We have used MGNREGA to escape the curse of drought,” say residents of India’s first village to roll out the Act in 2006

Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana

Down To Earthmagazine revisits Bandlapalli in Andhra Pradesh, finds 900 water structures have transformed the once distressed region into a drought-proof one 

Same story of change in villages in Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana and Tamil Nadu – part of a country-wide survey by the magazine to mark World Water Day 

On MGNREGA’s 15th anniversary, 14 reportersbravethe resurgent coronavirus to traverse 16,000 km in 15 states to assess the impact of the programme 

In the age of climate change, water conservation will be even more critical. MGNREGA is the world’s biggest adaptation programme as it harnesses the labour of people to invest in building the wherewithal
to fight drought and build resilience

New Delhi, March 22, 2021: “By putting water conservation at its core, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is transforming India’s rural landscape and changing the lives of the country’s poor – our new nation-wide survey has found. What better way to mark the World Water Day than by celebrating this unheralded success story of rural India’s water warriors, our JalYodhas?” said SunitaNarain, director general, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and editor of the fortnightly, Down To Earth, here today, inaugurating a webinar.  

Thewebinar featured the highlights of the report on villages that have made the transformation from drought to prosperity. It brought together the JalYodhas – the representatives of the villages who have made this possible.“Fourteen reporters of Down To Earth have travelled across the length and breadth of the country at a time when a pandemic was raging, reporting on what this Act has meant for India’s rural hinterland. They have covered 16 villages in 15 districts of as many states, and brought back incredible stories from the ground,” says Down To Earth managing editor Richard Mahapatra. 

Five villages from India’s southern states were revisited by the reporters. They include Bandlapalli in Ananthapuramudistrict (Andhra Pradesh); Ramdurga in Chitradurga district (Karnataka); Pookkottukavu in Palakkad (Kerala); Vellapallam in Nagapattinam district (Tamil Nadu); and Manchal in Ranga Reddy (Telangana). 

What did Down To Earth find 

Bandlapalli: Ananthapuramu district in Andhra Pradesh was so drought-prone that in 1995, it was brought under the country’s Desert Development Programme. On February 2, 2006, MGNREGA was kicked off in Bandlapallivillage in the district. Today, V Narayana Reddy, who was the sarpanch at that time, can proudly claim, “Our village has evaded the curse of drought.” Over the past 15 years, villagers have planned and installed 900-odd water harvesting structures. Distress migration from the village has nearly stopped, and the village is drought-proof now. 

Ramdurga: Ramdurga and Gollahalli villages of Chitradurga district in Karnataka have inverted the trickle-down effect, quite literally. They have been building ponds, bunds and check dams at the community level first, and then at the private level. This has improved the groundwater level, though several of these structure have become defunct. “For 2021-22, we have set a target to rejuvenate 136 lakes and 126 kalyanis (step wells),”says K Nandhinidevi, chief executive officer, Chitradurgazillapanchayat. 

Pookkottukavu: In Palakkad district of Kerala, Down To Earthfound that women are leading water conservation efforts. In Pookkottukavu village, the country’s largest group of trained women well diggers ensure that they build water conservation structures alongside wells to compensate for the loss of groundwater. In Pallassana, villagers are reviving Bharathapuzha, Kerala’s second-largest river. In the adjacent Polpully village, the panchayat has used MGNREGA to desilt and revitalise 22 percolation tanks (kokkarnis) in the past 15 years. 

Vellapallam: Naggapattinamdistrict in Tamil Nadu was devastated by a tsunami in 2004, which left the soil and groundwater saline. “Around 500 men who were earlier engaged in farming or fishing left for Dubai for jobs immediately after the tsunami,” says Madhanraj, sarpanch of Vellapallam village. Today, desilting and deepening of village ponds through MGREGA works has reduced the salinity to a level at which farmland is able to produce 50 per cent of what it did before the tsunami. 

Manchal: Villagers in Manchalvillage in Ranga Reddy district of Telangana used MGNREGA to flatten the undulated topography to benefit small farmers. “The fields were levelled by removing excess stones, which were later used to create bunds around the fields,” says S Swamy, technical assistant under MGNREGA for Manchalmandal. Farm incomes rose from Rs 30,000 in 2206 to Rs 1.2 lakh now. 

Mahapatra says finding the villages which had successfully executed MGNREGA was difficult as no recordsare kept of the sustainability of the works that have been undertaken under this programme. “The government only keeps a record of the ‘number’ of works done, and of whether they have been completed. But what is not known is if the structure built under MGNREGA has improved the water security of the village, or has contributed, as it should, to livelihood improvements. This is what our Down To Earth reporters wanted to find out,” says Mahapatra. 

As per government records, since 2006 more than 30 million water conservation-related ecological assets have been created; this totals to some 50 water structures in every village of India. Calculations show that these structures have potentially conserved roughly 29,000 million cubic meters of water in this period and have the potential to irrigate some 19 million hectares. 

Narain says: “Water is a determinant of our present and future. With climate change we will see more rain and more heat and in this the management of water will be our make or break. Water security is also crucial for livelihood security. It builds resilience and the ability to cope with weather adversities. The MGNREGA is the world’s largest social security and climate risk management programme.” 

See the lead CSE press release on World Water Day: Click here

To access the webinar-related information: Click here

To access the complete DTE cover story and info-package on how MGNREGA is transforming the rural landscapes and economy of India: Click here


For more on the subject and for interviews, please contact Sukanya Nair of The CSE Media Resource Centre: sukanya.nair@cseindia.org / 8816818864




Press Release
March 22, 2021
World Water Day: How harvesting the raindrop is transforming lives: a special ground-report on villages using employment under MGNREGA not for drought relief, but for relief against drought
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