Saal maiin 8 mahinai kaam ke liye Mumbai jaatey hai, aur baki samay wapas yahan kheti kartey hai (For eight months in the year we travel to Mumbai for work and the remaining months we do farming here),” says Gangaram Singh, from Tontari village, Dholpur district, Rajasthan.

For several years, Dholpur district has been reeling under severe water challenges with not enough water to drink or for irrigation, cooking or to feed the animals. The district being primarily an agricultural area, this has been a major cause of concern for the villagers.

But now, things seem to be changing. “Ab dheere dheere log wapas aaney lagey hai kyoki paani 12 mahinai milta hai (Now, slowly, people are coming back to the village as water is available for 12 months),” says Singh.

What has changed the landscape of Tontari — where villagers regale visitors with tales of Paan Singh Tomar and Phoolan Devi who hail from their area — are two masonry check-dams on the river Bamani.

In terms of ground water, some years ago, this particular district came under the ‘critical category’. There was an urgent need to create additional storage of rainwater and facilitate local groundwater recharge.

This is where Coca-Cola India Foundation’s Anandana, along with Lupin Human Welfare & Research Foundation and Rajputana Society of Natural History, stepped in. They took up a check-dam construction project four years ago so that water storage and ground water recharge could go hand in hand.

The project was carried out with the help of local citizens and the gram panchayat, explains Anandana’s Rajiv Gupta. “The entire system is now being managed by the community members to ensure sustainable maintenance.”

And that has been the mandate of his Foundation since it was set up in 2008 to extend its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives to mitigate water stress and promote water sustainability.

Its Dholpur initiative was executed at a cost ₹3.33 crore; of this ₹93 lakh was spent on the first dam, ₹1.8 crore on the second, and ₹60 lakh on the lift irrigation facility.

Today, these check-dams have created a massive water reservoir, 6.5 km in length, with a capacity to store approximately 1.5 billion litres of water. The project has also revitalised most of the open dug wells and bore wells nearby. Usually shallow bore wells are the main source of drinking water in the village.

Their own pride

So, how has life changed with water now available for Singh and his fellow villagers? “Our boys sell pani puri in Mumbai, but now they will grow crops,” says Singh, looking wishfully at Swati Samvatsar of Rajputana Society of Natural History, a voluntary organisation involved with socio-economic reforms.

So proud are the villagers of their water resource that if you are a first-timer to the village, they insist you see the dams and, in fact, make you trek through the hilly terrain and wade your way through the waters.

The check-dam project was carried out with the help of local citizens and the gram panchayat

Next on the village’s wishlist is, “Har ghar mein pani (water available in every home)” This is where Samvatsar and Gupta feel the constraint. “There are certain things that only the government can do. We do talk to them. We have made water available, but there are other aspects that have to be taken care of by the government,” says Gupta.

Check-dams, one understands, but how can one get involved in a lift irrigation scheme? Isn’t that additional work? Gupta agrees. Milind Pandit from the Rajputana Society of Natural History, and the technical brain behind the project, explains how the lift irrigation scheme installed in the created reservoir works.

Water is lifted from the reservoir to the main chamber, which is situated at the top-most point in the command area, so as to distribute the water to the fields of the beneficiary farmers.

“Through this, farmers are able to irrigate more than 500 acres of land. Since the implementation of the project, ground water level has gone up by 8-10 feet in most of the open wells, which will benefit 11,000 people across five villages,” says Pandit.

Orchard farming too

With increased availability of water, it is hoped that the basic needs, including drinking, cooking, irrigation and sanitation, are met and will eventually improve livelihood options in the region. Those involved with the project are hopeful that, one day, they could help the farmers in orchard farming.

“Today they are only growing two food crops, including bajra. Soon, we want them to grow cash crops and subsequently do orchard farming,” says Samvatsar.

While changing the mindset on farming is one challenge, another is water conservation. “We cannot allow water to be wasted. There has to be an awareness campaign. Such changes do not happen in a day,” says Gupta, who, along with Pandit, Samvatsar and the local people, hopes to combat the challenges of climate change.

This article was originally published in Hindu Business Line