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Earlier Yatras

The third paani yatra was organised by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based non governmental organisation (NGO) from July 8 to 14, 2001. A total of 25 people from different regions and diverse backgrounds participated in the yatra. The group included architects, geologists, zoologists, doctors and representatives of NGOs from Uttaranchal, Orissa, Gujarat, Haryana and Chandigarh working on the issue of water and community development. The paani yatra was a guided tour to the rural areas in Maharashtra, where communities have cohesively harvested water and are presently sharing the benefits of their labour. The yatra commenced from Darewadi village in Ahmednagar district and moved on to Shilvirigaon and Devgaon in Akole tehsil in the same district where the work of the Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) was observed. The yatra then proceeded to Ralegan Siddhi to witness the water harvesting work accomplished by the people under the leadership of Annasaheb Hazare (See box: Turning point). The yatra culminated at Hivare Bazar, where sarpanch Popatrao Pawar, following the footsteps of Annasaheb has transformed the village by motivating the villagers to take up water conservation activities.
The paani yatris bask in the aura of Anna Hazare in Ralegan Siddhi

The group reached the WOTR training centre in village Darewadi on July 9, 2001, to observe the watershed work initiated and supported of WOTR. The paani yatra began with an orientation programme in which the group was introduced to the works of WOTR, Anna Hazare, Popat Pawar and CSE's water campaign. A presentation was also made on the previous paani yatra to Alwar and Bundi.

Watershed Organisation Trust

Established in December 1993 as a support organisation for village self help groups (SHGs) and NGOs implementing watershed development projects, WOTR projects are spread over 1.33 hectares (ha) in 259 villages across 22 districts in Maharashtra.

One of the projects undertaken by WOTR where the watershed development programme is in the final stage, is village Darewadi. Darewadi, located around 90 kilometres from Ahmednagar, falls in the rainshadow region of Sangamner taluka and has a semi-arid climate. The normal average rainfall is 282 millimetres (mm) which is extremely erratic. The total area of the watershed is 1,535.24 hectare (ha) of which, 934.85 ha is arable land. The rest is hilly and uncultivable. Recalling his childhood days, Maruti Gauri Awhad, chairperson, village cooperative society said, "After Independence, the Bhils and Thakurs started cutting the forests which by 1962-63, were all gone. The land soon became barren and unproductive, since with no forest cover the soil got washed away."

The 131 households of the village with a population of 1,000 persons including seven landless families were mobilised and supported by WOTR to take up watershed development as a means to address their water problem. The villagers agreed to follow the rules put down by WOTR. These rules included four days of shramdaan, a ban on grazing, felling trees, and borewells, plantation of water saving crops and restricting sugarcane, rice and banana cultivation. WOTR initiated a comprehensive capacity building programme (CBP) under the Indo German Watershed Development Programme in April 1996. In the CBP, 100- 150 ha of area was treated by the community with WOTR rendering technical support and training related to project management to the village committees on watershed and the SHGs. The decision about the kind of treatment was carried out through social mapping in which the entire village map was laid out in front of the villagers on which the planning of the watershed was done. This was followed by participatory planning where a detailed survey was undertaken with the land holder's family and decisions about the kind of interventions were taken on the site. The project moved on to full implementation phase in April 1997 in which the project was managed by the village watershed committee having 23 members, including six women.

The watershed project focussed on poverty alleviation through equal distribution of benefits from the watershed development works. Therefore instead of a drainage line treatment that focuses only the water channels, a ridge to valley approach was applied.
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