Uffrenkhal’s Legacy of Recharge Pits Ensures Water Security

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. 

About Uffrenkhal

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.

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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.”

Heera Singh Negi, Manbar Singh Negi, Kamal Singh Negi showing the revived Gaadganga stream. 

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. 

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Khim Rawat and Anshu Negi of Bhattvo village digging recharge pit on 9 Jan. 2019. Image by Kamal Singh Negi. 

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.

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An old image of Sachidanand Bharati and villagers planing native saplings in village area. Image sent by Heera Singh Negi. 

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 (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)  


[i] https://sandrp.in/2015/11/28/india-rivers-day-2015-press-release-nov-28-2015/


East Nayaar River: The Scenic Stream of Ganga in Trouble

The East and West Nayaar rivers[i] of Uttrakhand are small natural streams feeding the National River. They may meet the fate of Ganga and Yamuna, if the current trend damaging them remain unchecked. This pictorial report highlights the plight and beauty of East Nayaar river.  The River is also spelt as NAYAR by a number of documents. 

Degradation of Ganga river and its big tributaries gets adequate attention amongst concerned, while such small natural streams feeding the National River, largely remains absent in the mind and memory of stakeholders.

These perennial streams are making the River Ganga living and flowing in founding basin area. They seem healthy and living, however the problems of dumping of solid and liquid waste, construction debris, road cutting, water abstraction and hydro projects are rapidly catching up with the smaller streams.

Continue reading “East Nayaar River: The Scenic Stream of Ganga in Trouble”

Char Dham Highway · Dams

Char Dham Road Project Kills 8 Labours: Will State & Central Govts Wake Up Now?

The landslide incident[i] on under construction Char Dham All Weather Road Project in Rudraprayag district of Uttrakhand has killed 8 labours on 21 December 2018 around 12.30 pm near Banswada in Ukhimath Bhiri area on the Rudraprayag-Gaurikund national highway (NH 107).


WhatsApp images of incident site 

On 22 December 2018, body of a 19 year old worker was recovered[ii] by the rescue team. A total of 23 workers  were at the site at the time of the incident. As per reports, 11 workers got buried under debris, 5 workers were critically injured while 12 others had narrow escape. All the victims[iii] are stated to be from Uri town in Baramula district of Jammu & Kashmir. As per locals, one of the JCB machine placed at the site has fallen[iv] in the river along with debris.

Man Made Disaster

The Ukhimath police has registered an FIR against a private construction company, holding it responsible for the mishap at the construction site of Char Dham all-weather road. Preliminary observations by police team has found major negligence[v] of the executive body.

As per police the work was being carried out without following the basic safety standards for the workers. The director and supervisor of the private construction firm have been booked[vi] under various sections of Indian Penal Code. 

Manglesh Ghildiyal, the District Magistrate, Rudraprayag has also ordered[vii] magisterial inquiry into the incident. Jakholi SDM has been asked to submit the probe report within 10 days. Additional chief secretary of Uttarakhand, Om Prakash, has ordered a safety audit of the all-weather road construction sites to check whether the work is being done adhering to scientific norms.

The audit team will comprise of a senior geologist and a senior officer from the PWD. Some of the workers alleged that the landslide was triggered[viii] by construction work and had occurred as the mountain was being cut to widen the road.

Surprisingly about a week before the Rudraprayag landslide incidents, the DM has also found significant negligence being exercised by the Noida based RGB construction company in cutting the hill slopes.  The company has not even provided helmets and insurance cover to the workers. Earlier, in June 2018 and September 2018 it was issued noticed for not following safety measures. 

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Rudraprayag Highly Landslide Prone Area

According to data compiled by the Uttarakhand’s Disater Mitigaton and Management Centre, 529 landslide prone areas have been identified on the Char Dham route. Rudraprayag district where the landslide occurred has the highest number of landslide zones at 319.

Google map of the incident site 

Local People Protesting Against The Project

The project would displace[ix] about 3000 villagers in the district. Many residents have been protesting against the project demanding fair compensation. On December 7, 2018, the local people including shopkeepers and traders closed the district and took out a massive protest rally[x]. On December 15, the protestors launched an indefinite hunger strike[xi] demanding proper rehabilitation and compensation.

Issue Pending in Supreme Court

This is one of the worst landslides so far due to the 889 km long highway project[xii] which has been broken into 52 parts to bypass the mandatory environmental clearances. The Rs 11,700 crore rupee project is ongoing despite the fact that the matter is sub-judice. 

