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COMMUNITY MANAGEMENT IN GROUNDWATER

http://www.groundwatermanagement.org/do ... praxis.pdf

Rajasthan, India

Very similar in aridity to Balochistan is the Indian state of Rajasthan. Western Rajasthan, constituting large part of the Thar Desert is mostly arid. With annual rainfall of 300-500 mm, Eastern and Southern Rajasthan are semi-arid with pockets of extensive groundwater overdraft. In Eastern Rajasthan, many NGOs have been able to catalyze community action in rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge. Some of the most notable work of this kind is by such NGOs as Tarun Bharat Sangh and PRADAN, which offer important lessons about alternative modes of organizing community-based groundwater resource management.
PRADAN, a multi-state NGO, began working in Alwar District in the 1980s with the local administration in Kishangadh Bas to improve the implementation of anti-poverty programmes. Following this beginning PRADAN, Alwar developed a water conservation project in the Mewat region that aimed at the revival of the traditional Pal system of rainwater harvesting. A Pal is a bund built along a contour and in many ways is a miniature version of a tank but without sluice gates and canals. A typical Pal is made of earth, around 8-12 ft high and around 12-15 ft wide at the base; but some of the larger Pals are 80-100 m long. Grass or vegetation is grown along the sides so that the soil erosion is minimized; and the top of the bund is used as a cart road. PRADAN helped build over 110 pals in Alwar in a watershed planning framework with some watersheds having several pals. The development of the recharge structures was preceded by an intense effort at developing democratic and representative community organizations.
The Pals serve a number of functions:
a) they prevent the massive soil erosion that floods otherwise cause, making the plains as bare and rocky as the surrounding hills;
b) by reducing the velocity and force of rainwater run-off, they greatly reduce the pressure that the floods would place on the dams constructed downstream;
c) they make the flood waters spread over a larger area than was previously the case; and
d) each pal forms a mini-tank of shallow depth; water stays for 50-60 days during which over 60% percolates to the shallow aquifer while the rest evaporates. The last two ensure large-scale recharge of groundwater-bearing strata and facilitate well irrigation.
PRADAN has been able to build on a modest scale without losing out on quality. Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), operating in the same district, has used a different approach to community participation in local water management. In its Johad building programme, TBS has achieved what most NGOs want but fail to - scale. They work in roughly 550 villages spread over 5 subdivisions of Alwar district. In comparison, its efforts at developing community organizations have been less intense and comprehensive. The water harvesting work of TBS covers approximately 6500 km² area; and therefore its impact is visible to outsiders as well as to people living in these villages. It has been working with a variety of water harvesting structures including bund (bunds), johads Water Praxis Document Nr. 14
Local groundwater regulation 8
(small ponds or reservoirs), medbundi (farm bunds), etc. However, the centrepiece of their work has been the johad. They have built around 2,000 of these already. They began slowly at a rate of 20/year but have gathered momentum and since the mid-1990s, have done around 350-400 every year.
A Johad basically is no different from the Pals that PRADAN works with. Its purpose is to check rainwater in gullies and riverbeds, impound the water so checked for 50-60 days while the land in the submergence area ‘drinks water, quenches its thirst and fills up its stomach like camels do’ (as the local farmers would say). Spill-ways called uparahs are provided to allow excess water to overflow. After the water dries up, crops are grown in the ‘peta’ lands; and wells get recharged so that additional irrigation becomes possible. Pals are designed similarly. However, Johads are invariably designed as semi-circular structures; whereas Pals are normally straight bunds. Essentially, there is no difference. Both are low-cost, but priceless devices for capturing, storing and optimally using limited rainfall in an undulating topography.
An important lesson TBS’s work offers in development is that scale begets scale. Once the benefits of development work become visible and talked about amongst villages, demand for similar work emerges on its own; and once a demand system gets created, half the job of eliciting farmer participation is done. TBS has built large concentrations of johads in areas where they began working in 1985 or thereabouts. These concentrations have produced what many believe are demonstrable impacts on farm economies as well as the ecology of these areas. Wells which a few years ago were completely dry or could hardly be pumped for an hour a day now abound in water and can be pumped for as long as farmers need them. Several small rivers and numerous natural streambeds that had dried up for decades have suddenly sprung into life and many flow perennially. Farms which had not been cultivated and given up as wasteland have begun growing crops like arson, wheat, make, etc. To TBS’s endless worry, some sugarcane cultivation has also begun. Many abandoned wells have been recommissioned. And an area, which had become a lost cause, has become green and is poised on a reverse road to prosperity. Even up-lying lands, which did not yet benefit from TBS’s interventions seem to command a better market price. Some of the prime land in areas with johad concentration has shot up to USD 10-1,2000 per ha.
A major impact of johad concentrations has been in checking both floods as well as droughts. In the parts of Alwar district which have a dense concentration of TBS supported ohad and other water harvesting structures, the effect of the 1996 flood was minimal or absent all together; elsewhere, floods devastated villages, destroyed pucca bunds and in general created great havoc. So their earlier surmise that johads are effective drought-proofers was surpassed by this experience. A dense system of johads cuts the pace and fury of sheet flows that race down the hills at a fearsome speed and force, and thus pre-empts what might otherwise become a flood.

