Kutch District, Gujarat

Climate Arid with an average. rainfall of 315 mm per year between June and September. The number of rain days in a year usually does not exceed 4-5.
People Maldharis are a community of pastoralists. They are descendants of nomads who periodically came from Pakistan, Rajasthan and other parts of Gujarat, and finally settled in the the Banni grasslands. Major local communities include the Sindhi Sunni Muslims, Harijans, Lavanas and Vadhas. Main sources of income are sale of high quality ghee, milk, wool, animals and handicrafts. Due to various reasons, the occupational pattern is changing from livestock breeding to livestock grazing. 
Description There are almost no rivers or natural streams in Banni. However, about 100 rivers and rivulets flowing northwards from Kutch mainland drain into the Banni along it's southern boundary. Area near this boundary gets flooded during the monsoons mainly by the water brought by these rivers and local rainfall. It is this annual flooding that has given rise to what is often called Asia's finest natural grasslands. The groundwater table in the region is shallow and very saline. 

Over the centuries the Maldharis have developed a rainwater harvesting technique called the "well-in-tank" system. Banni is a very flat area but by studying the movement of water during the monsoons, the people have learned to locate water accumulating zones. Jheels (tanks) are built in these depression areas. At the bottom of each jheel are small shallow hand-dug wells called "virdas".The water and silt brought by the runoff accumulates in the jheel and infiltrates the ground. For some months the Maldharis first use the water which has accumulated into the jheel. When there is no water left in the depressions they remove the silt from one of the virdas. After a certain period of use (about 20-40 days), a virda progressively becomes saltier and cannot provide freshwater any longer. The Maldharis then dig out the accumulated silt form the next one, located just a few meters away. Over the centuries, they have gradually managed to determine the optimum locations, depths, spacing, pumping rates and pumping sequences of the virdas to ensure production of the largest quantity of freshwater and minimize mixing with the saline groundwater.

Images:

Sectional View of a Jheel  Plan View of a Jheel Structure of a Virda Dimensions of a Virda
(Source: Ferroukhi, L.) 

This complex traditional technique allows the Maldharis to collect a maximum of rainwater falling over the area and ensures the availability of drinking water even during scarcity years. The structures are maintained by the community and open to everyone. They play a very important role in the daily loives of the people.

This ecologically sustainable technique has come under increasing threat from construction of large-scale dams which cut off the sources for the seasonal runoff water streams. The grasslands itself are under pressure due to man-made  (overgrazing) and natural (recurring droughts, salinity ingress) factors in the past decades. For a more detailed description refer to the study by Lyes Ferroukhi.

 

Reference An Ecologically Sound Water Harvesting System Under Threat - Lyes Ferroukhi, Swedish Univ. of Ag. Scs.

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