Rejuvenating village tanks


Rejuvenating village tanks

Hope for sustainable farming lies in recharging tanks, especially in arid regions. The DHAN Foundation has brought together farmers to revive tanks in parts of Kolar and Tumkur districts, writes M A Siraj

Appearances, it is said, can be deceptive. Kolar is experiencing severe drought, yet the landscape is a beguiling green. But those who are grounded in reality know that this is due to the cultivation of eucalyptus as a cash crop in the area. Eucalyptus occupies vast stretches of farm land, especially in Malur taluk.

Kolar is said to be the land of silk and milk - these have been the mainstay of the district’s rural economy. Those who have no land used to move to Bangalore to work for daily wages while those with farm land and workshops provided services to the city. But now, after years of drought, which has sapped the farm economy, there are many more who commute to Bangalore every day.

With no river worth mentioning and not too many hills that can trap rain clouds, farming in the district has been dependent on tank irrigation for centuries. According to revenue records there are nearly 3,000 tanks present in the district. Kolar only receives between 75 - 70 cm of rainfall during an average monsoon season, most of it during the north-east monsoon of October and November.

The tanks that fill up during this season recharge the subterranean aquifers and give life to the open wells or borewells. But the current drought is the most severe one that has occurred in decades and has left little water in these tanks.

Most of the open wells have gone dry. While borewells that were sunk to a depth of more than a thousand feet are still discharging some water, the ones that weren’t so deep serve as mere signposts of the problems faced by the villagers. Most villages in Kolar taluk have tankers that supply water. Mercifully, the town’s borewells haven’t gone dry.

This is mainly due to the Narsapura tank – the rock sheet at 50-ft depth helps retain water all year round.

This scene, a full five weeks into the monsoon, leaves little scope for guesswork. Despite this all pervasive gloom, some farmers and labourers can be found trying to rejuvenate old tanks at several villages. They are de-silting the tanks and feeder channels, reinforcing the bunds, evicting encroachments and foreshore plantations in order to check soil erosion. Most of these farmers have been brought together to revive the tanks of their villages by DHAN (Development of Humane Action) Foundation.


DHAN was founded by Vasimalai, a former professor at IIM, Ahmedabad. It pursues goals of development, by motivating and involving the villagers, who would eventually benefit from development. The Foundation adopted Kolar and Bangarapet taluks as well as Pavagada and Sira (in Tumkur district) and organised water for communities by motivating villagers to rejuvenate their tanks, thereby reviving farmers’ hopes.

At Mittamalahalli village, 17 km south of Kolar town, a group of farmers toil under the blazing sun to de-silt the 19-acre tank which used to irrigate 22 acres of farmland.
If the tank had been full, the area the farmers are digging would have been three metres under the surface of the water. The water marks on the surrounding hills and boulders testify to the halcyon days when the tank was full.

According to H G Raghavendra, senior project executive of the Tank Programme for DHAN Foundation, scores of farmers have together removed nearly 8,000 cubic metres of silt by contributing labour, cash and kind. As per DHAN’s participatory formula, farmers are supposed to contribute labour to the tune of six per cent of the cost and an equal amount in cash, while the remaining costs come from DHAN and the collaborating agency.

Allikunte, a kilometre further south of Mittamalahalli, has an equally parched look. All the nine open wells have gone dry. The village tank spread over 19 acres was seen overflowing just 14 years ago.

According to farmer Gurappa, the drought is so severe that the soil has lost all its moisture and become powdery even at a depth of two metres. They have been raising only one (rain-fed) crop during the last 10 years. But Gurappa and his friends, Veerabhadrappa and Sriramappa, have joined DHAN’s water community to de-silt the tank with a command area of 25 acres.

 Farm ponds

While de-silting and recharging the old watersheds is priority, the Foundation also mobilises communities to create farm ponds when a private farmer agrees to lend his land. Farmer Hanumanthappa has offered some land (50 ft by 90 ft) on his farm to DHAN for the creation of one such water tank in Doddanahalli.

It is expected to fill up even if it rains for only two hours. According to Vasanth Kumar, regional coordinator for DHAN, of the 150 borewell in the vicinity, only four are now operational. If the farm pond fills up, it will recharge land with a radius of 500 metres and water would ooze into all open wells.
DHAN has been working with 64 villages in nine panchayats and has formed 35 village level farmers institutions named Vayalagams with 9,908 members. Though rains have been scanty in recent years, it can rejuvenate nearly 35 tanks in the places where it has rained copiously.

The recharged tanks also bring revenue through fishery and plantation of fruit-bearing trees along the bund and the foreshore areas. DHAN forms self help groups (SHGs), generally consisting of the male members (with some women) of these tank communities who tap these benefits for collective welfare. As of now, the internal savings of these SHGs exceed Rs 40 lakh.

With their water sources being restored to their full capacity, the Kolar farmers are hoping that the monsoon will soon regain its intensity and bring then happiness.

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