Climate Change · Maharashtra

Gawadewadi: A success story of participatory small scale water conservation


Clean roads, lush green farms and wells having water even at the peak of summer is what one notices when one enters Gawdewadi Village of Ambegaon Taluka in Pune Distrct.

Ralegan Siddhi and Hiware Bazar villages of Maharashtra are two widely discussed success stories of sustainable village development through soil and water conservation works. There are however lesser known success stories of equal caliber. Gawadewadi is possibly one such story. Participatory soil and water conservation work started for improving water availability in the village for drinking and agricultural purposes has led to multiple other initiatives like cooperative dairy, gobar gas plants for the households, horticulture etc. A chain of benefits has unfolded over more than ten years of hard work put in by the villagers. The village is now tanker free, crops have diversified, agricultural production has gone up and so have income levels. Most rewarding benefit has been the homecoming of more than 165 families which had migrated to Pune or Mumbai in search of work.

Gawadewadi has successfully demonstrated how small scale ‘active solution’ of participatory soil and water conservation works can become a successful alternative to large scale ‘passive solution’ such as building dams.

The success story is even more important in the context of changing climate. The Working Group II of Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its report titled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability’released on 31st March 2014[i][ii], acknowledges that Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EBA) to Climate Change (such as soil and water conservation works) is a lower risk option as against engineering solutions (such as dams) as their application is more flexible, more responsive to unanticipated environmental changes and is more cost effective & sustainable. It also acknowledges that building large dams is not a climate friendly option. The report further states that EBA may contribute to achieving sustainable development goals (e.g. poverty reduction, sustainable environmental management, and even mitigation objectives), especially when they are integrated with sound ecosystem management approaches.

In this regard the success story of Gawadewadi assumes greater importance.

Journey towards sustainability

Gawadewadi (Ambegaon taluka, Pune district) with a total area of 1243 Ha is a village located about 10 km away from Manchar on the Pune-Nashik road and 70 KM away from Pune city. It is a rainfed watershed lying in the rainshadow region of Maharashtra state (Figure 1[iii]). Average annual rainfall is about 500 mm. The terrain is mostly flat. Southern boundary of the village is hilly which flatten in central and northern portion. Out of 1,243 ha of land 878 ha is cultivable. Most of the families in this village are small land holders. Current population of the village is about 3190. After drought of 1972-73 the village was dependent on tankers for drinking water during summer, agricultural productivity was low and a large number of people had migrated to Pune and Mumbai in search of employment.

Gawadewadi Figure 1

In 1985, residents of Gawadewadi with local leadership of Anna Pimpale visited Ralegan Siddhi village in Parner taluka of Ahmednagar District. Impressed by the holistic development of the Ralegan Siddhi the residents were determined to transform Gawadewadi. Vanarai, a voluntary organization based in Pune that was approached by the villagers agreed to act as a catalyst in this process of development. Soil and water conservation works started in 1991. Technical inputs needed for the watershed development works were given partly by Irrigation Department and partly by Agricultural department. Along with these funds no grazing and no cutting of trees was diligently followed. Since there are no landless cattle breeders following no open grazing regulation was easier.

Sr. No. Structure Number
1 Soil bunds 18
2 Loose Boulder Bunds 03
3 Underground Bunds 03
4 Gabion Structures 01
5 Check dams 03
6 Percolation Tanks 05
7 Vanrai Bund 01

There are four catchment areas spread over 1400 Ha. Adopting top to bottom approach for watershed treatment Continuous Contour Trenches (CCT) (Figure 2), loose boulders and stone bunds were constructed on the ridges; soil bunds, cement bunds, gabion structures and percolation tanks were constructed at the bottom of the catchment. CCT works on the ridges is carried out by forest department. Under social forestry programme Village Panchayat has planted 1,10,000 trees on 34 acre land. Table above lists the existing watershed structures.

Gawadewadi Figure 2


Gawadewadi Figure 3

Total expenses incurred for the project were Rs 60 lakh for construction of watershed structures and Rs one lakh for trainings. This money was spent during first 5 to 6 years of work during 1991-97 and funded by various government departments like Agriculture Department, Social Forestry Department, Ground Water Survey and Development Agency and also by Vanarai.

Water availability has slowly increased. After the great drought 1972-73 the village survived entirely on tankers post February every year. Government had to send two to three tankers per day to cater for drinking water. The village is now completely tanker free. Wells that had no water after December earlier now have water even at May end (Figure 4). Earlier the only crops harvested were bajra and jowar. Farmers could barely cultivate once a year. Now the crop diversity includes tomatoes, potatoes, groundnut, wheat, sugarcane etc. Village also produces export quality custard apples, pomegranates and grapes. Farmers take three rounds of crops in a year instead of one. The village now has irrigated area of 150 Ha. In 1991, 500 people from the village were daily wage labourers. Now there are nil. Area under horticulture was 11 Ha in 1991 which has now increased to 142 Ha (Figure 5 & 6). Increased fodder development resulted in increased milk production. Milk collection which was 200 lt per day in 1991 has gone up to 12000 lt per day. The village experienced no scarcity of water in drought of 2012. Domestic demand for water was unaffected by drought. For agriculture the usual round of water is once in 10 days which had to be adjusted to once in 20 days during the drought. “We did not even realize that there was a drought” says Jaywant Gawade a villager.

