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Parched Gujarat has oases where water is harvested

AHMEDABAD, MAY 21: If it is water which has percolated down the earth in the villages, it is a stronger sense of oneness that has gone down into the minds of its people.

Thus the folk in several hamlets which have resorted to water-harvesting techniques do not frantically run for water in an otherwise parched Gujarat. Notwithstanding the elusive monsoons last year, the people in such areas manage to still use the `1998 water'.

Villagers who employed the traditional wisdom of retaining rainwater in their varied ways suiting the topography have thus ensured that there is enough water for household purposes and the cattle to survive.

By erecting checkdams across rivers or dykes along undulating lands, and growing grass and trees which avert sudden runoff of the water, the rustic folk in some areas of the drought-fraught state has been successful in either raising the local groundwater level or bringing down its salinity.

Another happy fallout of such endeavours, carried out invariably as community work, is the growing bond among the villagers. Besides having become acutely conscious of the value of each drop of water, each family participates in farming activities with the concept that it is the village that is benefitting from the process.

A press team taken to parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan by the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) saw that while people in one village were forced to collect water from pits dug along a dry riverbed, another hamlet a few kilometres away had wells providing water for even agricultural purposes, thanks to water-harvesting techniques.

Polapan, a South Rajasthan village with 120 families, used to witness massive migration during peak summers till 1994 when the local people opted for traditional water-harvesting techniques. The 650-acre village in Banswara district has 19 wells now of which 13 are being used for irrigation purposes. This is despite the fact that the village has no river flowing nearby.

Points out Agriculture Science graduate Vijay Senadia, who heads water resource management activities in the village, "Six years ago we raised dykes along the (undulated) land. At some places we grew trees which would virtually act as dykes if allowed to come up in rows. The end result of this contour-bunding technique is that rainwater would not be allowed to just get flushed out. Its flow would be made slow along several of the bounded fields, thus forcing the drops to percolate down and raise the watertable.''

Thus if Senadia's place has now 19 wells instead of what used to be just five in 1993, the adjoining Dokki village in northeast Gujarat has only pits dug along the dried-up Sukhi river. While women from the far and near villages of Dahod come there to fetch water in their pots after a long wait, men would try with newer pits as the ones dug would dry up after being constantly used for more than a week.

The efficacy of constructing watershed structures along small rivulets was depicted in a Dahod village, where children were seen rollicking in water stored by checkdams in regular succession.

Mahudi village, which has a 65-member cooperative council, has decided to use the `1998 water' only for household purposes and for the cattle. Thus the nearby fields are left barren but, unlike the usual sight in several villages of the state, the rural folk do not wait for the water-tanks to arrive.

If any watershed programme has to be fully effective, several bunds should be constructed along the course of a river. "The distance between each dams should be such that the mouth of the water stored by one bund should meet the tail of the next patch of water,'' explains Harnath Jagawat, who heads Sadguru, a leading environment NGO.

The earth is used to raise the bunds which would flatten down some of the mounds in the adjoining area. "Such levelled plots would as a result become farm fields,'' points out Sanjay Singh, who works with Sadguru.

The CSE, had as early as January arrived at the possibility of a drought hitting Gujarat, sent papers of caution and action to 100-odd top officials of the state. "But the response, expectedly, was apathetic. Initially, they said it was too early to work upon. Later they said it was too late,' regrets Eklavya Prasad, who networks CSE activities.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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