therefore, a model village. The visitors were suitably
impressed with the series of johads and the lush green forest protected
by the village community. Yatris were introduced to the redoubtable
Mangu Baba, the nonagenarian village resident who believed local control
of water was a formidable weapon in the battle against poverty. He
had advised TBS to build a series of johads in the village.
The yatris then visited the johad at Lava Ka Baas, now etched in public
memory for the efforts of the Rajasthan government's irrigation department
to demolish the locally built water harvesting structure in July 2001.
Yatris were exposed, some for the first time, to a familiar conflict
in development initiatives: local control and ownership over natural
resources versus state government interventions in development.
The yatra continued to Neemi village in Jaipur district, where the
water harvesting efforts supported by TBS has changed the fate of
the village. If relocation is a useful indicator of a village's economic,
social and environmental health, the residents of Neemi are quick
to point out that while earlier, many villagers left for cities to
sustain their families, the village now attracts labourers from outside.
Yatris were also shown fertile vegetable fields-a direct result of
Yatris spent two nights at the GVNML ashram in Nagar village in Tonk
Early the fourth day of their pilgrimage, the yatris were taken to
Laporiya village, renowned for its water conservation and pastureland
development initiatives that are supported by GVNML.
Long channels leading to the lakes have been built to increase the
catchment areas of three adjacent talabs (village ponds). Known locally
as the chouka system, the 50-hectare pastureland has been divvied
into 132-meter long and 66-meter wide cells lined with earthen bunds
on three sides that collect and store rain water. During rainfall,
excess water from one chouka, drains to the adjoining chouka, and
so on, until finally flowing into the monsoon drain.
Different choukas store different levels water, facilitating a variety
of grass to grow.
Small pits dug in the choukas also facilitate groundwater recharge.
This simple water harvesting method is good for open pasturelands
and imposes fewer restrictions on open grazing.
The water pilgrims visited Gopalsagar, the 500-year- old pond in Nagar
village that was renovated with support from GVNML.
The yatris were then led to Sitapura village in Tonk district, site
of a four-year conflict over pastureland encroachments between the
community on one side and local power interests represented by the
village elites and a sympathetic panchayat on the other.
After their recent success against local elite interests, the village
community has decided to develop their pastureland into choukas. The
village has started rainwater harvesting to tackle groundwater salinity.
A water harvesting built on the roof of the village school ensures
students now have access to plentiful supply of filtered water.
In the end, what started as a voyage of discovery about water initiatives
turned into something more memorable. The water pilgrims learned that
a simple water harvesting edifice has the potential to alter the economic,
social and ecological terrain of rural India.