As we are celebrating world water day 2019 with the theme ‘Leaving No One Behind’, two United Nation’s reports release in this month have underlined the growing water crisis on the watery planet. While theWaterAid report has raised alarm over rapidly falling groundwater table in South Asia, the sixth edition of ‘Global Environment Outlook’, has warned of growing pollution of freshwater sources and resultant impact on human health.
The situation this year in India indeed warrants wide attention as about 50 per cent of the country is facing drought condition. With rapid fall in groundwater table, wells, tanks and streams are turning dry in most part of central and south Indian states. The farming, riverine and village communities are particularly at the receiving end of compounding water crisis.
In a remedial but surprising move, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike has set up a team of water marshals to act against water tankers charging exorbitantly from residents. Before this, Nasik district administration has formed patrolling squads to protect canal water from theft by farmers. Tribal areas in Siddipet, Telangana arereeling under dearth of potable water. The forest fire and increasing summer has forced wild animals move towards human populated areas.
However, on positive note, many individuals, groups and communities have silently been investing efforts in water conservation works. Many have yielded positive out-comes. Many other institutions including some initiatives at government level have also set an example before others in preserving the water resources and treating and reusing polluted water. Also, there are a number of remarkable water conservation efforts by farming communities across the country. This compilation tries to put together some of the positive water actions in India during the past one year.
Above: Watershed measures in Maharashtra Photo: WOTR
~ Guest Post by Zareen Pervez Bharucha
Farmer after farmer had the same story: fields were parched, wells were empty, it was painful to see the land crack up and peel away like the soles of ones’ feet. ‘What can we do? This is what Nature has become,’ they said, in interview after interview.
I was speaking with farmers in Parner taluka in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district. My conversations were part of a research project on the long-term impacts of watershed development. In the same taluka, the village of Ralegaon Siddhi had turned dry fields into green farms using soil and water conservation and a strict set of rules governing land management. Their example and those of other seminal cases have shown the amazing potential of decentralized soil and water conservation. These successes have helped launch watershed development as India’s foremost strategy for dealing with the nexus of dryland degradation, rural poverty and hunger. I was curious about the lived experiences of people in ‘normal’ – rather than well-known – watershed projects. Continue reading “Digging deeper into water scarcity after watershed development”→
Although infamous for the failure of its large dam approach and the recent dam scam, Maharashtra has also been one of the most progressive states in the country when it comes to watershed development, participatory water management and a pioneering discourse surrounding equitable sharing of available water sources. The state has had a number of remarkable stories like Ralegan Siddhi, Hiware Bazaar, Soppecom’s work on water users associations in Waghad and Palkhed, work of Paani Panchayat, Afarm, etc., in addition to a number of centrally funded and state funded watershed programs like Drought Prone Area Program (DPAP), Integrated Wasteland Development Program (IWDP), Adarsh Gaon Yojana, etc. The state has had its share of stalwarts like Late Dr. Vilasrao Salunkhe, Anna Hazare, Popatrao Pawar, Late Dr. Mukundrao Ghare, Smt. Kalpanatai Salunkhe to name just a few. They talked about not only increasing water availability, but also allocating and managing the available water resources equitably and sustainably and many other facets of participatory watershed management which were strongly rooted in equity, gender sensitivity, social realities and ecological sustainability.
This overall context had a role to play even as Maharashtra faced one of its worst droughts in 2012-13. The devastating drought pushed some unique watershed initiatives across the state, some of which were directly supported by the state, many without any support.
We looked at a few successful stories of increasing water availability locally, through watershed or other simple measures. The common thread running through these examples is ‘local initiative’. It was experienced again that having local communities at the driving seat, with encouraging guidance from the experts and help from government agencies can lead to positive results.
At the same time, we came across some quick-fix watershed measures which are currently supported by the government and discuss if these can replace the holistic and long-term effort of participatory watershed management and equitable water distribution. The examples below are taken from an agricultural daily “Agrowon” and they are indicative in nature[i]. We have talked with the key people behind the initiatives to understand how the work evolved.
Naigaon village in chronically drought prone Ahmednagar desilts its village tank
Naigaon is a small village of around 5000 people in Jamkhed taluka of Ahmednagar District of Maharashtra. Although Khairi Irrigation Project on Khairi River in Jamkhed is just 3 kms from the village, it does not save Naigaon from water scarcity. Since the past few years, Naigaon has been increasingly facing acute water scarcity in post-February months and its dependence on tankers has increased.
