Inspiring tale of three villages in Thalisain tehsil (Pouri Garhwal district, Uttarakhand) which have been putting in sustained efforts for years in creating recharge pits, plantation and forest protection that has ultimately resulted in revival of water sources and Gadganga a small stream part of East Nayaar River basin.
Uttarakhand is a land of springs and rivers. Still the number of towns and villages facing the water scarcity are gradually on the rise. Overall there are more than 17,000 villages struggling to get even potable water mainly because of dried up sources caused by deforestation and other natural reasons.
Pouri is among worst affected districts where water shortage has fuelled large scale migration particularly in Jaharikhal, Dwarikhal and Dugadda blocks. Amid this gloomy scenario, the success story of Uffrenkhal villagers has become living testimony of how community driven collective efforts can provide lasting solutions to the growing water crisis.
Uffrenkhal is a small market place in Thalisain tehsil of Pouri Garhwal along Saraikhet – Bungidhar road. Geographically Uffrenkhal is sitting on hill top about 2000 metre above mean sea level. It marks the buffer zone of Dudhatoli reserve forest and demarcates the basin boundary of East Nayaar river on the left and Bino stream a tributary to Ramganga on right side.
About Water Conservation Work of Uffrenkhal Villagers
Uffren refers to the name of local Deity and Khal means small water body created by natural depression on relatively flat lands of hilltops. The area of Uffrenkhal falls under Kafalgaon in Bino stream basin and Bhattvo, Gad Khark villages are located on down the slope mountain, part of East Nayaar stream basin.
Gaad in Garhwali language means storm water channel and Khark is a cowshed cum hut in forest area where villagers stay seasonally with cattle. The name of the mountain is put after the village as Gaad Kharak danda. Bhattvo village is divided into to two parts Malla and Talla. All the three villages are under Bironkhal Block.
The Local Wisdom Behind The Recharge Pits
The Gaad Kharak (also known as Patalkhani) mountain slope is dotted with various size of water recharge pits dug over the years by the villagers. Actually it’s a set of circular shaped three pits of varying width and depth designed and dug on the basis of drainage pattern and hydrology of the area. Locals have named the pits as Bhadayi, Ghiri and Chanyor according to sizes.
Kalam Singh Negi, Manbar Singh Negi, Heera Singh Negi showing and explaining the water recharge initiative taken up by villagers under Sachidanand Bharati Ji guidance and support. Video by Author.
Bhadayi means cooking pan. Ghiri is bamboo basket used to carry grass and goods on the back in Uttarakhand. Similarly Chanyor is large bamboo basket of round shape and about two feet depth. It is used to encage young offspring of sheep and goats for protection and taming purposes.
One small pit Bhadayi follows the two bigger pits Ghiri and Chanyor in a row down the slope. After several such small pits (Bhadayi and Ghiri) a big pit (Chanyor) is built where most of the water reaches through seepages from catchment. About 50 such small and big pits lead to bigger pit which is of small pond size. These small water pools are known as “Khal” in Uttarakhand.
Water Recharge pits dug by Bhattvo, Gadkhark villagers in Uffrenkhal (Images by Author)
“Our ancestors used to dig these Khal to arrange water for cattle and other purposes as pastoralists. Theses Khal have been added as a suffix to describe several locations across the state. We have added smaller ones and have been digging them for years in our area with a purpose to revive water sources and streams” says Kamal Singh Negi a resident of Bhattvo Malla village.
According to Heera Singh Negi, the Pradhan of Bhattvo Malla, these small pits catch the rain water which gradually percolates in the ground. The water also oozes into other pits created in a series as per drainage system. “The source of inspiration to water conservation work is Sachidanand Bharati. He keeps visiting, providing guidance and all other support” says Heera Singh Negi in a firm and proud voice.
Recharge Pits Provide Multiple Benefits
Manbar Singh Negi the third villager involved in water conservation works for years counts the benefits of water recharge pits. “The moisture in the pits keep the vegetation green. The moisten soil reduces the chances of forest fires. In case there is any, we don’t have to search for water to douse it as many Khal now remain filled with water round the year. These Khal and pits also provide water to wild animals preventing them from entering village areas.” explains Manbar Singh Negi.
The water recharge pits have revived the Khal and Gadganga streams. (Video by author)
Actually, Gheeri is dug deeper for more water storage, but the Bhadayi and Chanyor are hardly dug one or two feet deep, so that wild and domestic animals can easily access the water adds Kalam Singh Negi.
Over past one decade the villagers have dug about ten thousand recharge pits. It’s December and there was not much rain as expected still there is water in many Khal proving that the pits dug uphill are working states Heera Singh Negi. Late Anupam Mishra ji was all praise for this traditional water harvesting wisdom that is alive even today in these areas.
Restoring Forest and Rejuvenating Gaadganga stream
In addition to the recharge pits, the villagers have also protected the forest patch on hill top. As a result there is regeneration of native vegetation including Baanj, Surahi, Mevo, Utis etc could be seen growing in pine dominated region. “Under Sachidanand Ji’s guidance, during 1980s-90s villagers planted about 5000 Deodar saplings which have now grown into trees” says Heera Singh Negi.
Creation of recharge pits, revival of Khal plantation work has ultimately rejuvnated the Gaadganga streams. (Video by author.)
Heera Singh Negi adds, “Bharati ji is encouraging villagers’ to plant trees and protect the forest for last three decades. Due to the sustained efforts involving the dependent community, the semi-denuded mountain slope has turned into thick green forest patch leading to revival of Gaadganga and other water sources in the area. In addition, we are getting fodder, fuel wood, and water security for present and future generations.”
As per villagers, Gaaadganga was earlier named as Sukharola (dry water channel). But due to the water harvesting and afforestation efforts going on for years, it has become perennial, benefitting them in multiple ways.
Note:- The author visited the area to experience the outcome of Sri Sachidanand Bharti’s decades long water conservation work on Dec. 21, 2018. The villagers of Bhattvo, namely Kamal Singh Negi, Manbar Singh Negi and Heera Singh Negi accompanied the author showing and explaining the benefits of water recharge pits.
All three agree that the area has become green and peaceful and many new birds, butterflies can be seen, showing the rich biodiversity. Now Kamal Singh Negi and Heera Singh Negi are working on a horticulture plan to create livelihood sources for villagers as a measure to check migration.
Brief Introduction of Sachidanand Bharati
The man behind the success story, Sachidanand Bharati is a native of Gaad Khark village. During his college time, he came in contact of Chandi Prasad Bhatt, the crusader of famous Chipko Movement. After finishing education, he worked as a teacher in Uffrenkhal Inter College during the ‘90s. Witnessing the deforestation and water scarcity in the area, he started Dudhatoli Lok Vikas Sansthan and since then has been involved in water harvesting and afforestation work here.
His untiring efforts has been appreciated by legendary water conservationist Anupam Misra, the author of “Aaj Bhi Khare Talab” book. For his dedication for environment, Bharati Ji has been honoured with many awards including Rashtriya Mahatama Gandhi Samman 2011, Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar, 2011 and Bhagirath Prayas Samman in 2015[i].
Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)