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They get water at their doorstep

NAGPUR, APRIL 29: Ten years ago, Bhagabai Pohale would walk one kilometre and wait for hours for one gund (a medium sized vessel) paani. Today, while her counterparts in adjacent villages continue their long haul for a few drops of the life-giving liquid, Bhagabai gets her potful right at her doorstep.

For her and the 1,500 residents of Manegaon village, Saoner taluka, about 29 kms from Nagpur, water shortage was among the biggest problems the village once faced. Today, Manegaon is counted as a model village, and apart from enjoying abundant water, the villagers are discovering a whole new way of living.

Till about eight years ago, Manegaon was grappling with an acute water shortage. Over-exploitation of ground water for agriculture caused the water levels to dip drastically and the village wells started drying up. Then, the bank of the Kolar river, which flows into a stream near the village, dried up as well. The only water source was a well which belonged to one of the families which demanded money for water supply. Water tankers soon became a common sight in summer.

In 1992, three friends decided to change all of that: Laxmanrao Saoji, a retired police official, Vinayakrao Kae, an agriculturist and Baburao Choudhary, a retired headmaster. They learnt of the Vanrai organisation's `Shramshakti Dwara Gram Vikas' (village development through voluntary labour) project. "By then, we were sure that we had nothing to gain by butting our heads against the bureaucracy," Saoji said. They approached Girish Gandhi, regional chief and trustee of Vanrai, and the organisation adopted the village.

Vanrai has not just scripted a successful watershed development programme, but a turnaround for Mangaon. Villagers were administered an oath to stop illegal grazing and denudation of forest cover, desist from alcoholism and other addictions and spread literacy. Vanrai dispatched 4,500 empty plastic cement bags to the village to build a temporary bandhara over the Kolar river, causing a rise in water levels. The villagers rented petromaxes from Saoner and completed the work within 15 days. In the first year itself, a well located on the bank of the stream which had gone bone dry struck water. This indigenous catchment area helped irrigate 108 acres of land.

Later, 50 villagers pooled their own money and toured other model villages in the State, including Ralegan-Siddhi. At present, Manegaon has five farm-ponds and four cement plugs on their land. A borewell also pumps water to all houses twice a day.

The effects have spread beyond a rise in water levels: the villagers have built a 1.5 km-long road from their village to their agricultural land and an overbridge on a narrow gauge railway track. An underground drainage system and lavatories have come up; the villagers have planted and protected more than 80,000 trees, educated more than 50 of their illiterate brethren and totally driven alcohol out of the village. A group of Below Poverty Line women have formed a Vanrai Mahila Gat

, and have got into the business of supplying utensils for marriages and other occasions.

The transformation has not been easy, and the changes may seem small. But what is really different for the villagers is a change in their attitude. The villagers have realised, after all these years, that their welfare literally lies in their hands.

WATER1: One of the women in Maegaon enjoys the luxury of collecting water right at her doorstep. Express Photo by Sangeeta Mahajan.

WATER2: A rose farm on two acres of Manegaon land stands green and proud. Express Photo by Sangeeta Mahajan.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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