Fringe benefits
“Gaon ke logon ki jamin hai, kanoon mein likhne se farak nahin parta. Log vo karenge jo gaon ko fayada de” (Irrespective of its legal status, this land belongs to villagers. People will do what benefits the village)
By Tariq Mureed

The entire watershed around Sanwatsar was treated and tapped for rainwater
Photo: Aditya Batra

These are the words of Kanhaiya Lal, spokesperson of Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), to the query whether they are allowed by government to build johads, or small earthen check dams, on government owned forest lands. The answer reflected the strong sense of belongingness and ownership that the villagers harbor for their common property resources which legally belong to the government. And this can be understood through a short history.

New lease of life
Many villages in Alwar district in Rajasthan witnessed massive outmigration in the 1980ʼs, following poor rainfall, the subsequent decline in livestock, and due to poor agricultural yields and drinking water shortages.

These villages were revived by the grassroots efforts of TBS working closely with villagers by building rainwater harvesting structures.

Sanwatsar village in Alwar, Rajasthan also adopted this traditional system of water harvesting. In this village of 100 families, a total of Rs 1.5 Lakh was collected while TBS contributed another Rs 4.5 Lakh. Families unable to contribute in cash, did so by offering their labor. which was calculated as being equivalent to digging 1500 sq ft of land per head.

Together, the local community could dam and treat their watershed in a year. Within a month of first monsoon showers, the
Bawari stream that had dried up for years was revived. A walk
through the watershed, from the uppermost structure to the valley
floor clearly conveys the changed picture.

The sheer ingenuity of rural engineering is obvious. After careful planning, a series of bunds are constructed. The catchment-wide treatment method follows a ʻridge to valleyʼ approach. The Parwala bandh (largest of the earthen dams) is the first built upstream. It is designed to allow excess water to flow out to prevent it from breaking. Next in the series is a johad, a smaller earthen check dam. About 400 metres downstream is an anicut, a smaller concrete check dam.

Here, the benefits of the catchment treatment are obvious – water seeps out from the ground, a veritable wetland set amidst the dry surrounding landscape.

How effective
Villages which have strived to catch the rain where it falls by
making johads have seen revival of dead streams, regeneration
of biomass and significant rise in agricultural productivity.

The johads have directly helped solve the water crisis,
says Kanhaiya Lal. “The construction of dams recharged a
large number of wells which were dried for last many years” he
said. According to Rajendra Singh, popularly called the
Waterman of India, the forests have increased by around 30
per cent because of the increase in the water table in the area.

Johads, literally meaning a structure that joins two hills,
also acted as social connectors between the villagers who
work together in its construction, maintenance and usage.
Traditional caste divides are overlooked when it comes to
water, which these villages have now in surplus after great
efforts, confirms Tara Singh (ex- revenue officer) from
Bhikampura. “Due to round the year availability of water,
incomes from animal husbandry also increased manifold,” he
adds. In many villages, the real annual income from animal
husbandry per family rose by three times more.

The johad experience has been transforming to the extent that villagers now question the effectiveness of government initiative to build a small dam in Hamirpur village. One made in 2003, worth Rs. 2 crore, broke just after the first rains and heavy runoff. While the johad, as Rodaram Gujjar boasted, made by villagers with only Rs. 2 lakh survived. The dam is being rebuilt again from December 25, 2012 onwards.

The villages of Alwar district are now transformed. With the availability of water every aspect of society is in the grip of
villagers. Once dry villages are now seen with the plenty of
trees. People are harvesting more than they used to harvest
before. For this they have not done big things neither did they
resort to modern technologies or huge investment. They only
used their traditional knowledge and skills which were in
practice since time immemorial.

Rajendra Singh of TBS says “Land, water, forests are being destroyed. So we need to act on our own and not wait for government to act.”


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