The village has a tank: The Naigaon Tank, constructed by the Water Resources Department after the great drought of 1972. It extends over 42 hectares of land. However due to lack of maintenance, the tank was silted and its water storage had decreased substantially. The 2012-13 drought was the last straw for Naigaon. The tank, silted up and hardly holding any water was an eyesore for the villagers. In the summer of 2013, more than 1500 people of Naigaon came together to desilt the Naigaon tank by hand and by machines. The collective effort resulted in removing over 3 lakh cubic meters of silt from the tank!
Being farmers, they realized the value of this silt and it was spread over more than 250 hectares of agricultural land. The Tahsildar of Jamkhed Taluk, seeing the enthusiasm and initiative of the farmers, waived royalty on the silt. But apart from this, the initiative did not take any help from the government. Why did they do that? We asked Watershed Committee Chair Suresh Ugale. “We decided to get together and do something in late 2012-early 2013. We were afraid that if government schemes like MNREGA take time in sanctioning, then we will lose the monsoon of 2013. We did not want to lose a single monsoon and did all the work entirely on voluntary basis.”
In addition to desilting, the villagers, along with agriculture department carried out watershed works in the surrounding region which included Continuous Contour Trenching, nallah bunding and gulley plugging.
The results are evident. Due to desilting of the village tank, water levels for 30 to 40 surrounding wells have increased. Farmers have been lifting water directly from the tank too. Watershed works have also resulted in increase in water levels of other wells and an increase in soil moisture. This in turn has lead to more crop diversity. In kharif of 2013, 35 ha of additional land was cultivated with multiple crops like cotton, soybean, mung, urad, sugarcane and 18 ha of land was under horticulture. The villagers proudly proclaim that the lands where silt was spread are more productive. In the words of Yogesh Shinde, “My light soil did not allow me much crop choice. But the silt from the tank allowed me to grow jowar and udid ( black gram, a lentil) and fodder crops. We’ve indeed been fortunate this year.”
At the same time, it is worrying that area under sugarcane is also increasing. When asked about this, the watershed Committee chair says, “Yes, we’ve been trying to irrigate all new sugarcane by drip. But that is difficult. The subsidies don’t reach the poorer farmers who need it the most.” But it is clear that without active efforts, more water can mean more water guzzling sugarcane in Naigaon.
No tankers for Pingori village this year
Pingori village in Purandar taluka of Pune district is surrounded by hillocks from three sides. 80% of the land is hills and only 20% is cultivable. Although Pune region has a very high density of large dams, no canal water reaches Pingori. Veer dam lies about 15 to 20 km downstream of the village and plays no role in water supply to the village.
In 2013 the village faced acute drought. People who held lands on the hilly tracts were left with no option but to sell offs their lands. In the words of Babasaheb Shinde, a veteran from the village, ““There was hardly any income source in village without water. People were migrating to cities. We had to do something.”As the situation turned alarming, some villagers came together. It was accepted by all that the key to their challenge lay in water availability. Pingori had a village tank which was badly in need of maintenance and desilting. Despite several follow ups with Water Conservation Department, no desilting was undertaken by the department, siting non-availability of funds as the reason.
Left with no choice, the villagers of Pingori came together. Hundreds of villagers raised funds for desilting the tanks by working on NREGS schemes. Though they raised a considerably sum, it was still not sufficient for the entire desilting operation. Here, they were helped by Dagdusheth Ganapati Temple Trust.
With some help like this, Pingori undertook desilting work for nearly 45 days in summer 2013 by manual labour and machines. Villagers told SANDRP that more than 200,000 cubic meter silt was removed from the single tank and spread on agricultural fields. Desilting not only increased water holding capacity of the tank, but also its recharge. Following the monsoon of 2013, the village tank held more water and water table in the surrounding areas also increased.
Several years ago when Pingori tank held more water, it had fish in it and fishery was existing, if not thriving. Silt and droughts killed this initiative. But with desilting, local youth introduced over 2 lakh fish seed in the tank and even formed a Fisheries Society. In addition to desilting, the villagers have also undertaken watershed works in nearby hills, especially continuous contour trenches (CCTs) which has helped significantly in raising water table and augmenting stream flows. Cumulative gain of desilting has been increased cultivation on over 300 acres of land and also increased fodder availability.
Pingori has a remarkable lady Sarpanch Ms. Pallavi Bhosale. Ms. Bhosale tells us “I know what it is not even to have drinking water in your home. As a Sarpanch in 2012-13 I was deeply saddened as I had to call for tankers every other day. I could see women from my village walk for miles for water. So many horticultural plantations had to be hacked. It was very disturbing. The entire village stood together and hence this could happen.”
