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Tuesday 25 April 2000

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Oasis in drought-hit Saurashtra

By Mihir Mistry

The Times of India News Service

AHMEDABAD: Three years after they had accomplished the impossible - building their own checkdams with money borrowed from the banks, - the people of Devgadh at Mendarda taluka of Junagadh are sitting pretty while the rest of Saurashtra reels under drought.

Like any other village in north Gujarat and Saurashtra, the people of Devgadh did not think twice before installing diesel sets to pump out ground water in the mid-eighties and early nineties. In a decade, the pumps ran dry.

Farm productivity plummeted and agriculture, a full-time job, became a seasonal (monsoon) occupation.

The people realised they were responsible for the situation, says Sanjay Dave of Charkha, an NGO.

For a village that did not even have a primary health centre and with just 650 odd residents, the task was enormous. However, there was no looking back.

They pooled their meagre resources and constructed four check-dams with the help of a non-governmental organisation. ``No funding, no engineering backup from the irrigation department, just hard work and a sense of co-operation,'' Dave says.

The villagers founded the Devgadh Gram Vikas Mandal and approached the block officers of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme who promised to partially fund their project.

They decided to commission two checkdams in the first year - 1996. They pooled in about Rs 45,000, deposited the money with Dena Bank and took a loan on that deposit.

Management committees, supervisory and legal committees were formed and rich farmers pledged to give water for construction. They used their clout to procure cement and bricks at low rates. The not-so-affluent farmers and their families chipped in with shram daan - free labour.

By the end of 1997, the dams were built and with the two subsequent monsoons of 1998 and 1999, they had enough water to recharge all the sub-terranean sources that had run dry. Even in 1999, although the rainfall was not very good, the dams did manage to collect some water. ``Today Devgadh is reaping the harvest,'' says Narendra Matalia of AKRSP.

While other parts of Saurashtra and north Gujarat have no water, the people of Devgadh have enough ground water. All they have to do is to re-haul their old diesel sets and start pumping again and exploit the recharged ground water reserves.



The Economic Times


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