Guest Blog by Seema Ravandale, People’s Science Institute, Dehradun
Kathayi (Shahnagar, Panna district), a ST (Scheduled Tribe) dominated village with 75 household amid the forested area of Shahnagar block, faces acute water scarcity during summer season – almost for 3-4 months. Under the government schemes, three wells and two hand pumps were installed in last 10-15 years, but most of them are dysfunctional. The problem becomes acute in the months of May-June, when there is a shortage of water everywhere and only perennial spring in the village supplies drinking water to 75 families. Women have to spend whole night queueing to fetch water. After a lot of perusal, water tanker was provided by Gram Panchayat, but supply is intermittent.
At a first impression, the groundwater potential seemed to be very low in the region looking at the status of wells and handpumps. But detailed investigation shows that it is not the case. Villagers say that, there was one perennial Bharka at Puttan Ghat within the river bed (naturally occurring ponds within river bed), which was almost 200 meter long, and 2 meter deep. According to a farmer from Kathayi, Ujiyar Singh “Villagers never faced water scarcity until government placed a stop dam downstream of Bharka in 2001-02, even though villagers resented the construction”. No measures were taken to avoid siltation behind the Stop Dam and eventually, the Bharka was completely filled with debris and silt within 5-6 years of the construction”. Some of the base flows (Jhir in the local language) in the downstream of this Bharka started disappearing over the years as silt started accumulating in the Bharka.
Bharka are alive elsewhere The Bharka disappeared in the village of Kathayi due to bad planning, but they are still alive and perennial resources in numerous villages in the Shahnagar block. Villagers of Aloni (Shahnagar block, Panna) seek 1-2 life saving irrigation for Wheat crop in 10-15 ha of land from one such perennial Bharka (also called as Kund in local dialect) called as “Panghata Kund” which is approximately 200 meter long, 1.5 meter deep and 20 meters in width. The other two such Kunds along the Baghne Nala are used by villager for domestic needs in the peak summer. The narration by villagers confirm that these Bharka/ Kunds are in use since ages. They say: “Kund has been in use since more than 300 years now, when the ancestors settled down here. They would have settled because of the presence of this natural resource. Where there is water, there is a life”.
Such Bharka/ Kund are common sites in almost all the villages of the upper catchment of Ken River. River Ken is bestowed with various geological and geomorphological marvels like deep cavities and narrow rocky channel at Pandvan fall, beautiful canyon formation at Raneh fall, Dhuvadhar Seha (fall) in Panna Tiger Reserve where river plunges from one plateau to another, Doline (a geological formation of deep cavities) formation like Brihaspati Kund, Suryakund etc. The uniqueness of these features are documented by Prof. Brij Gopal ji[i] (member of IPCC committee and retired professor from JNU), notable river activist M. Manoj Mishra[ii] (Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan), SANDRP[iii] and few more notable publications. But most of these geological marvel are found in middle stretch of River Ken. There is no documentation on the geological features in the upper catchment of the river. These Bharka/ Kunds (and springs) are important as they supply drinking water to the populace as well as life saving irrigation to hundreds of acres of land. They play important role in achieving water security in otherwise parched and distressed region. I am not a geologist to understand the exact geological formation and complex underlying hydro-geology, but this article is a first attempt to document these geological features, their groundwater potential, traditional wisdom to conserve them, etc. The article is based on observations from 26 villages in the Upper catchment of River Ken in Shahnagar block of Panna district (location in Map1).
According to groundwater expert, Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni (ACWADAM, Pune), “At the first impression, the Bharka/ Kund looks like nothing but a large spring i.e. Groundwater discharge point. The southern plateau of Bundelkhand is called Vindhyan range and this is broadly characterised by sandstone, shale and limestone. The huge cavities must have formed due to erosion of limestone over the geological period due to base flows. More details can be curtailed only if hydro-geological study is conducted by taking measures like pumping test etc.”
The topography of Panna district is mostly hilly and traversed by hills and valleys. Physiographically, Panna district forms parts of Vindhyachal ranges in the south followed by Bundelkhand upland in the north[iv]. The southern plateau is formed by cascade type rocks of Vindhyan series. Vindhyans are composed of sandstone, shale, and limestone[v]. As per the study done by People’s Science Institute, the study area is underlined by quartzatic[vi] formation and beds are generally horizontal. A network of joints, fault planes, bedding planes, weathered, fractured and saturated fractured zones which act as a secondary porosity and forms the aquifer system. In general, quartzite are thought to be resistant. However, the presence of small amounts of pyrite in the quartzite make them vulnerable to weathering. This explains the horizontal bedding and vertical fractures as seen in the images of the Kund, and these structural features are mainly responsible to maintain the hydraulic continuity within the aquifer system. The presence of limestone in this geology has given rise to large solution cavities. CGWB’s (Central Ground Water Board) district groundwater profile confirms that there is only one limestone layer which is called as Nagod limestone and solution cavities in limestone formation creates the potential aquifer. Fractured/ weathered rocks and bedding planes discharge the groundwater into these solution cavity. This explains the the formation of Bharka/Kund, thus the complexity of hydro-geology.
PSI conducted the initial assessment in 26 villages of the Shahnagar block. The assessment is based on usage of the water to quantify and extrapolate the potential based on usage. (Limitation: The real assessment of the groundwater potential can be known only after hydro-geological study and calculation of groundwater yield by pumping tests). There are two clusters in the study area – Cluster one consists of 11 villages along the River Baghne, tributory of River Patne in Raipura Tehsil of Shahnagar, whereas second cluster is of 15 villages in Shahnagar Tehsil which are along the River Ken and River Simardha, a tributory of River Ken as shown in Map.
