Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Modi Series Part4: Unique Government initiative to solve water problem

Saurashtra is an area which doesn't have any river flowing through it and when it rains, water just reaches Arabian Sea. Consequently people were depending upon underground water and had to use electric pumpsets for the same. This led to reduction of water table and increase in electricity usage. As water table depleted, water became scarce and people were dying. There are many areas in Gujarat that experiences famine in 7 out of 10 years.

The Government under the leadership of Modi had already introduced "Jalyatra" from 2002 much like that of "Neeru Meeru" scheme in Andhra Pradesh. The objective of the scheme was to raise awareness about how water harvesting can be done using some traditional techniques. These techniques help conserve water whenever it rains so that in future one can use the stored water.

Under a unique programme by the Government called - "Build Your Own Dam", people built 10,000 small check dams. The government bore 60% of cost while the villagers shouldered the remaining through voluntary labor. The condition is that a group of atleast 11 farmers must together apply for a proposal with the Water Resources ministry. A feasibility study would be done by a set of scientists - both from NGO and Govt sources. Once approved, money was sent directly and check dam was constructed with inputs from various dam experts at the site. Because labor was voluntary, people agreed readily and did the work. This is a classic case of people participation in a movement meant to people.

When Narendra Modi said in a speech that without people, government cannot do anything, he really meant by those words. He told government role should be that like that of facilitator and not the actual doer. In this case the government just offered financial aid while the actual implementation was done by people themselves.

The efforts paid off. When it rained in 2002 and 2003, there was enough water that got collected that they used it for all purposes. In fact, the dams even overflowed when cyclones hit Gujarat.

BOYD is a unique program because for the first time Government played a very active role in 1)spreading awareness 2)giving the right aid to people.

BOYD scheme seems more efficient than Neeru Meeru because the latter did a good job of awareness, but was not too successful in giving the right resources to people.

In fact, look at these figures:

VANKIA (Jamnagar): Received just 32 cm of rain against the normal 50 cm but its 1,500 wells are full, thanks to the 18 check dams.

PARAPIPALIA (Rajkot): Nine dams helped the first rains to revive all the village handpumps.

MUDILA (Jamnagar): Villagers had to buy water for constructing the five dams. Now all 100 wells in the village are full.

MUNJKA (Rajkot): Never saw a good harvest in years. But the 11 dams have now made that possible by raising the water table.

Source: India Today.

In the country, where lots of money is being spent in feasibility study of interlinking of rivers, Gujarat Government was able to achieve through people's participation. This scheme is called "Sujalam Sufalam" scheme. The rivers of Central and South Gujarat were interconnected and water was supplied to Western Gujarat.

Both interlinking of rivers and check dam construction - so many in just 5 years- is a record. It is people's power under one leader.

So, what could have taken few months in implementation took 50 years for Central Govt to come out with a policy, forget implementation of rain water harvesting. In fact, to know more about how this policy started in 1980 and then became a real law under Vajpayee's rule, click here

Note that building big dams and interlinking of large rivers are a great solution, but requires huge labor, costs and most importantly time. It is a long term solution. Considering the fact how our bureaucracy works, it is an impossible solution. Gujarat model inspires everyone. A mix of people and state government helped them achieve a reality the poor Gujarati farmers only dreamt of.

The scheme draws inspiration from a voluntary movement started by Mansukh Suvagiya and Mathur Savani for building check dams to replenish the fast-depleting ground water in the region. The green signal to implement was done by Keshubhai Patel, but the speed at which bureaucratic red tape dependency was removed for faster implementation was done by Modi himself.

My personal take: Such schemes must be implemented by every State Government in co-ordination with local irrigation officers or Sarpanchs rather than Government itself. The decision making by the Government while the implementation by people has made Gujarati people confident of solving their water problems themselves.

My article -click here also gives numerous examples where rain water harvesting and check dams have been deployed in various states.

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