Reviving a vibrant ecosystem

Community efforts of reviving a parched lake in Kushtagi taluk of Koppal district have shown the way ahead for the rejuvenation of waterbodies in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region. 

The 327-acre Nidashesi lake about three kilometres away from Kushtagi town is one of the largest lakes in North Karnataka. The lake’s road back to life has caught the attention of people in this water-stressed region. 

Kushtagi’s topography is such that it is not connected to any water source or a river body, hence it is heavily reliant on groundwater. The annual average rainfall in the region is about 450 mm.

Beginnings

The tale of Nidashesi lake dates back to 1990s when S Bangarappa was the chief minister.  Abdul Rabsab, a social activist, dreamt of a lake at Madalagatti where three rivulets confluence. He met Bangarappa and discussed the construction of a lake in the area. Considering the importance of a lake for drought-hit regions, Bangarapppa initially approved the Rs 7 crore project to construct the lake. 

The Minor Irrigation Department (MID) constructed the lake at a total cost of Rs 10 crore. The work was completed by 1996. The lake was covered by Nidashesi, Madalagatti, Byalihal and Benchamatti villages.

“The lake was not just a reservoir of surplus water during heavy rainfall, but also a destination for aquatic ecosystems and a place for recreation,” says Sharanappa Bollolli, a local farmer. 

For over a decade, the lake had met the water needs of Kushtagi and the neighbouring 20 villages, including irrigation.

The MID’s apathy in maintaining the lake led to the degeneration of the lake. Formation of silt over the years accelerated the process of its decadence. The lake was ravaged by encroachments and mining activity. It was just a matter of time before it virtually vanished.

“When the lake was filled with water, most borewells plenished with water. Water in the open wells and ponds hardly dried up. The devastation was such that both borewells and other waterbodies in the region completely dried,” Devendrappa Balutagi, a farmer, explains.

“It was no more a lake, but a piece of a barren land covered by large swathes of hyacinth. It had vanished among thorny shrubs, weeds, indiscriminate dumping of untreated waste,” Balutagi points out.

The devastation had its cascading effects on the socio-economic graph of the region. People walking long distances to fetch potable water and animals struggling to sip drops in farmlands became a common sight. Agriculture was badly hit, while farmers migrated to Goa and Mangaluru in search of alternative occupations. 

It was incredibly tragic that such a large lake turned into a wasteland. From that, Kushtagi citizens created an oasis!

Watershed moment

The turning point for the river came on January 16. A farmer, who had drilled borewells multiple times but turned unsuccessful, met Balutagi seeking a solution for the water crisis. 

Balutagi recalls, “He asked me if I could take a step forward to restore the lake and to save farmers from distress. He further added that if the situation continues, it might force farmers to commit suicide. His plight left a deep impact on me that I vowed to do something.” 

He led a group of like-minded people and met Koppal district’s deputy commissioner, P Sunil Kumar, proposing for urgent restoration. They also met Gavimath pontiff, Shri Abhinava Gavisiddeshwara Swamy, seeking support. “Both of them assured assistance and our commitment strengthened further,” he adds. 

A public meeting was organised on January 20 to discuss the growing water crisis and how it has resulted in poverty and migration. The meeting concluded with a unanimous decision to form Kushtagi Taluk Lake Development Committee. The members of the committee began extensive research on the lake and roped in the Minor Irrigation Department to fix the boundary. When the survey began, they found out that the lake was in a far worse condition than they had originally anticipated. 

“I would often encounter the sorry state of the lake. What could have been a natural treasure was lying hidden under the garbage,” Suresh Talwar, Circle Inspector of Police, Kushtagi town, one of the key volunteers in the revival process, says.

“The lake wasn’t even visible from the road. It was covered under the bed of dense foliage and garbage. Cleaning the space was a big challenge,” he adds.

Every member of the committee donated Rs 50,000 each, and they together mobilised Rs 15 lakh. Contributions were also made by villagers, police department officials, schools, spiritual institutions and non-governmental organisations.

“As residents faced an unending water crisis, they didn’t want to complain or wait for someone else’s help. They moved ahead to bring about a change,” Talawar adds. The revival programme was initiated on February 7. The first phase took slightly more than a month to clear bushes and other wastes. In the second phase, about three lakh cubic metres of silt was lifted from the lake bed. Many farmers shifted the silt to their fields. The third phase was the construction of a five-kilometre road on the bund.

In the final phase, two islands were created within the lake site. The height of the lake is now at nine feet from the bed to the bund. 

One cubic metre of mud can absorb up to 1,000 litres of water and can hold an additional of 30 crore litres of water now.

Way forward

The committee wants to develop the lake into a vibrant ecosystem. It has been decided to plant about 15,000 saplings as a vegetative cover to help recharge groundwater. 

A canal under Krishna B scheme will come up at Kalalbandi, a village 10 km away from the lake. Linking the canal to the lake helps during droughts. This move also helps fill other lakes of the Kushtagi taluk as it is the only taluk that has been excluded from the project in the Koppal district, Balutagi adds.

The committee has already submitted a memorandum to the State government requesting for funds needed for the revival project.

According to the committee, rent for earth-moving machines, excavators and trucks would have cost about Rs two crore. “Our work will break the cycle of irregular rains, drought and migration in the region. The two islands will serve as nesting areas for birds as a variety of saplings be planted,” Talawar says.

The committee members say that they strived for local solutions in a scientific manner that mimic natural systems of restoring water. The efforts will create systems that ensure ample supplies of water in the future.

For Balutagi, relentless efforts also united communities transcending barriers of caste, religion, ideology, language and political affinity.

Transforming a dead tank is no small feat. It is the awakened community’s commitment to safeguarding a water source. Collaborative actions of Kushtagi’s determined citizens to harvest rainwater and recharge groundwater has inspired similar initiatives in the neighbouring Yelburga, Gangavathi and Sindhanur taluks. 

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