Man with a tunnel vision
ON A MISSION Mahalinga Naik is a one-man army. Consider this: he has single-handedly dug tunnel after tunnel, before he found water in the fifth one. He has built walls, percolation pits and tanks with stones he fetched with his own hands. He has converted a barren piece of land into a green haven. What’s more, he uses organic methods of farming. Ronald Anil Fernandes marvels at Naik’s perseverance.
Thirty seven years ago, daily wages labourer Mahalinga Naik (66) was offered a piece of barren land by local landlord Mahabala Bhat to live on, at Amai near Adyanadka in Dakshina Kannada district, after Bhat was impressed by the hard work of Naik. Though the land was barren, with only a few bushes and grass, Naik was not in a position to resist the offer as he did not have any house or land of his own.
Once he decided to stay, Naik set up a small hut. His next target was to get water, as the nearest water source was more than half a km away. Digging a well was beyond him as he could not afford to spend money on a well.
One fine day, a novel idea struck him. Accordingly, he started digging a tunnel horizontally at the bottom of the hill (instead of vertically or deep). He worked at a plantation plucking arecanut and coconuts or in the paddy fields as a daily wages labourer during the day and dug his land at night, to form a narrow tunnel, with the hope of getting water. It took nearly one year for Naik to dig a tunnel of 20 metres long.
One fine day, the tunnel collapsed. As he could not get water even after digging 20 metres, he left it at that stage and started digging a new tunnel, but abandoned it after digging for seven metres as he came across a huge rock. It was the same case with the third and fourth tunnels, when he reached 15 metres and 25 metres respectively.
Though he could not succeed in finding water even after digging four tunnels, he started digging yet another tunnel. “I used to light four or five wick lamps and instead of kerosene, I used coconut oil, which releases less or no smoke,” he recalls.
“One fine day, when I reached about 35 metres, I found a spring and my joy knew no bounds,” he says, adding that though it took a couple of months (years), it was worth waiting for.
Subsequently, he dug two more tunnels, but the fifth tunnel which measured 65-metres (nearly 200 ft) gave him abundant water. “Even during the peak of summer, I get 6,000 litres of water a day which flows to a cement storage tank through gravitational force,” he says. Subsequently the water flows to another huge clay-pond measuring about 20x15x6 feet. It then flows to his arecanut plantation.
Naik’s arecanut plantation too has an interesting story behind it. “Most of the areca plants on his farm were those which were discarded or rendered useless,” he says, “If you had seen this land 37 years ago, you would not have believed your eyes,” adds Lalitha, Naik’s wife.
That’s not all. Naik’s farm has many more interesting stories to tell. Naik used to carry home one laterite stone from his worksite every day (may be as far as three to four km from his farm).
After collecting a good number of stones, he used to undertake some work, say constructing a retaining wall, etc. Though an illiterate, his knowledge and idea of saving water, even though he has abundant water now, is no less than any top engineer. Even the water that he uses to wash his hands and legs in his courtyard is stored in a tank, which is later used to water his plantation.
Best farmer award
Acknowledging the single-handed efforts of Naik, the Varanashi Agricultural Foundation (VAF) of Adyanadka presented him the ‘Varanashi Farmer of the Year Award’ in 2003.
Subsequently, many farmers started visiting Naik’s plantation and almost all were and still are spellbound by Naik’s efforts, which is next to impossible, says Edward Rebello, also a progressive farmer. In 2009, the State government honoured Naik with the ‘Krishi Pandit’ award.
A minor hitch
Things were going well for Naik before he met with an accident. He slipped and fell from a coconut tree, about 12 years ago, following which he was bedridden in a hospital for three months.
The mishap ate into Nail’s savings. He had to spend Rs 70,000 that he had earned and saved all his life. Today, at 66, Naik cannot climb trees, but does all other daily chores.
Interestingly, Naik’s dog ‘Bollu’ (which died later) helped him when he was unable to move. Be it picking arecanuts in the plantation or coconuts or fetching other things, Bollu helped Naik beyond his imagination, recalls Lalitha, Naik’s wife.
A role model
Today, Naik has 300 arecanut trees, 75 coconut trees, 150 cashew trees, 200 banana saplings, pepper vines, varieties of vegetables including sweet potato, ladies finger, spinach, brinjal, cucumber, etc. What makes it all the more special is that all these vegetables are grown organically using compost and manure that he makes on his farm.
Also, his vegetable garden is irrigated using tunnel water with the help of sprinklers. Naik dug many percolation pits a couple of years ago to harvest rainwater as well as the excess water that he gets from his tunnels.
This was much before awareness campaigns were started by agriculturists about the need to dig percolation pits. Though Naik is illiterate, he has always been way ahead of his times and has used many techniques that agricultural scientists only now seem to be discovering.