Water for the Asking

Five villages in east Rajasthan have thrown off the drought-prone tag through a singular endeavour and a little help from a non-profit organisation, writes Gurvinder Singh.

Forty-seven year old Genga Singh is happy nowadays, the reason being his productive crops. He plans to invest some money and buy seeds so he can grow a variety of vegetables. And he isn’t the only one planning on multiple farming. Hundreds of farmers like him are doing much the same in five villages of Dhaulpur district in eastern Rajasthan.

Multiple farming has been made possible because of a newly constructed check dam on the outskirts of village Totri in Dhaulpur that has facilitated water conservation and a steady supply for irrigation. Totri, whose ravines were once frequented by gun-toting dacoits and the mere mention of which would conjure images of terror, now serves as an example for the rest of the state.

Rajasthan is known for its hot and humid conditions where the scorching heat makes life miserable during summers, with the mercury shooting up to 500 degrees Celsius. The crisis worsens to the extent that people do not hesitate to keep their taps locked and even the tanks for storing water are divided along communal lines. Crossing swords over water is a regular affair and most farmers have to rely on bajra (pearl millet), a crop suitable for arid weather conditions. Farming, therefore, does not generate much of a livelihood and most people migrate or seek alternate means of livelihood when the wells and reservoirs run dry. The farmers of Dhaulpur, however, decided to change their fate.

“We were reeling under a severe water crisis, with drought-like conditions. The water level had fallen alarmingly in the bore wells. Our youth wasmigrating to other cities in search of livelihood, deserting their families. Only old people and several vacant houses were visible in every nook and corner of the village,” said Gopal, a resident, adding that the situation began to turn for the worse as a result of the migrating population increasing with each passing year.

On realising the fact that the state government would take several years to lend anear to their problem, they decided to find solution of their own. “We decided to build a check dam to tap the water of the Bamani river, a tributary of the Yamuna, which has a catchment area of 28,000 hectares. We ran to the district administration for permission but the officers were hostile andindifferent to our plight. They told us it would take years to start work as getting permission from the hierarchy was no cakewalk," said a villager, requesting anonymity.

Left with little hope of receiving financial aid, a non-profit organisation came to their rescue. The Lupin Human Welfare and Research Foundation, along with The Coca-Cola India Foundation (Anandana), promised to meet their financial expenses in constructing the dam and sanctioned Rs 93 lakhs for the project. A local civil engineer meanwhile extended a helping hand and prepared the design of the check dam. Its height was planned at around three meters, its width 72 meters. Finally, work began.

The villagers were so enthusiastic that they contributed in the construction and the services of labourers were hardly required. “From the young to the old, everyone volunteered and it was completed within six months,” said Hem Singh Kushwaha, the sarpanch of the nearby village.

After construction of the dam, the next job was to supply water to the fields. A pipeline of around 7.5 kilometers was laid, with the villagers maintaining the check dam. This has changed the fate of around 12.000people in five villages -Totri, Bhimagarh, Reti, Jhande ka Purrah and Kallapura.

With water for irrigation, apart from bajra, the farmers could now grow tomatoes, okra and a variety of other vegetables over an area of around 1.000 hectares. The dam has also brought smiles to the faces of women and their children because the breadwinners who left are slowly returning to their families.

Ummeed singh, whose son had left to work in Mumbai and has returned now, said, “He had no alternative after all our sources of income were exhausted. He worked in Mumbai but was homesick and was missing his children. He finally returned afterthe farms began to give a profit. We are now better off financially than most of our counterparts elsewhere in the state. The check dam has come as a ray of hope for us as it has revitalised several tube wells and hand-pumps there is easily available water for irrigation.” 

The district officials, too, praised the farmers and the NGO for thecommendable job in resolving the water crisis to an extent.

This article was first published in The Statesman. The journalist, Gurvinder Singh was in Dhaulpur at the invitation of Anandana, The Coca-Cola India Foundation