On 22 October 2018, the Supreme Court (SC) had stayed[xiii] National Green Tribunal (NGT) order clearing the two lane highway project. During 26 November 2018 hearing the SC has asked the Centre to file its reply[xiv] within two weeks.

Another Landslide Caused By Char Dham Road Project 

Meanwhile, Char Dham All Weather Road Project creates another landslide on Dec. 22, this time on Badrinath Rishikesh Highway near Farasu Mandoli village in Srinagar. The work is damaging the roads causing difficulties for local commuters who are also getting injured during night time. People say debris and stones are falling continuously disrupting the traffic for hours.

Compiled by SANDRP (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

Post Scripts:- 

Despite SC orders muck dumping in Alaknanda River continues on Badrinath NH. Similarly many villages along the slope on Chamba Rishikesh highway are affected due to muck dumping says the Amar Ujala 16 Dec. 2018 report. 


The local Hindi dailies (between 15-25 Dec. 2018) are replete with reports revealing serious negligence and violation of norms in execution of the project leading to fatal landslides across the state.  

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End Notes:

[i] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/7-labourers-on-char-dham-road-project-in-uttarakhand-killed-in-landslide/story-NhcWWgzp9fvpfVxU1BuVsM.html

[ii] https://newsjizz.com/109568-death-in-the-landslide-rudraprayag-increases-to-8-pvt-firm-booked.html

[iii] http://www.dailyexcelsior.com/7-labourers-of-uri-killed-3-injured-one-missing-in-ukhand/

[iv] https://navbharattimes.indiatimes.com/state/uttarakhand/other-cities/land-slide-in-uttarakhand-kedarnath-roadway-many-killed/articleshow/67191677.cms

[v] https://epaper.jagran.com/epaper/23-dec-2018-105-garwal-edition-garwal-page-7-page-1.html

[vi] https://kashmirlife.net/uttarakhand-incident-search-operation-resumes-to-trace-out-the-8th-kashmiri-labourer-195906/ 

[vii] http://www.dailyexcelsior.com/7-labourers-of-uri-killed-3-injured-one-missing-in-ukhand/

[viii] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/7-char-dham-road-workers-dead-3-injured-in-landslide-in-rudraprayag/articleshow/67199361.cms

[ix] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/rudraprayag-villages-displaced-by-char-dham-road-construction-demand-higher-ex-gratia/articleshow/66816469.cms

[x] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/char-dham-project-displaced-people-threaten-hunger-strike-if-demands-not-met/articleshow/66993306.cms

[xi] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/2500-families-affected-by-char-dham-road-project-launch-indefinite-protest/articleshow/67109768.cms

[xii] https://sandrp.in/2018/10/06/char-dham-highway-project-an-overview/

[xiii] https://thewire.in/environment/future-of-char-dham-highway-uncertain-as-sc-stays-ngt-order-allowing-the-project

[xiv] http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2018/nov/27/chardham-project-sc-asks-centre-why-ngt-order-should-not-be-stayed-1903858.html

Dams · Monsoon

Monsoon 2018 Overview: Serious Anomalies Hidden by Macro Figures

2018 becomes fifth year in a row when India’s south west monsoon has been below normal.  In the beginning of monsoon season, Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has forecasted rains to be normal with rainfall equal to 97 percent of the long term average. However at the end of the season the overall rainfall turned out to be 91 percent, with deficit of 9 percent at national level. However, as we see in this overview, the situation as move from national to local figures, is much different, mostly much worse.

According to IMD’s State Rainfall Map (cumulative) dated 30 Sept. 2018, the country received 804.0 mm rains against 887.5 mm of normal average. Thus the south west monsoon 2018 had 9.4 percent below normal rainfall.

Continue reading “Monsoon 2018 Overview: Serious Anomalies Hidden by Macro Figures”

Dams · DRP News Bulletin

DRP News Bulletin 29 October 2018: Better Paddy Options Exist For Punjab

A try-out of the technique to grow paddy without puddling at village Chehlan of Ludhiana has resulted in higher yield in comparison to puddled fields, while saving water in the process. The crop was ready for harvest days before expected time, saving irrigation water otherwise to be used for another fourteen days. This trial was funded and supervised by ATMA, a central govt.  scheme under the Union Ministry of Agriculture.

Puddling is a traditional method of flooding paddy fields with running water, whereas in non-puddling technique, ‘ridges and furrows’ are formed in soil to let water store in spaces and let it stay, thus reducing irrigation frequency.