TBS’s works are cheap compared with government structures. A couple of mid-sized pucca bunds cost only around USD 700 each besides farmers’ contributions. The same bunds would have cost USD 9-14,000 at least had they been built by the Irrigation


Department. In the areas where johads are built in clusters, surrounding areas have become lush green and rapeseed yellow; wells had water at 3-4 m; the number of diesel pumps had begun soaring, and small streams and rivulets had begun flowing. The traditional institutions of managing water harvesting structures were beginning to be revived pretty much on their own; and there was an enhancing of water retention. In Hammirpur, for instance, the land under the bund belonged to a private farmer; the village Gram Sabha persuaded him to give his land for building the bund and compensated him by creating a new holding by cutting up small pieces from the lands belonging to farmers in the submergence area.
Several lessons emerge from the comparative experience of PRADAN and TBS. First, PRADAN’s emphasis on building sustainable local institutions improved the quality of their work but checked the speed and scale of their work; in contrast, TBS’s functional approach to building ad hoc local organizations helped them quicken and upscale their work. Secondly, building water-harvesting structures in clusters enhanced the impact of each in impounding water, checking flash floods and recharging the aquifer. Finally, as communities got involved in ‘producing’ water, new norms on water management, appropriation and use began to emerge which were absent when water was seen as gift from God.

2.3 Saurashtra Gujarat, India

By far the most energetic and inspired response to the intensification of groundwater scarcity globally has come in the form of a mass movement for well recharge and water conservation in Saurashtra in Gujarat (India). As with Rajasthan and Balochistan, Gujarat is a low rainfall area. Even more than the other areas, it has seen a widespread decline in groundwater tables, bringing with it added problems such as fluorosis.
The Saurashtra recharge movement was catalyzed first by the Hindu religious teacher Swadhyaya Pariwar and subsequently joined by other sects of Hinduism as well as by scores of NGOs and grassroots organizations in the aftermath of the three-year drought in 1985-1987. Way back in 1978, speaking at the inauguration of a common property forest (Vriksha Mandir), another charismatic leader, Pandurang Shastri Athawale, or Dada as he is popularly known amongst his devotees, had told his followers: ‘If you quench the thirst of Mother Earth, she will quench yours …’. This teaching was found prophetic, but 10 years later the warning seemingly became true. The three successive drought years that Gujarat - in particular, Saurashtra and Kutch - faced in 1985-1987 brought water issues to their cyclical peak in the public mind. Taking a cue from Israel, Pandurang Athavale began asking his followers why can farmers in North Gujarat and Saurashtra not adapt and improvise on the techniques used the world over for harvesting and conserving rainwater in situ. ‘The rain on your roof, stays in your home; the rain on your field, stays in your field; rain on your village, stays in your village’, was the talisman he gave to the people of Saurashtra. Many Swadhyayee farmers began trying out alternative methods of capturing rainwater and using it for recharging wells.

