Knowing the worth of water

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Knowing the worth of water

With the increasing instances of weather uncertainty due to global warming, rural life is getting stressful by the day. While erratic rains play havoc on farming, decreasing water table has further compounded the lives of rural folk.

Villages in Chamarajanagar district are not an exception. “We are never blessed with plenty of water,” said Mariswamy of Mangala village in Chamarajanagar district. “But our elders followed time-tested ways that ensured judicial use of available water and this tank is an apt example of it,” he said. We were standing next to a tank that was restored under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

“We grew up playing and swimming here and I am happy that it has been given a new life now. Revival of this tank has not only improved the water level of borewells but also ensured healthy growth of crops,” explained Mariswamy.

The positive effects can be seen in many parts of Chamarajanagar district, thanks to the concerted efforts by the Chamarajanagar Zilla Panchayat to restore water bodies of these villages. “A perfect blend of traditional knowledge and modern knowhow is the need of the hour to address such issues,” opined KHN Murthy, chief executive officer of the Zilla Panchayat, who has been spearheading the initiative across the district. “With the advent of borewells, traditional water structures were sidelined. Consequently, old tanks and wells went dry and even neared extinction,” he said.

Restoration work

The MGNREGA scheme with focus on the rejuvenation of water bodies has been implemented with a holistic approach in the district. The gram panchayats, after consulting with the people, finalise their requirements and submit them to the Zilla Panchayat. Then a technical team appointed by the Zilla Panchayat facilitates the work. In Chamarajanagar district, traditional knowledge of people on water resources has been considered while deciding the worksite. At the initial stage, the Zilla Panchayat conducted a survey and identified over 1,600 tanks that required rejuvenation. So far, around 100 tanks have been restored completely and 200 more are in the pipeline. These tanks are expected to be ready by next monsoon. Both experts and people here believe that these efforts would lead to improved access to water. The scheme proposes to achieve twin objectives: to provide at least 100 days of work to each enrolled worker and creation of long-lasting assets. 

Manjula, previous president of Santhemarahalli Gram Panchayat, is happy about the tank restoration work undertaken during her tenure and feels that it was the best work done during the period. Apart from generating work for people, the scheme has managed to conserve rainwater, and thus, give life to five borewells. She is looking forward to this year’s monsoon eagerly. “That both men and women get equal wages under this scheme makes it all the more important for people,” she said.

Participatory approach at all levels and  active involvement of villagers has proved beneficial. Mahadevaiah, a supervisor at the MGNREGA worksite in Santhemarahalli village, gives an instance to indicate that the views of common people are valued. The technical team wanted to revive two adjacent tanks simultaneously in the village. But people opted to work on the big tank as it’s capacity was more and needed urgent attention. They felt that the stone revetment done, though long back, to the other tank is still intact. And the team decided to go by the villagers’ opinion. Manoj, a member of the technical team, agrees that the decision was appropriate. “We were apprehensive about it initially. After a few days of desilting, we realised that the small tank needed only some repair work.”

A lot of planning and discussion goes into the restoration work. Apart from desilting and strengthening of the bund with stone revetment, the feeder channels are also revived. “The restoration of a tank is incomplete without proper feeder channels,” says Prabhuswamy, a technical team member in Gundlupet taluk. “Hence, more concentration is given towards ensuring proper flow of rainwater into the tank. And once this primary objective is attained, the strengthening and desilting work starts.” Neelambike, president of Nittre Gram Panchayat, says, “Once the Devikatte tank of the village brims with water, hopefully in the next monsoon, we would be able to see a significant increase in the ground water level.”

What catches one’s eye in Chamarajanagar is a huge tank, where men are actually fishing! The tank is next to a water purification plant that supplies drinking water to Chamarajanagar city. The villagers have utilised the excess water that flows out of the purification plant by diverting it to the nearby tank, which was desilted under the scheme. It’s been over two years now and the tank is brimming with fish.

Adarsh, an agricultural science graduate working with the technical team, talks about the tank and its potential for something more, “A park can be developed around this tank. Also, fishing can be made more viable with proper systems in place here. It will definitely attract more people.” There is also a plan to plant fruit-bearing trees around the tank in order to create an environment conducive to the survival of birds and other animal species.

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