“Not paddy but puddling is the enemy of waters of Punjab. It is wastage of water to puddle fields as most of it just evaporates. We have saved 45-50 per cent of water in non-puddled fields. Our yield has been almost 30 per cent more from fields where crop was not puddled. Also, non-puddled crop matured very early, saving at least ten days of irrigation water,” says Rupinder Singh Chahal (43) who along with his brothers Jasvir Singh (48) and Kulwinder Singh (52) experimented with ‘non-puddling’ technique on four acres this year.

Continue reading “DRP News Bulletin 29 October 2018: Better Paddy Options Exist For Punjab”

Char Dham Highway · Dams

Char Dham Highway Project: An overview

(Feature image Source Char Dham Road ProjectL Stairway to heaven or highway to hell by Siddharth Agarwal)

The Char Dham All Weather Road Project has been approved by National Green Tribunal (NGT) on September 26, 2018. The controversial project has evoked several environmental concerns right from the inception stage.

Almost more than one and half year into the unmindful implementation of the project, the risks and fears associated with the project are clearly visible throughout the construction route. In last few months, several independent reports have also raised serious concerns over the haphazard manner in which the project is being executed through sensitive hilly terrain.  Continue reading “Char Dham Highway Project: An overview”

Dams · Floods

INDIA: Overview of CWC Flood Monitoring Sites

Central Water Commission is the only agency doing flood forecasting in India. As per CWC’s Flood Forecasting website[i] the Data Flow Map has information about 226 Flood Forecast Sites in the country comprising of 166 Level Forecast Sites and 60 Inflow Forecast Sites. It also monitors 700 Flood sites, information made available through List Based Exploration and Hydrograph View, but no flood forecasting is done for these sites.

In order to better understand the CWC’s flood monitoring and forecasting work, SANDRP has published report of CWC’s Level Forecast, Inflow Forecast and level monitoring sites in 5 zones of North India[ii], North East India[iii], East India[iv], South India[v] and West India[vi].  Through this report, we have presented all the data at one place with links to separate zone wise reports with detailed description.

Continue reading “INDIA: Overview of CWC Flood Monitoring Sites”

Dams · Floods

Overview of CWC Flood Forecasting Sites: North India

Flood forecasting is an important activity during monsoon, considering the huge and increasing flood prone area, flood frequency, extent and flood damages. Accurate and timely flood forecasting can hugely help reduce the damages due to floods. Central Water Commission (CWC) is the only agency responsible for flood forecasting in India. To understand the CWC’s flood forecasting better, we have compiled the list of the various flood, inflow forecasting sites and flood monitoring sites in India.

In this compilation, we have given state wise list of CWC’s flood forecasting, flood monitoring and inflow forecasting sites, along with available details like rivers, sub basin, river basin, Warning level, Danger Level, High Flood Level, Full Reservoir Level, Maximum Water Level. As we see below, there are many gaps in this basic information for the sites that are part of CWC’s list.

Continue reading “Overview of CWC Flood Forecasting Sites: North India”

Dams · DRP News Bulletin

DRP News Bulletin 23 July 2018: Landmark CAG Reports on DAM FLOODS & Ineffective; Costly Mega Irrigation Projects

In its latest report, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has questioned implementation of sixteen National Irrigation Projects. Before this, the CAG has held mismanagement in dams’ operation responsible for Chennai floods in 2015. Both these reports are available on its website now.

The CAG report on National Irrigation Projects, tabled in Parliament on July 20, has revealed that sixteen major multi-purpose water projects, taken up on an expeditious basis about a decade ago, are nowhere near completion, with no work being undertaken in as many as 11 projects despite the incumbent govt’s much-wanted focus on improving irrigation facilities in the country.

The report also mentioned that out of the 16 projects, undertaken under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP) in Feb 2008, only five projects with estimated irrigation potential of 25.10 lakh hectares were under implementation and even these projects suffer from 8 to 99 per cent shortfall in physical progress, the CAG said. The remaining 11 projects with estimated irrigation potential of 10.48 lakh hectares are yet to commence and are at different stages of approval.

Continue reading “DRP News Bulletin 23 July 2018: Landmark CAG Reports on DAM FLOODS & Ineffective; Costly Mega Irrigation Projects”

Cloud Burst

Uttrakhand Cloudburst Incidents 2018 

Uttrakhand is a disaster prone State. Earthquakes, Forest Fires, Flash Floods and Landslides keep occurring here round the year. The cloud burst events have also made entry to the disaster list. During past many years, local people have gradually become familiar with the term CLOUD BURST. The freak weather incident seems striking the state in increased number and frequency year after year.

Midway through the 2018 monsoon, there have already been about a dozen cloud burst events across the state. 

Continue reading “Uttrakhand Cloudburst Incidents 2018 “