Maharashtra village rejuvenated through water harvsting

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New Delhi, Dec 29 (UNI) Hiware Bazaar village in Ahmednagar district has set an amazing example of ecological regeneration, mainly through water harvesting.

The success story of this village of a thousand-odd families in the drought prone region of Maharashtra has been narrated by environmentalist and Centre for Science and Environment director Sunita Narain in the latest issue of science magazine 'Down to Earth'.

In 1972, when Maharashtra faced water scarcity, a percolation dam was built under a new employment guarantee scheme, but this structure was not sucessful as it started leaking.

The next water harvesting structure resulted in a killing in the village, as people fought over the water it provided. Villagers took to making, drinking and selling country liquor. The surrounding forests vanished as people fell trees to make a living, and by early '90s, migration was the only alternative to poverty in this village.

However, in clear contrast, the village today is surrounded by thick forest and vast expanses of grass and lush green fields.

Last year, the village's own raingauge showed rainfall had been good- some 541 mm. But this year it was below average-some 300 mm.

This rain had come after three years of drought. So, small rainfall gave huge returns. Sunita Narain gives a first hand account of how this became possible.

The turnaround, says Ms Narain, began in the early '90s when Popat Rao Pawar took over as village sarpanch. This post graduate was persuaded to return to the village but his initial efforts bore little fruit.

However, soon the state government initiated the Adarsh Gram Yojana (model village plan). This programme, modelled on the work of Ralegan Siddhi village and on its creator, Anna Hazare, was based on five principles: bans on cutting trees, free grazing, and liquor; family planning and contributing village labour for development works.

Hiware Bazaar opted to be part of this scheme. The first work to be taken under it was to plant trees on forestland and people were persuaded to stop grazing on these lands.

Between 1995 and 1998, the state's employment guarantee scheme was used to provide money to village workers to dig trenches and bunds along the contours in the forestland to hold water. Then it built check dams in the drains and dug village tanks.

People invested in levelling their fields to hold water. It is estimated that this contribution alone cost them over Rs 70 lakh in labour and equipment. The gains were big. For a start, grass productivity increased and this in turn pushed up milk yields. By 2007, the village sold 3,000 litres of milk daily.

As water became available, new wells were dug: there was one well for each household. Pawar says he soon realized that when water is not at a premium, people lose sight of community concerns. The attitude is-"This is my water and I will use it for growing high value crops, even if it depletes the water table." In 1997, the village decided not to grow sugarcane.

This wasn't enough. Nearby villages were prospering by growing high-value crops for export. What could persuade Hiware Bazaar residents to do things differently? The village started keeping records of its wells: each month's data from six observation wells was matched with data from four rain-gauges and related to its watersheds.

This started the system for water audits: the village worked with the local state groundwater agencies to assess water availability and to match it with cropping patterns. Each year the area under each crop was calculated in terms of its water need. This year, for instance, the gram sabha decided that there was not enough rainfall to support wheat, so they agreed not to grow wheat, as they said, they could see their wells had less water. Science and practice had built bridges.

''The village has a simple rule: if there is 100 mm rainfall then there is drinking water for all and enough for one crop; 200 mm of rainfall gets the village drinking water, one full crop and two half crops (crops planted on half the field); and if the rainfall is 300 mm or more then the village is assured drinking water and irrigation for three full crops.

''In other words, little rain but assured gains. The question is, can this model be replicated? Can this laboratory of development be a teacher to others?'', asks Ms Narain.


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