Total area 1,200
Number of water
harvesting structures 15
Number of wells 25
Although Bhaonta-Kolyala village walked away
with the Down To Earth-Joseph C John Award, the judges came across
several such communities worthy of praise. The Guraiya Watershed
Community in Madhya Pradesh, Krushak Charcha Mandal in Maharashtra
and AJCB Briksha Mitra Sangha in Tripura deserve a particular mention.
All these communities have one thing in common for them a
healthy environment means economic prosperity. Down To Earth profiles
all the four communities
A tale of two villages
There are about 600,000 villages in India. And perhaps as many kinds
of environmental problems they face. It is easy to accept defeat.
But Bhaonta-Kolyala did not
Its an unusual ritual the villages of
Bhaonta-Kolyala follow. Every year, they pour water into a johad
a crescent-shaped earthen check-dam on Deepawali.
But history has it that some 1,000 years ago, they were killed en
masse by neighbouring villagers while observing the ritual. That
was when the twin villages got together and came to be known as
one. And ever since, they dont celebrate Deepawali. But they
continue filling johads with water.
Their visit to a johads is not limited to one day in a year. Every
new-born is taken to a johad to be blessed by the deity residing
in the johad. A newly-wed couple does the same. And on a no-moon
day, villagers engage themselves in community work like building
a temple or starting work on a new johad.
Despite such a strong tradition of water harvesting,
in the years that followed the villagers started neglecting johads,
which were buried with pebbles. Besides, during the late 1970s and
early 1980s, the villagers suffered four spells of drought. The
25 wells in the village had no trace of water for most of the year.
There was nothing to sustain ourselves,
recalls villager Arjan Gujjar, who was to actively participate in
water harvesting later. Most of the men migrated to cities, while
the rest accepted their lives as ill-fate, says Kanheya
Lal, an active village leader. Two or three decades ago, the
hills were covered with dense forests. It helped in protecting the
soil and water aquifers and provided favourable conditions for the
regeneration of trees and pasture. The hills were also home to a
number of wild animals, points out S S Dhabariya, former head
of the remote sensing division of the Birla Science and Technology
Centre in Jaipur. But, over a period of six decades, all that
vanished, he adds. Worse, rainfall here is quite low (600
mm, of which 500 mm falls during the monsoon). With the forests
gone, the sloping landscape of the hills failed to retain any water
during the monsoon.
Johads: the rediscovery
The year was 1986. Villagers of Bhaonta-Kolyala noticed a remarkable
development in Gopalpura, a village 20 kilometres (km) away. Gopalpura
had water in its wells round the year. The reason villagers
had revived johads with the help of Tarun Bharat Sangh (tbs), a non-governmental
The same year, tbs annual pani yatra (march
for water) from Gopalpura passed through Bhaonta-Kolyala. Led by
farmers Sundra Baba and Dhannua Baba, the beleaguered villagers
finally approached Rajendra Singh, secretary general of tbs. He
offered help but on one condition that the villagers should
be ready to take upon themselves the task of regeneration.
After organising themselves and the neighbouring
villages, on March 6, 1987, the villagers started protecting forests
and repairing old johads. They mapped the natural drainage system
and choose tentative sites to construct new johads. Our aim
was to catch each and every drop of rain water that fell on the
village, says Mangal Ram, a villager.
During the course of their search, they discovered
an old johad, buried in silt, on the slope of the barren hills.
In 1988, repair work on the johad started. When the monsoons arrived,
the johad was filled with water. Overwhelmed by the results from
a single johad, the villagers started building more such structures.
Today, the village has a total of 15 water harvesting structures,
including a 244 metres long, 7 metres tall concrete dam in the upper
catchment of the Aravalli to stop water before it flows downstream,
the construction for which was started in 1990.
The dam was a turning point. Even those who
had migrated were called back to, as Dhannua says, heal the
wounds of Mother Earth. By 1995, a year after the completion
of the dam, water level in the wells downstream rose by two to three
feet. The percolation of water from this dam is three feet
an hour. Its impact is felt in villages 20 km downstream. All the
wells are now filled with water, says Govind Ram, a villager.
Today, all the agricultural land is under cultivation. Milk production
has risen up to 10 times. Every rupee invested in a johad has increased
the villages annual income by 2.5-3 times.
The most important lesson from Bhaonta-Kolyala is that when villages
work with each other to regenerate the environment, there are unexpected
blessings.Sometimes, they are as big as a river. In the case of Bhaonta-Kolyala,
it was Arvari river. In 1990, when the villagers started constructing
the big dam, no one knew that the site was the origin of the river.
And by catching and percolating water, they were injecting life into
the river (see map: Water of life).
The rivers course was intact due to the
monsoonal water run-off. In 1990, a small stream came out to vanish
within weeks. That was part of the natural course of the Arvari.
It was then that the new generation of the village believed
that there was indeed a river originating from the village. Till
then, it was passed off as fiction, says Dhannua Baba.
A seasonal drain, Arvari grew like a child and
started flowing for one extra month each progressive year. It became
a perennial river in 1995.
Since 1986, 238 water harvesting structures
have come up in the catchment areas of the river, including another
huge dam in the second source of the river in Agar village. Each
and every monsoon stream has been dammed and virtually all the hills
slopes have been afforested to stop run off and soil erosion,
says Arjun Patel, a villager.
To ensure that the Arvari remains clean and
healthy and also to solve internal disputes, the 70-odd villages
in the Arvari basin have also formed the Arvari River Parliament.
Greening the desert
Building water harvesting structures was not enough for the villagers.
To control soil erosion, they demarcated 12 square kilometre of
the adjoining forest area for regeneration. And in 1995 they declared
it as a public wildlife sanctuary, claimed to be the first of its
kind in the country.
Symbolically, the sanctuary area starts from
the dam built by the villagers. Bhaironath Public Wildlife
Sanctuary, written on the dam, welcomes you to the sanctuary.
With the regeneration of forests, wildlife has started migrating
from the nearby Sariska Tiger Reserve forests. Our forests
are totally protected, nobody disturbs the wildlife. So the wildlife
from the other forests are finding it safer here, says Dhannua
According to the local people, the sanctuary
is at present home to three tigers, many bluebulls and deer. The
tiger pug marks are proof of their presence in the sanctuary.
The gram sabha has also imposed a strict code
of conduct tree felling is not allowed though villagers are
allowed to take branches for domestic purposes. Grazing is restricted
to a specific patch of the forest. Recently, the villagers dug a
pond on the periphery of the sanctuary for the benefit of the wild
animals. Says Arjun Patel, The village is getting back its
beauty after generations. Now there are forests, water and wildlife.
And for Dhannua Baba, the smell of tiger is good for crops. It
will ensure a good yield of crops, he says.
For the last three years, it has rained poorly
in the region. But for the villagers involved in water management,
there is enough water for drinking and irrigation. They have proved
that the answers to seemingly unsurpassable environmental problems
lie in social mobilisation and traditional wisdom. That economic
well-being is a byproduct of ecological regeneration. And for a
well-organised society, drought is a myth.
We can definitely
handle the work without government help. We still dont
know many things, but we will learn everything soon