A people's project to conserve water

Print edition : March 12, 2004

A high-level ministerial delegation at the Akkampally balancing reservoir in Nalgonda district scrutinising work on the first stage of the Rs.1,000-crore Krishna drinking water project. - MOHAMMED YOUSUF

A water conservation programme based on community participation has been a major success.

LIKE many of the dry-land farmers in the drought-prone Anantapur district, Hanumanthappa was a sad man. His eight-acre farm was barren as he could not make use of even the scanty rainfall that the region had. It was in this desperate situation that a team from the Water Conservation Mission (WCM) met him and suggested that he build a farm pond.

After a lot of persuasion, he agreed to the proposal and joined others in constructing a 2.4-acre-pond with a storage capacity of 8,662 cubic metres. Fortunately, soon after they completed the work, it rained and the pond was full. Today, Hanumanthappa is a cheerful man. He is able to raise two crops and earns an annual income of Rs.30,000.

The Neeru-Meeru (Water and You) programme launched by the WCM, on May 1, 2000, proved to be a boon for farmers like Hanumanthappa. The programme coalesced the water conservation activities of different departments to ensure optimum efficiency.

A look at the land and water profile of the State makes it clear that a large quantum of rainwater is lost owing to various reasons. The State receives an average annual rainfall of 940 mm. Of the 25,83,790 lakh cubic metres (9,130 tmc) of rain water received annually, 10,59,269 lakh cubic metres (3,743 tmc or 41per cent) is lost in evaporation and 10,33,516 lakh cubic meters (3,652 tmc or 40 per cent) is lost as surface run-off. While 2,58,379 lakh cubic metres (913 tmc or 10 per cent) is retained as soil moisture, 2,32,626 lakh cubic metres (822 tmc or 9 per cent) is recharged as groundwater.

The "Neeru-Meeru" approach involves soil and water conservation from ridges to valley, causes water to flow in dry rivers and streams, revives traditional water harvesting structures, adopts a participatory method to increase the rate of ground water recharge, takes up rainwater-harvesting structures in urban areas, promotes recycling of waste water and checks the pollution in water bodies through seepage.

Under the programme, 675 water-stress mandals (a secondary administrative unit like a taluk) have been divided into five categories depending on the water level, the extent of drinking water scarcity and on the location. The programme was a coordinated effort involving the departments of Rural Development, Forest, Minor Irrigation, Rural Water Supply, Municipal Administration and Urban Development and Endowments.

These departments took up various activities in a mission mode to create additional space for storing water and recharging ground water. Activities such as building continuous contour trenches (CCT), staggered trenches, check-dams, percolation tanks, bunds in fields, farm ponds, digging pits, desilting and restoration, were taken up as part of the massive campaign led by Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu.

Since May 2000, seven phases of the Neeru-Meeru programme, each stretching over six months, have been implemented until December 2003 and the eighth one is now on. In all, 41,12,698 works were taken up at an estimated cost of Rs.2,425.45 crores, creating 18,592 lakh cubic metres of additional water filling space, until December last year.

That the programme was not a routine one became clear at the implementation stage, when several innovations and experiments were tried out. If the `chain of tanks' concept was revived to link up existing tanks to harvest the surplus flow from one tank into the linked tank, sub-surface dykes were built to arrest the sub-surface flow of water. Further, diversion weirs were laid to fill up tanks with water from the rivulets and a `cascade of check-dams' were built to revive flow in the rivulets.

The WCM proudly claims that the seven-phase programme has created additional storage space for rainwater and raised the ground water recharge potential to 131 tmc, under normal rainfall conditions for the year 2003-04. The impact analysis studies of the Neeru-Meeru programme, conducted by the Ground Water Department, showed that in spite of a 7 per deficit in rainfall, the ground water level at the end of May 2001 stood at 11.73 metres as against 12.27 metres in the previous year (end of May 2000) - a net rise of 0.54 metres. Another study done in the following year found that there was a net rise of 1.23 m in the groundwater level between May 2001and May 2002 in spite of a 35 per cent deficit in rainfall, the ground water level being 11.73 m and 10.50 m respectively.

The availability of drinking water too improved. The WCM says that the number of seasonal/dried-up borewells has come down from 17,952 in May 2000 to 12,663 in May 2001 and to 4,111 in May 2002. During the same period, the number of drinking water transportation habitations came down from 1,083 to 817 and 537 respectively.

In terms of productivity enhancement, additional areas were brought under cultivation through silt application, soil and moisture conservation measures and drought proofing in dry-land farm areas. As for augmentation of irrigation, there was stabilisation of ayacut under the tanks and irrigated areas under borewells besides rejuvenation of dried-up wells and borewells. The soil and moisture conservation work taken up on barren hillocks helped in promoting natural regeneration from viable rootstock. Demarcation of forest boundaries by CCT and tank foreshore areas prevented encroachment.

While much of the funds for the project was raised by pooling the resources of different departments, and linking it up with the Food-For-Work programme, a major chunk came from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) in two instalments of Rs.201crores and Rs.205 crores.

The WCM attributes the stupendous achievements to a series of initiatives and a multimedia campaign. It took up a "Jalachaitanyam" (water awareness programme) from April 5 to 14 last year, much before the onset of the monsoon. A major initiative was to ensure people's participation in the conservation effort through committees at the State, district, electoral constituency, municipal, mandal and gram panchayat levels, and involve elected representatives, non-government organisations, self-help groups and officials. The project was executed by stakeholder groups or committees, watershed associations, vana samrakshana samithis, (forest protection committees), water users associations and farmers' clubs.

Detailed documentation and display of works at the village level, a concurrent audit by the Principal Accountant General and a random inspection by the Engineering Staff College of India ensured transparency and accountability. Procedures were simplified so as to enable the local people to carry out water audits at the village level. Cost-effective structures and location-specific designs were adopted. Having successfully implemented a people-centric water conservation programme, the State has now developed a "Water Vision" to address the water concerns of the future.

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