Business Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, Sep 20, 2006
Industry & Economy
States - Gujarat
`Water revolution' sees arid Kutch bloom
Nabard kick-started the Kutch-Drought Proofing Project with the aim of empowering the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, those below the poverty line, women, to improve drinking water security and fodder security for cattle.
NOW, WATER not a problem for the villagers thanks to Nabard
Bhuj , Sept. 19
Ibrahim, a small farmer, was never so happy. Faithfully carrying a coconut, rose petals and `gulal' in a polythene bag, he persuades an official in the Nabard-led team of journalists to perform a symbolic `pooja' of the newly-surfaced water reservoir in a sparsely-populated village under Mandvi block of the arid Kutch district where a green cover now adorns the barren hills thanks to the 25 inches of average rains after quarter of a century.
Kutch never had it so good, old-timers say. Mr Kantisen Shroff, the 85-year Kutchi businessman and Chairman-Emeritus of the Mumbai-based Rs 600-crore Excel Industries Ltd, exclaims that if the killer temblor of 2001 brought in investments to the tune of hundreds of crores of rupees in its wake, the recent rains have virtually stopped migration of people from the desert district.
"In fact, we now find it difficult to even get labourers. Their wages have increased from Rs 60 to Rs 100 per day," said a Nabard official.
Mr Shroff, whose wife, Mrs Chandraben, started Srujan, the well-known NGO and not-for-profit trust in 1968, said he was proud to be associated with Nabard for ushering in a "water revolution" in the district where recurrent drought would earlier force the people to migrate to other places in search of livelihood for themselves and fodder for their cattle.
The district, that witnessed many of its migrants Wipro's Azim Premji, Bollywood music maestros Kalyanji-Anandji and the first pre-Independence Indian "Premier-in-Exile" Shyamji Krishna Verma, to name just a few make it good elsewhere, now seems to be working, finally, for its own development.
While Kutchi towns such as Bhuj, Bhachau, Anjar and Rapar now hardly betray any signs of the Republic Day earthquake of 2001, some of the rural areas have also emerged from the age-old drought-proneness, thanks to the projects undertaken by Nabard with the help of Srujan and other NGOs, and village community-based organisations (CBOs).
The Nabard Assistant General Manager, Mr Mukesh Thakkar, who hails from Latur in Maharashtra, informed that the rehabilitation of Kutch after the 2001 earthquake was better and faster than in Latur and it became possible through the people's participation. They worked as labourers on the projects, many without any wages. The Kutch Drought-Proofing Project (KDPP) was launched after the then Prime Minister, Mr A.B. Vajpayee's visit to the district in June 2001. While the relief and rehabilitation efforts took care of the immediate needs, there was a need to address the issues of long-term vulnerability and improve the capacity of the local rural population against recurring natural calamities such as drought. It was here that Nabard stepped in.
With the PMO sanctioning Rs 3.54 crore, Nabard kick-started KDPP in 10 villages in five talukas of Kutch district in April 2005 with the specific aim of empowering, in particular, the scheduled castes and tribes, those below the poverty line, women, to improve drinking water security and fodder security for cattle.
In particular, Srujan roped in professional hydrogeologists to work out a scientific scheme for the Nabard-sponsored water conservation and recharging projects that have now led to the development of even "kitchen gardens" in the rural areas of an otherwise arid district. All ten projects are scheduled to be completed by June 2007.
The three projects nearing completion are in villages Poladiya and Undoth, both under Mandvi block, and in village Chhuger Vand in Lakhpat taluka. While this year's record rainfall has created a number of water bodies in and around Poladia, the village with 100 houses and a population of 500 can now boast of some agriculture as well.
Located 65-km from Bhuj, its 753 hectares of land included nearly 500 hectares of wasteland, the arable land depending solely on meagre rainfall. Even drinking water had to be fetched from 8 km and cattle used to migrate almost half the year. Recently, the Narmada waters have begun to be supplied through the pipeline and tankers on alternate days, said the sarpanch, Mr Mahendrasinh Jadeja.
Mr Mansukh Patel, who works with the NGO Sahajanand Vikas Trust, said even women actively participated in developing three water storage reservoirs and five check-dams (stop-dams) aimed at storing 14 lakh cubic metres of water by June next year. When completed, the project would bring an additional 175 hectares of land under irrigation where the farmers would cultivate groundnut, bajra and wheat.
The Poladiya project was completed at a cost of Rs 1.27 lakh although Rs 2.30 lakh had been sanctioned for it. The balance funds would be utilised in similar projects, Mr Thakkar said.
Under the wasteland development programme, staggered contour trenches (SCT) and continuous contour trenches (CCT) have been sunk in a 25-hectare area.
With only Rs 95,000 used as cost of treatment, the farmers now hope to retain moisture of land and start plantation soon to develop it as grassland for their cattle. Medicinal and aromatic plants such as `google' are also being planted that fetches Rs 80 per kg.
With such hectic developments in rural areas of a remote district bordering Pakistan, the cost of land, too, has gone up.
Within a year of recharging of water resources, Poladiya has seen wasteland cost sky-rocketing four times from Rs 4,000 per acre to Rs 16,000.
In village Undoth, five reservoirs have been recharged and rain water has been stopped at many bunds, said Mr Ramjibhai, Secretary of the local Gram Samiti. The village farmers now look forward to growing cotton and groundnut.
Chhuger Vand village
The story is no less interesting in the village Chhuger Vand, the last-but-one village from Lakhpat on the border of the Rann of Kutch, 125 km from Bhuj.
The village is divided into two parts having a total area of 655 hectares. Since January last, 44.67 hectares of this have been treated. (Treatment of land means making a rocky, barren terrain viable for cultivation by first retaining water there and then planting the grass for cattle. After some years, crops may be grown in some of the patches.)
One of the divisions has 21 houses where 175 members of a single family tree of Muslims used to eke out a living as labourers or cattle-grazers. They all had electricity. None, however, had water till the Srujan Trust came to their aid.
But now, they are getting Narmada water through a pipeline from Dayapar town. The Nabard project has given them a 2.50 million cubic feet (mcft) reservoir-cum-storage tank that also functions as a percolation tank for recharging. The new facility is at the mouth of three streams to conserve water. Now, they plan to sow moong, jowar and groundnut.
As in Poladiya, this project was also completed recently at a cost of Rs 6 lakh against the sanctioned amount of Rs 8.50 lakh. In the other part of Chhuger, the 25 members of five families of the Jadeja clan are equally jubilant. The project started in April this year has created a reservoir with 5.50 mcft capacity that would irrigate about 50 acres of land.
A farmer, Khengarji Jadeja, said he would grow groundnut, isabgol and castor, using a submersible pump.
Jaimini Pandya and Vijen Trivedi, volunteers of Srujan, said about 200 acres of wasteland have been treated. Moreover, they have planned to plant about 10,000 trees and conserve another 11,000 to prevent water outflow and soil erosion in the village.
Another Nabard official, Dr Sunil Pandey, commented: "If the Kutchi people have the will, we have the way." The story of the Kutchi villagers overcoming all odds is no less fascinating than the urban Kutchis bouncing back in a big way. Kutch has never seen the kind of industrial revolution as it is becoming now. And yes, the Bhuj airport is now amongst the swankiest airports in India!
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