Today Pingori has not called for a single tanker as yet, although the Purandar block has received less than 25% rainfall in this monsoon till date.
How does Pingori avoid water guzzling crops, now that Pingori tank has water? “As a gramsabha we don’t allow water guzzling crops like sugarcane in Pingori. Our water is very precious and we cannot give more water to a few.”
Medsinga village in Taluka & District of Osmanabad is a village of 2700 population. Drought and water scarcity is a regular feature in Osmanadabad in Marathwada and Medsinga is no exception. As SANDRP indicated during the rought of 2012-13, water from major dams in Osmanbad-Latur regions is almost exclusively diverted to sugarcane and sugar factories, leaving smaller villages high and dry.
The village has a tank built by the villagers themselves, 25-30 years ago. Villagers decided to desilt this tank and increase its water holding capacity.
Here, they built recharge shaft inside the tank bed to increase groundwater recharge. This was a 13m x 7m x 2m pit with 2ft x 2ft pit below that followed by a bore well 70 ft deep. Twine was wound around the borewell casing pipe before inserted into the shaft. The shaft was then filled with pebbles to facilitate water percolation.
The villagers also repaired about 16 cement bunds constructed about 10 years back. These bunds were leaking as parts of cement had washed away. The expenses of about Rs 7 lakhs was covered by Holistic Watershed Development and Mahatma Phule Water Conservation Programme.
The cumulative impact of desilting, recharge and repaired bunds was increased water availability in 27 wells and 32 borewells. There are 2 percolation tanks in the village constructed by Water Conservation Department. They have however lost their capacity due to siltation. Next phase of work plan includes desilting of these tanks.
Is increased water availability an end in itself?
The leaders in Pingori, Naigaon, Sinnar, etc., accept that watershed development is a long and complex process and not simply synonymous with increasing water availability. While it is very positive that water availability is indeed impacted by even short term measures, it seems to be essential that there is long term vision and a watershed approach behind these initiatives. In the absence of a long term vision, water guzzling crops and mismanagement of available resources can lead to a zero sum game. As reviewed by Soppecom in their review on watershed development in Maharashtra,[ii] in itself, watershed development can accentuate inequity by favoring the landed and the lower reaches as well as those who have the capacity to use pumps, siphons, etc.
Unfortunately the May 2013 Government of Maharashtra resolution of supporting nallah widening and deepening known as Shirpur Pattern and raising cement nallah bunds indiscriminately cannot really count as participatory, bottoms up process. Unscientific deepening and widening of streams is not only wasteful, but can also expose the groundwater aquifer, rather than helping recharge. It also raises additional questions of water availability in the downstream, exclusive work by mechanical equipment and not human effort that provides employment to the local needy, Shramadan, etc. While watershed development entails a ridge to valley approach where measures are taken right from the mountain top and logically culminate in the valley in form of bunds or weirs, indiscriminate erection of cement nallah bunds cannot qualify as watershed development. As Seema Kulkarni, Soppecom says, “Watershed program is a culmination of a watershed plan for a village or micro watershed. In the absence of such a plan, it is doubtful whether ad hoc measures can help”.
It is no wonder then that in the contractor-savvy Maharashtra, mega-scale projects like building thousands of cement bunds is looked at as a business venture than a critical intervention. According to reports, Government of Maharashtra through Agriculture and Water Conservation Department built over 3000 bunds spending more than 700 crores just in the last two years. As it is recently reported, many of the cement nallah bunds built hastily in 2013-14 after the Government GR are not holding water, some are built at hydrologically wrong locations, some are already damaged, some are built without sufficient desilting affecting water storage, etc. A Government inquiry has been constituted on the same in many districts.
From the experience of recent examples like Pingori, Naigaon, Devnadi or the older successes like Ralegaon Siddhi or Hiware Bazaar, it seems that Watershed Development is so much more than erecting some structures at the right places with the help of machines. As much as a technical process, it is also a social and ecological process. And it is indeed more effective that way.
– Parineeta Dandekar, Amruta Pradhan, SANDRP
1. This election time (Oct 10, 2014) report highlights the success story of similar local efforts in Jalna-Aurangabad area: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/bring-water-gain-goodwill/.
2. Since the implementation of Phad irrigation, a low cost and eco-friendly system that works without electricity, agricultural production has increased improving the situation of farmers in Yavatmal. (Sept 7, 2014) http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/oasis-hope-land-suicides
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.
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.
Loose Boulder Bunds
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.
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.
Vanarai 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.
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.