In the 1989 monsoon, there were isolated experiments throughout Saurashtra; but in some Swadhyayee villages, the entire community tried out such recharge experiments on all or a majority of the fields; and here, they found the results stupendously beneficial. The beneficial results of early well recharge experiments by Swadhyayee communities began to be communicated and shared widely in 1990. Come 1991: the well recharge experiments began multiplying in scale. 1991 was a good monsoon, which helped these experiments to succeed. It was in the 1992 monsoon that these recharge experiments began taking the shape of a movement. Farmers of all hue — Swadhyayees and others — began collecting as much rainfall as they could on their fields and in the village and channelling it to a recharge source. This was exactly opposite of what they had done for ages so far; during the monsoon, the standard operating procedure was to divert rain-channels to a neighbour’s field or a common land or a pathway; not now; now everyone wanted to link all natural water-carrying channels — on private, public or no-man’s land — to his well or farm pond for recharge. Stories began doing the round inside and outside the Swadhyaya Pariwar about groups of Swadhyayees building check dams or deepening tanks or building anicuts or working together to recharge all private wells in the village. By now, many small and large NGOs joined the movement, each trying to help in its own way. A resource centre (Saurashtra Lok Manch) compiled information on technologies used by different groups of farmers for well recharge, printed it along with illustrative pictures and made these leaflets available in every nook and cranny of Saurashtra. The well-recharge movement had caught on like wildfire; and now, it was not just Swadhyayees; farmers of all persuasions joined in.
After 1995, many local NGOs took to groundwater recharge activities in a big way. Another major influence was that of diamond merchants in the city of Surat. Over 700,000 households in Saurashtra depend on the diamond industry for all or part of their livelihoods. While most Saurashtrians work as workers in diamond cutting and polishing units in Surat, some hit it big as diamond merchants and acquired great riches. All these have strong roots in Saurashtra; and recently, diamond merchants have been at the forefront of Saurashtra’s recharge movement not only as resource providers but also as catalysts and organizers. More recently, the Government of Gujarat’s ‘check dam’ scheme - under which government contributes 60% of the resources required to build a check dam if the village comes up with the other 40% - has provided a further stimulus to the popular water harvesting and recharge movement. Some 12,000 check dams of various sizes have been constructed under this scheme.
There are no formal studies of the actual scale of the well recharge work; however, many different sources suggest that between 1992 and 1996, between 92,000 and 98,000 wells were recharged in Saurashtra; and some 300 Nirmal Neer (farm ponds for recharge) were constructed. Swadhyaya Parivar workers were so enthused that they set themselves a target of over 125,000 wells and over 1,000 farm ponds during 1997. It is widely believed that if 500,000 wells in Saurashta are recharged, the region can solve its irrigation as well as its drinking water problem.
Two aspects of the well-recharge movement are significant: first, the dynamic of the movement, especially with respect to appropriate technological innovation in water
harvesting, conservation and recharge; and secondly, why did it succeed in attracting as broad a people’s participation as it seems to have. According to some observers, since 1992, several dozen new methods have been designed for capturing rainwater, conserving it and using it for recharge. In terms of complexity, these are no big deal; most of them are improvisations on old methods; but they have been devised by farmers experimenting, learning, improving, perfecting and then propagating. The Swadhyaya Pariwar has an ingenious communication machine that propagates information on new techniques widely and rapidly; Shamjibhai Antala of Saurashtra Jalsewa Trust, acted as a one-man communication machine, taking the message of well recharge from village to village. The basic technique of well recharge is simple and involves drawing channels to direct all the rainwater in a sump or sink-pit (typically 1.2*1’*1 m) made beside the well; a channel is made from the sump to the well 15 cm above the bottom of the sump so that dirt and soil in the water settles at the bottom and the water that flows into the well is free of them. Over time, the well-recharge movement has brought in its wake a veritable revolution in experimentation and improvisation in recharge techniques. Starting with wells, the movement began encompassing other recharge sources such as rooftops, water logged land, soak pits, rivers, tanks. Also, starting with Swadhyayees, later Swaminarayan Sampradaya and other religions sects played a crucial role in capturing this continuous learning in print and propagating it across the countryside. What makes this a movement is that none of the participating organizations play a domineering role in supporting or spreading the activity; thus in most senses, the movement is self-orchestrating, self-coordinating and self-propagating.
Why did the well recharge experiment catalysed by the Swadhyaya Pariwvar and crusaders such as Shamjibhai Antala grow into a movement? Several reasons can be advanced; but the correct response is probably a combination of several of these.

