DECCAN HERALD Sunday, September 10, 2000

Potable water in saline zone

Harvesting rain water on rocky terrain and conserving it can be a near impossible task, but the residents of Bhenkara village in Gujarat, have given a new dimension to water harvesting techniques.

In Bhenkara, a village in Savarkundla taluka efforts to conserve water began in 1967 in a small way. It started when Bhagwanbhai constructed nullah plugs (earthen bunds) to harvest water to recharge his well. His son, Purnabhai, well versed in water storage techniques, tried to explain PTin his native Gujarati language. PT in water harvesting parlance means percolation time of rainwater. The sustained increase of PT has helped him and his brothers, grow three crops instead of, what previously used to be, one a year. The farmers in his village earn almost twice what their counterparts receive in the belts along arid neighbourhood districts of Gujarat. All this was the result of the villagers getting involved in community work being carried out under several watershed programmes in the area since 1995-96.

Bhenkara is a village on rocky terrain, where rainwater drained down and made its conservation an impossible task. In hard rocky soil, water does not percolate below 40-50 feet due to the abundance of black stones. Purnabhai, president of the village's water resource management committee says, In 1987-88, several earthen bunds were constructed to store rainwater for recharging wells. The farmers of our village benefited a lot. In 1990 again, an attempt was made to store water. In 1995-96 we began the work of water management in the village. Now surface-run-off rainwater is arrested in the catchment areas. Land was also levelled. Prior to this, due to undulating terrain water used to flow down. In 1994, when farmers of Bhenkara village participated in the monthly meeting organised by Sri Kundla Taluka Gram Sewa Mandal (SKTGSM) that was held on a Poonam (full moon) day, they came to know about the benefits of rainwater harvesting. Says Purnabhai, I knew about the benefits of rainwater harvesting as early as 1987-88. Near my land, I constructed nullah plugs for recharging the wells. But to start it in a full-fledged manner I needed technical assistance and guidance which was provided by SKTGSM.Sitting next to him Chaggibhai, his brother says, We knew the benefits of constructing nullah plugs from our childhood as my father Bhagwanbhai got encouraging results.Now even our children are taken out to fields as a part of their academic exercise in school. They are taught to sow, water and harvest,points out Laxmanbhai, the sarpanch of Bhenkara village. Bhenkara's water resource management committee forms part of several such projects being carried out in 35 villages in Savarkundla block of Amreli district by the SKTGSM headed by Manubhai Mehta, considered to be one of the pioneering practitioners of Gujarat's traditional water harvesting technique. It is not just afforestation, fodder development, and land-shaping that the SKTGSM has taken up. Mehta and his band of 250 volunteers, has been tackling the problems of water scarcity of 82 villages for nearly a decade. SKTGSM has resorted to innovative measures like desalinating some marshy patches to render the water potable and land arable.

The farmers earn almost twice what their counterparts do in the arid districts. All this
was possible because they got involved in the watershed programmes

The brackish water at Shelna village had been unsuitable for farming, let alone being potable till 1998. The SKTGSM, with a grant from the Sir Dorabji Trust, began raising dykes that checked the run-off rainwater allowing it to mix with saline water, thus diluting the salinity to a considerable extent. Two checkdams, three percolation tanks, a nullah plug and a farm pond have now made the water in the wells fit for cooking. SKTGSM lays emphasis on people's participation while executing the project costing Rs 16.25 crore. The advantage with the functionaries of SKTGSM is that relations with the village community dates back 50 to 60 years. Moreover, Savarkundla is located in an area where it would be difficult to receive water from Sardar Sarovar Project or any other canal. Since water is so scarce, we have no option but to manage it better,says Aswinbhai Trivedi, team leader of SKTGSM's water management project. In Bhenkara, productivity doubled after they built 6 earthen dams, recharged 200 wells and dug trenches to collect rainwater. They have been able to grow more cash crops and express their joy at not having to depend entirely on rain-fed agriculture.

SKTGSM was founded in 1936 by the Gandhian trio of Keshbai Bhavsar, Lallubhai Seth and Amlukhbhai Khimani, who were pioneers of social activism in the taluka and are now no more. In pre-independent India, when the taluk faced the problem of heavy levying on millet (bajra), the trio decided to take up cudgels on behalf of the farmers. The taluk, infested with dacoits compelled these pioneers to involve the people to put up a resistance against criminal activities. Their commitment towards a social cause stemmed from their deep involvement in the freedom movement. After independence the SKTGSM became a platform to initiate a campaign for the dissolution of princely states, for turning Gandhi's dream of Gram Swarajinto a reality. The focus of the mandals activities was to make the villages self-reliant. Community involvement in its development projects has been astounding, as it is visible in its monthly meeting on poonam days. SKTGSM activists have, with the help of the people achieved a lot in water management in the 82 villages of the taluka. They have built 826 kacha bandhra (row water enclosures) against a target of 800, 78 check dams, 30 ponds against a target of 12 and 3,711 hectares of land was levelled against a goal of 3,500 hectares. The mandal distributed 3 lakh trees to the villagers out of which 1,21,800 were planted. The concerted effort towards water conservation helped in increasing the groundwater table and the farmers were able to irrigate 9,989 acres of land.

Remarks Sonabai, a shepherdess of Pithavadi village, Now our well has more water. There is ample water for the cotton crop. I have been able to repay half of my debts. Now we do not need any help from the government. Villagers do not depend on government schemes for subsistence and they have ensured that future generations too will be economically independent.

Charkha Features


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