The solution cavities are categorized into three types based on the usage:
- Low potential solution channels: of size approximately 50 meter long, upto 1 meter depth, and width equal to water stream’s width (approximately 3-5meter). They are generally used for domestic purposes and kept reserved for livestock during peak summer.
- Medium potential solution channel: Average size, length 100-300meter, depth 2-3 meter, and width equal to water stream (approximately 5-7meter). They are used to irrigate land upto 10-15 ha, seeking 1-2 life saving irrigations.
- High potential solution channel: They may vary in the length from 300 meter to few kilometres and can irrigate the land up to 50-100 ha, seeking 2-3 irrigations.
The study area is inhabited by 3600 number of families with a total population of 15532 as per Census 2011. The area is dominated by tribe called Raj Gaur (the ruling clan of Gond tribe). In the region, a family owns average 4-5 cattle (big ruminants). Based on secondary data, primary data collected from the villages, and focus group discussion with the villagers, the total water usage in these villages has been calculated. The total annual water usage from the solution cavities is – almost 17 lakhs cum (Cubic Meters) (16 lakhs cum for irrigation and 1 lakh cum for drinking (human as well as livestock) and domestic needs). If the data is extrapolated to entire Shahnagar block, the total usage is approximately 20 Mcum which is 2% of the total rainfall received in the entire region[vii] and 20% of the net annual groundwater availability in Shahnagar block[viii]. This is indicative of the huge groundwater potential of Bharka/Kund in the upper catchment of River Ken which drains out Vindhyan Range travelling through some of the blocks of Damoh, Sagar, Chhatarpur and Panna districts.
Like springs all over India, these solution cavities and springs in this region are missing from the map of CGWB. Hence, the only governance is traditional beliefs and customs. According to Ganesh Singh Gaur of Banjari village, “Raja kund is named after Gond Raja who used to bathe here. The gods reside in the Raja Kund at certain depth. If water level goes below that and gods are exposed to air, this is a sure indicator of drought and famine. In 2017, people over-exploited the Kund and next year we have seen worst of drought, cattle deaths, lack of drinking water etc. Hence since last two years villagers are not using it for wheat irrigation. Rather the water is left as a stock for livestock and wild animals.”
Similar beliefs are in place in Siharan village of Raipura Tehsil. According to villagers: A temple named “Shivpuri” was constructed next to Kund almost 100-200 years ago by ancestors as statue of deity was found in the Kund. Almost 15-20 villages around this place maintain the sanctity of the place, the Shivpuri Kund is treated as sacred, and nobody is allowed to fetch water from Shivpuri Kund except freely grazing animals.
Way Forward Bundelkhand has become synonym for drought and distressed as the region is facing worst of meteorological and/or agriculture drought since more than a decade now. Apart from crippled agrarian economy, mass migration, malnutrition, starvation death, mortgaging of cattle, child, women etc., “the desertification of villages” in the search of drinking water had hit the media last year[ix]. Moreover climate change is exacerbating the distress. Hence holistic planning of the water resources in the region is necessary. There is abundant literature available on Bundelkhand’s water resources, but it mainly focuses on surface water and there is less documentation on groundwater. CGWB and MPWRD’s assessments for groundwater are available and as per these reports, groundwater resources are more depleted in the plain i.e. northern region of the Bundelkhand as compare to southern hilly terrain. These assessments are based on observatory wells and bore-wells; the density of which is very low in the hilly terrain of Panna, Damoh, Sagar and Chhatarpur districts of Bundelkhand.
MPWRD (Madhya Pradesh Water Resources Department) assessment on groundwater recharge excludes the hilly terrain with slope more than 20%. Due to lack of documentation on springs and Bharkas in CGWB and MPWRD’s groundwater resources assessments studies, there is no complete assessment of groundwater in the upper catchment of Ken River. Moreover, wrong interventions around these formations can destroy the vital resources as was the case of Kathayi. Other policies like power rationing for agriculture purpose too interferes with the groundwater use. Mithla Yadav from Saraikheda village reported that “since the installation of electricity connection for agriculture and fixed rate of pumping cost, villagers have pumped enormous amount of water from these Kunds leaving them dry at times. This has led to severe drinking water crisis in 2018-19 despite average rainfall”.
Groundwater potential varies across the region owing to the diversity in the geology and hydro-geology. Hence, “one-size-fit-for-all” state policies would not help in mitigating the current water crisis. For the holistic water management, knowledge of groundwater is essential along with rain water & surface water. The unique groundwater resources of upper Ken need acknowledgement, research and further assessments by the groundwater departments. Groundwater dynamics of the region and it’s potential in achieving the water security in the region is a topic for further investigation and documentation.
Government has a plan to supply drinking water to 180 villages of Shahnagar block from recently constructed TenduGhat dam. Whether the scheme will achieve the drinking water security or not but certainly low-cost conservation of these Bharka/ Kund can serve the purpose of at least ensuring drinking water security.
– Seema Ravandale (firstname.lastname@example.org, 05.06.2020)
[iv] District Groundwater Information Booklet – Panna District, CGWB
[vi] Quartzite is a metamorphic rock formed when quartz-rich sandstone or chert has been exposed to high temperatures and pressures.
[vii] Total geographical area of Shahnagar block is 1052 SqKm and average annual rainfall is 1000mm.
[viii] Net annual groundwater availability in Shahnagar block is 109 Mcum as per the assessment in 2008-09. Source: District Groundwater Information Booklet – Panna District, CGWB