First, the strong allegiance of core Swadhyayees to Athavale, and their readiness to give his ideas a serious try catalyzed the first generation of well-recharge experiments in Saurashtra.
Secondly, Athavale ‘marketed’ the message of well recharge in the package of instrumental devotion; at no stage in the early years did the Swadhyayees ask farmers to recharge their wells because it was economically profitable; they untiringly cited Athavale’s teachings that, ‘if you quench Mother Earth’s thirst, she will quench yours’; this helped to underplay the economics of well recharge in making up the individual mind; early pioneers undertook recharge experiments as an act of devotion to God and to follow the path shown to them by Dada.
Thirdly, the fact that Athavale’s ideas about well-recharge had to do with one of the most pressing, urgent and critical problems facing the people of Saurashtra explains why the movement took off in Saurashtra rather than in districts like Kheda or Baroda which are also Swadhyaya strongholds.

Fourthly, and critically, the spread of the Swadhyaya movement is in the form of communities. In numerous cases, there are entire villages that have turned to Swadhyaya; even otherwise, in the countryside, it is more common to find a group allegiance to the Swadhyaya movement than by scattered individuals. This meant that in early recharge experiments, either the entire village or a substantial proportion of a village’s farmers agreed to participate. As in the Alwar case described above, this helped the community to internalize the positive externality produced by each recharged well. If, instead, only isolated farmers had recharged their wells individually, it is doubtful if the early results would have been as strikingly beneficial as they were found. That the internalization of the positive externality of well recharge has produced a powerful ‘snowball effect’ on people’s participation is evident from the experience of many villages.
Fifthly, post-1994, however, the large-scale adoption of well-recharge through promotional and extension effort of NGOs and other religious movements was facilitated greatly by widely shared reports about highly beneficial productivity and income effects of well-recharge programmes on farming. It was at this stage that the driving force of the movement began to change gradually; well recharge as an act of instrumental devotion began to get replaced by well recharge as a technically rational economic act as the movement began spilling out of the Swadhyaya Movement and Swaminarayan Sampradaya. Probably, even amongst the followers of these, there was an added economic impetus to do the devotional act.
Sixthly, and finally, post-1995, the scale of participation - and the resulting momentum - that the movement has achieved spontaneously itself have been a powerful engine for the movement’s growth. In terms of the theory of externality, the reluctance of the individual farmer to invest in well recharge is explained by his inability to internalize the positive externality produced by his investment. However, if a substantial proportion of farmers take to well recharge, it progressively makes more and more sense for the farmer on the margin to recharge his own well.
Following the investment in recharge structures, basic ground rules on how to use groundwater developed in a number of - though not many - places in Gujarat. One of the ground rules in water harvesting and groundwater recharge work by diamond merchants in Saurashtra, for instance, establishes that nobody pumps water directly from water harvesting structures. Utthan, a local NGO has also met with successful experience in Rajula where people in several villages have accepted the norm of not allowing tubewells deeper than 65 m. In Panch-tobra village of Gariadhar taluka, the community agreed that no new wells would come up within 30 to 100 m of the water harvesting and recharge structures constructed. In Dudhala, the local drinking water and recharge committee issued a ban on drilling wells within a 60 m radius of a recharge structure and no wells beyond 20 m depth were allowed (Kumar 2001).
Similarly, Shamjibhai Antala has asserted that 15 villages in Amreli and Bhavnagar have adopted a new social contract for more responsible water use after water harvesting and recharge structures have been constructed.


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