Gawadewadi Figure 4

Gawadewadi Figure 5

Gawadewadi Figure 6Vanarai has played a role of facilitator. It coordinated the local officers of various ministries & departments and pooled different resources to make them available to the village. Vanarai awakened the local leadership and conducted training programmes for developing different skills and also worked for empowerment of women and youth.

Watershed development worked as a platform for the villagers to come together. With resources made available from Vanarai the participatory initiatives soon diversified to other livelihood generating and development initiatives. Following footsteps of Ralegan Siddhi the village followed the principles of ban on alcohol, no use of axe, no grazing, shramdan and family planning. Latrines were constructed in all the households. Biogas plants have been constructed in 265 households and latrines have been connected directly to the biogas plants. Entire cooking for all these families is taken care of by biogas. Increased fodder availability has made it feasible to rear cattle and thus has ensured the availability of cow dung. There are 13 women Self Help Groups (SHGs) involved in activities like sericulture, vermi composting etc. The village now has nine dairies. These dairies were actively functioning till 2-3 years back. The milk collected was sent to Katraj Doodh Sastha (Pune). Since last two three years private milk product companies collect milk from individual households and pay for the same. Villagers opted for this as it is a more convenient option. In 1994 the villagers established Hirkani Vidyalay, a local school with contribution from village. The momentum of village development which geared up 10-12 years back is still very much alive. Currently Vanarai is involved in improving the marketing of agriculture produce. The villagers now want to focus on improving the agricultural practices. After increase in the water availability the cultivated area under sugarcane has also increased. Currently the area for sugarcane cultivation is 60% of the total cultivated land. The sugarcane is sent to Pargaon Cooperative Sugar Factory. The factory has been existing for last 15 years. About 90% of the sugar cultivators from the village are members of this sugar factory.

This is a matter of concern in such low rainfall area and it has intensified the water use. With this realization the villagers are slowly shifting towards drip irrigation. They are also keen on learning sound crop water management and organic farming practices. Data for the current water use and ground water levels for past few years could not be available for this study.

Dynamics with Dimbhe dam

The village was self reliant in terms of water availability four to five years prior to irrigation canal provided by the government. Right Bank Canal (RBC) of Dimbhe dam which was constructed in 1997 passes through the village (Figure 7[iv] & 8). Dimbhe dam was filled to capacity in 2000, submerging 2202 hectares land of tribals in the Ambegaon taluka. 1253 families had to shift out, 11 villages were submerged fully and another thirteen villages were partially affected. Villagers inform that there is no fixed schedule followed for releasing water in RBC of the dam. The Left Bank Canal (LBC) constructed in 1987 has water throughout the year since it carries water downstream to Yedgaon dam[v]. However RBC receives water only thrice a year. The latest round of water release, as I write this was in February 2014. The water lasted for crops for about 30 to 35 days. The next round of water was due in May 2014 which is yet to be released. Agricultural fields only in the belt of 200 ft on both the sides of canal are benefitted. Villagers inform that in absence of watershed development work, coping with summer solely with canal irrigation was impossible.

Gawadewadi Figure 7

Gawadewadi Figure 8

Dimbhe Dam and its RBC share some more interesting dynamics with the village. Gawadewadi has hosted more than 70 families which were displaced because of Dimbhe Dam. Villagers point out that these families are a classic example of how the displaced families often remain away of benefits of the dam. The displaced families stay more than two KM away from the RBC and have no access to water from RBC. They were given land for land around 20 KM away from the houses that were built for them in Gawadewadi. Many of them sold the lands given to them under rehabilitation package as commuting was a problem. Problems of Dimbhe dam that have interface with Gawadewadi may just be a tip of ice berg. Even so these links with the government irrigation projects further highlight the need for participatory and decentralized water conservation.


Taking a close look at the development of Gawadewadi shows that the essential element behind success was the active public participation. This participation and ownership of the work resulted in completion of soil and water conservation works on 1400 Ha of area when no funding was available. This participation was also responsible for spurring of other allied developmental initiatives in the village which almost took a form of movement. Villagers voluntarily participated in various training programmes and diversified their livelihood options, improved farming practices, increased crop variety, increased milk production and in turn increased their income. In this sense such eco-system based works for conservation of natural resources like land and water become ‘active solutions’ as against the ‘passive solutions’ such as dams which come at a tremendous social and environmental cost.

It is worth noting that over 40% of India’s under construction dams are in Maharashtra. The state has spent about Rs 75000 crores over the last decade and will need to spend about Rs 76000 crores to complete the under construction projects[vi]. When Maharashtra is on such an irrigation spree, highlighting and replicating stories like Gawadewadi which demonstrate success of small scale solutions is definitely the need of the hour.

Amruta Pradhan, SANDRP,, Photos by Author

 Note: This article is based on field visit, accompanied by Vanrai in early June 2014.




[iii] Base map adopted from Wikipedia

[iv] Base map adopted from Google Maps

[v] Water from Yedgaon dam is further carried to Visapur dam and then to Karmala Dam.