Bidar's drought-proof action: a model for others to follow

Bidar's drought-proof action: a model for others to follow

Bidar's drought-proof action: a model for others to follow
Faced with worst ever drought, the district in Karnataka has desilted historical wells and tanks for the first time in last five decades with minimum investment and created an extra water storage of over 10 tmc while setting an example for other 250-odd drought-hit districts in India.

With desilting work to continue till arrival of monsoon next week, the district administration plans to add another 10 tmc (thousand million cubic) storage space in tanks and wells, taking the total extra storage capacity to 20 tmc.

The good work being done in the district prompted the state government to announce last month a 'Kere Sanjivini' scheme to clean/dredge tanks and wells in all drought-hit districts in the state but funds have not yet reached them.

The 'Bidar model' is unique in the sense that the district administration started work in March itself and spent about Rs 2.5 crore to remove 26 lakh cubic meter of silt, which otherwise would have cost not less than Rs 100 crore.

"I have seen one of the worst drought here. We took several steps to address water crisis. We initiated timely desilting work in many water bodies. All these efforts will go a long way in drought-proofing the district, which is the only sustainable way," Deputy Commissioner Anurag Tewari told PTI.

Stating that the public participation helped the district administration reduce the cost of desilting work in a big way, he said farmers volunteered when "we asked them to take the unearthed nutrient-rich soil for free to their farm fields."

The government rate for desilting one cubic meter of soil was Rs 60, while the district administration spent less than Rs 11 especially to cover expenses of excavator, diesel and driver, said District Tank Desilting panel head Balhim Kamle.

So far, the district has completed desilting in 200 open wells out of 1,000; 100 tanks out of 120 in five taluks, 20 temple tanks out of 400 and the work is being carried to add another 10 tmc extra storage before arrival of monsoon rains, he said.

The water from these desilted open wells has been tested and being supplied through tankers for drinking water purpose.

Major intervention in water conservation was that the district initiated for the fist time in last many years the desilting of ancient underground water tunnels called ‘Karez’ system that originated in Iran, Tewari said.

The Bidar Karez, built in the 15th century, is more than 3 km long with 21 air vents. There are 12 water network lines in the district and desilting of each line is estimated to cost Rs 2 crore. Desilting work has begun in one line already.

"This is the biggest intervention undertaken to restore ancient water bodies. The lines are more hazardous and might take more time to clear them. The state government has given Rs 8 crore for this purpose," the Deputy Commissioner said.

All these efforts coupled with reforestation program of planting one crore trees in the district and promotion of rainwater and micro irrigation, "should help us save from drought in the next ten years", Tewari said.

The district reported about 125 farmer suicide cases in the last two drought years that affected agriculture sector, livelihood of farmers and created drinking water crisis.  During the field visit to a desilted Deshmukh tank spread over 15 acres in Aurad taluk, 40-year old Shanur Bhegum who was fetching water from the tank said: "This tank had remained dry for last 30-35 years.

"The rejuvenation of this tank has helped us a lot as we are able carry water for cleaning and other purpose. We are using water supplied through tankers for drinking," she said.

The district officials said that about Rs 1.5 lakh was spent for desilting up to 12 feet of the Deshmukh tank and to create additional water storage of 6 crore litre.

"The work was completed in a fortnight. There will not be water problem in Aurad taluk in next 5-7 years even if there is drought," Tank Desilting Committee head Kamle said.

Initially, two excavators were involved in the work but farmers started volunteering when they were asked to carry unearthed soil from the tank for free. The desilted soil is fertile for farming purpose and rare to find, he said.

Unlike neighbouring states Maharashtra and Telangana, the district administration did not focus on digging new open wells, instead it rejuvenated historical wells which were constructed way back in 12th century.

In Basavakalyana taluk, which is 80 km away from Bidar, all 12 historical wells have been cleaned and in some wells soil has been desilted up to a depth of 40 feet.

The taluk faced severe drinking water crisis in March due to drying up of 'Chulkinaala tank' for the first time this year due to drought. But the district administration desilted 2 lakh cubic meters of water here and this will recharge open wells, borewells and groundwater in this taluk.

Having realised the benefits of desilted soil, 50-year old farmer Gundappa is one among many farmers in the district who spent money on his own for transportation of the black soil to his fields.

"I have 5 acres of land. I have topped black soil in 1.5 acres and preparing the field for sowing kharif crops, specially tur, jowar and soyabean. The soil is so rich in nutrients that I need not spend much on fertilisers," he said.

Gundappa hopes to reap good harvest this time on forecast of better rains after repeated crop failure due to drought.

Black-topped fields are making an appearance in most parts of the district as farmers have already spread desilted soil in over 50,000 acres out of total farm land of 9.14 lakh acres in the district.

Drought-hit farmers are now pinning hopes on black rich soil and good monsoon to reap record harvest this year even as the government has announced a substantial hike in the minimum support price of kharif crops.

The water conservation work will not stop with the arrival of monsoon rains, said the Deputy Commissioner who plans to promote next rain water harvesting and boost tourism sector to give alternative jobs to drought-hit farmers for which a Rs 274 crore proposal has been submitted to the Centre.
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