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Vyas scripts a success story in water harvesting

VAJDI (RAJKOT), JUNE 14: Vajdi, about 20 km away from Rajkot city, is hardly the place you would think of an orchard. Unless you were planning to grow cactus, since only the prickly plant can survive in this land of boulders, hard, rocky soil and little water. Or, unless you were Squadron Leader R K Vyas.

At Vajdi, on the Rajkot-Kalavad-Jamnagar state highway, the dry land suddenly springs a patch of green. To those accustomed to the barren landscapes of parched Saurashtra, the `Hari Mukund Farm' is like an oasis. Rows and rows of young trees of pomegranate, guava, asapalav, lime, custard apple, mango and papaya sway in an acre that had once been declared kharabo, or barren land. There are more surprises on the farm -- onions, bhindi, tuvar dal, limdo.

The wheelchair-bound Vyas, the man who has touched gold and green with his efforts, navigates through his farm, giving the villagers tips on conserving water and growing plantations.

Vyas broke his spinal cord in 1979 when a trainer aircraft he was piloting crashed at the National Defence Academy at Khadakvasla, where he was then posted. The accident paralysed him waist-down for ever and brutally cut short a career in the defence. Even though his family, hailing from Siddhpur-Patan, lives in Calcutta, Vyas decided to settle in Jamnagar, where he had once been posted as a pilot.

``I found Rajkot a peaceful place to settle in. But when I bought half an acre of land at Vajdi to start a farm five years ago, people thought I had gone mad. This piece of land was supposed to be kharabo where nothing could be grown,'' says Vyas. But that didn't deter him. ``When we started digging up the land, only boulders showed up. But we went ahead and after much digging, dumped 150 tractors of black soil all over the place and sowed groundnut.''

However, only when the rains failed and the groundnut crop withered away did Vyas realise that water was his biggest problem. ``There were two borewells, yet the water level had gone down. I realised then that unless we conserved water, saved every bit of it and recharged the water table, nothing would ever grow here.'' Vyas could also not afford to depend on buying water from tankers because they brought saline water, which killed several of his plants.

As a first step, Vyas had a percolation well dug in the middle of the farm. Says his wife Preeti, ``The toughest thing was to plough the farm again around the well to make it porous so that the water spread and the entire farm got covered.'' Now, channels and inlets using cement pipes have been created to divert rain water. Rain water from the terrace is also stored in a tank from where it flows into the fields. ``Two good showers fill the percolation well and 24 hours later, the water spreads into the farm, giving life to my plants,'' says Vyas.

Vyas says he has used a simple scientific technique of irrigating and farming. ``By studying the gradient, I found out which way the rain water flows and diverted it to the well which recharged the water table. We also made the soil porous enough for the water to spread to the roots. And we grew plantations depending on the water requirement. Despite this, when the bores don't yield enough water, we have to get a couple of tankers.''

Today, there are nearly 1,000 trees at the farm. And Vyas has become an expert of sorts for villagers who had once dismissed him as a dreamer.

Devjishibhai, a mamber of the Vajdi panchayat, says: ``We never thought that with a little effort, so much could be grown here. This was supposed to be a waste land but it can be turned into gold.''

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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