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The Indian Express: Top stories: Full story
Tuesday, April 24, 2001

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The Indian Express North American Edition


Rajasthan village learns to harvest water again, reaps riches

Megha Baree

Nimbi, April 23: Radhu Gujar, a resident of Nimbi village, has two weddings in his family and for once, he can afford to invite the entire village. He has a huge feast planned for the occasion but is not worried about the cost — thanks to the earthen dam that was built in his villages, he has been earning enough for the past two years.

He’s not the only one in Nimbi. The entire village is undergoing a transformation of sorts — both on the growth and lifestyle fronts.

Though he owns 40 beeghas of land, Radhu used to earn a mere Rs 40,000 from one harvest and his 35-member family had to make do within that.
But with the construction of the earthen dam and the availability of water, his income has gone up to Rs 1.25 lakh, ensuring him a much more comfortable lifestyle. While most of Rajasthan and many tven other parts of the country have been affected by severe droughts over the past three years — and bracing for a worse time this year — Nimbi remains unperturbed.

Legend has it that 200 years back, the local ruler had a check dam built. It ensured enough water for both irrigation and everyday use, besides adding to the water table and more importantly, keeping the soil fertile.

But in the 1900s, the dam developed caracks and finally broke down. Since then, rains have been the only source of water available to the entire village — and obviously not enough. The wells dried up, the water table depleted and there was rapid deforestation. With income from farming falling to virtually nothing, the villager migrated to cities in hope for a better living.

Then in 1994, help came in the form of the Tarun Bharat Sangh, (TBS) an NGO working in the field of water harvesting in many villages in Alwar district. They were involved in building build dams, or johads, and repairing existing ones.

However, even as TBS agreed to help out the villagers, the proposal came with conditions attached. It wanted 25 per cent of the cost of the dam to be borne by the villagers, each villager donate either money or labour, deforestation and alcoholism to be stopped at once. The last was very important because at the time. there were nine families producing and selling liquor in the village.

Ready to take some drastic measures to improve their lot, two check dams were built — at a cost of Rs 5 lakh — using only the soil of the village and in just two months. Three smaller structures were also built to stop the sand from blowing over the land and ruining the soil. Soon after that, it took just a few years for the water level to rise, wells to get recharged and sub-surface water levels to increase to an extent that in certain parts of the village, no irrigation is required to grow vegetables.

And once the land turned fertile, people stopped going to the cities in search of work. And agriculture too improved. Till 1994, Nimbi had only produced rabi and kharif crops of wheat, pulses, til, methi, sarson and so on, with only 400 beeghas of land being arable.

However, since the sub-surface water level has increased, the land has become perfect to grow vegetables like cucumber, kakdi, watermelon, pumpkins, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, among others.

But since the villagers were themselves not familiar with the growth pattern of these vegetables, the have had to lease out this land to contractors who bring their own labourers. Still, there are now 800 beeghas of arable land in the village, with vegetables being grown in at least 500 beeghas and flowers in 20 beeghas.

Hence, from being a drought-prone land Nimbi has become a source of income for people from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Bangladesh and Madhya Pradesh for six months every year and in turn they receive Rs 3,000 per bigha - this is for the same land which a few years earlier no one wanted to buy fo Rs 1,000 per bigha.

Take the case of Radhu. Out of his 40 beegha of land he leases 16 beegha to the contractors to grow vegetables. This money has been enough for him to make his house pukka, add a couple of rooms, and get new clothes for everyone in the family for the wedding.

Express Columnists

© 2001: Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd. All rights reserved throughout the world.