Skip to main content

How NGO effort helped communities revive Bundelkhand water tanks, arid farmland

By Bharat Dogra* 
In the Bundelkhand region of Central India water tanks have constituted a very important component of efforts of communities to meet the water needs of people over the centuries.
In particular the period of Chandela and Bundela rulers from 9th to 18th century has been identified as a time when royal patronage was extended to communities for creation of several thousand such structures, many of which are still admired for the wisdom of communities which helped to create these water-bodies with a very sound understanding of local conditions.
With a thorough understanding of the importance of these tanks, these communities contributed to their proper maintenance and protection for a long time. With the advent of colonial rule, however, community efforts suffered in many ways. Apart from neglect of maintenance, encroachments in water retention and catchment areas also contributed to deterioration of tanks.
Another factor of recent times was mistaken interpretation of government rules which became an obstacle for any community initiative to take up periodic de-silting of tanks. As deforestation and soil-erosion in catchment areas worsened at several places, the siltation of tanks also increased and their capacity to meet water needs of villagers and animals was badly eroded.
It was at this stage that a voluntary organization Srijan started discussing the possibilities of taking up de-siltation work with several rural communities. This effort was helped by the studies conducted by the ABV Institute for Good Governance and Policy Analysis (IGG).
Discussions with communities revealed that this work had their strong support. While this work was envisaged mainly as an effort for increasing the water availability and water holding capacity of tanks, farmers were also found to be very enthusiastic regarding the improvement of the fertility of their fields as a result of deposition of fertile silt there. Hence many of them came forward to meet the costs of transporting the removed silt.
Manpokhar, a tank in Lakhaipur village of Tikamgarh district ( Madhya Pradesh) was one of several tanks which was subsequently taken up for de-silting. Recently when I met several villagers here, they were full of praise for this effort.
Ramdevi, a well-informed and articulate woman farmer said, pointing towards the tank (this can be seen in the accompanying photo also) -- look at the tank there. There is still plenty of water in January while this was not the case earlier. However, the patch which was not de-silted has dried up as before. She added, this work is a big blessing particularly for our animals as well as for those roaming around loose. They can quench their thirst here now.
Harbhajan, another farmer, emphasizes the gains made to fertility of fields even more. “When we deposited the the fertile silt in our fields, the yield increased significantly”, he says.
While the deposition of silt was a one-time affair, more sustained gains to farm productivity accrued from the recharging of wells contributed by the presence of more water in the tank and what is more, its longer-term availability. If with more and continuing efforts, the year round presence of water in the tank can be ensured on a sustainable basis, this will make the gain more permanent.
Ashish Ambasta, who has been closely involved in several such efforts in neighbouring district of Nivari, says that three benefits are very clearly visible -- the immediate gains from deposition of fertile silt, the longer-term benefits of improved recharge of water in fields, and the better availability of water for direct human and animal needs.
He particularly mentions the efforts of a woman community leader Shashi Prajapati who played a very important role in mobilizing community efforts for the success of de-silting work in Kudar villge, resulting in almost year-round availability of water in a tank there.
Hence, Ram Devi pleads for more silt removal again in her village this year. However, Srijan team leader Rakesh Singh cautions that they have to distribute their limited resources more evenly so that villages whose need is the greatest can be covered on a priority basis. Besides, he emphasizes that several precautions have to be ensured like leaving the lower layers of silt undisturbed.
Project member Mangal Singh adds that special care has to be taken to protect the bund. If precautions are not observed, then unintended harm can also result. This is an additional reason for making this a community effort. Additional fertile silt for fields can be obtained also by creating a silt-trap which involves only a minor addition to the entire de-silting work.
Project Manager Kamlesh Kurmi emphasizes two aspects of community mobilization in this entire effort. Firstly, farmers should be willing to spend their own resources for carrying the fertile silt from tank to their fields. Secondly, despite the meager capacity of marginal and poorest farmers, somehow it should be ensured in community meetings that they get their fair share of the fertile silt.
Hence, Rakesh Singh adds that while the organization does not at all have the resources to cover the transport costs for all farmers, they try quietly to provide some help to the poorest among them, particularly those from marginalized communities like scheduled tribes and scheduled castes, so that they too can get the removed fertile silt. Another priority group should be the potter artisans who have been passing through very difficult times.
When this work taken up in Tikamgarh gave promising results, this was spread to other districts of Bundelkhand region like Mahoba and Chitrakut ( Uttar Pradesh) and Nivari (Madhya Pradesh) as well as other places with the help of activists and organizations working there .
However there is much more scope for extending this work. A study on rejuvenation of traditional water bodies prepared by the IGG says, citing Irrigation Department sources, says that there are 995 Chandela tanks in Tikamgarh district alone out of which nearly 100 are used for irrigation.
Hence, the potential of using this de-silting as a means of increasing water holding capacity of tanks as well as improving farm productivity is huge in the entire Bundelkhand region as well as other areas where there are many tanks which have not been de-silted for a long time and hence have a huge over-burden of silt. As a cost-effective means of improving water-storage as well as farm productivity, community based de-siltation work taken up with all due precautions can play an important role in several areas.
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘Planet in Peril', ‘Protecting Earth for Children' and ‘A Day in 2071’. Pix showing de-silted Manpokhar tank and villagers who live nearby by Kamlesh Kurmi. This is the second article of the series on sustainable farming



Avoidable Narmada floods: Modi birthday fete caused long wait for release of dam waters

Counterview Desk  Top advocacy group, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), has accused the Sardar Sarovar dam operators for once again acting in an "unaccountable" manner, bringing "avoidable floods in downstream Gujarat."  In a detailed analysis, SANDRP has said that the water level at the Golden Bridge in Bharuch approached the highest flood level on September 17, 2023, but these "could have been significantly lower and much less disastrous" both for the upstream and downstream areas of the dam, if the authorities had taken action earlier based on available actionable information.

Biden urged to warn Modi: US can declare India as worst religious freedom offender

By Our Representative  During a Congressional Briefing held on Capitol Hill, Washington DC, Nadine Maenza, former Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), has wondered why the Biden administration should raise issues of mass anti-minority mob violence  -- particularly in Haryana and Manipur -- with Modi. Modi should be told that if such violence continues, the US will be “compelled by law” to designate India as one of the world’s worst offenders of religious freedom, she urged.

From 'Naatu-Naatu' to 'Nipah-Nipah': Dancing to the tune of western pipers?

By Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD*  Some critics have commented that the ecstatic response of most Indians to the Oscar for the racy Indian song, “Naatu-Naatu” from the film, “RRR” reeks of sheer racism, insulting visuals and a colonial hangover. It was perhaps these ingredients that impressed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, one critic says.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Why iconic Urdu book stall, publishing house Maktaba Jamia died an 'unnatural' death

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed*  We have all grown through the fragrant flavours and flairs of our childhood, one of them being our childhood mother-tongue historic magazines like, “Thakurmar Jhuli” (Bengali), “Khilauna”, Payam-e-Taleem" (Urdu), “Hans” (Marathi), “Parag” (Hindi), “Chitralekha” (Gujarati), “Chandamama” (Telugu), etc. I “drank” Urdu while suckling his mother and learnt the language not from any madrasa, school or college but from these publications only — my treasure trove!

Asset managers hold '2.8 times more equity' in fossil fuel cos than in green investments

By Deepanwita Gita Niyogi*  The world’s largest asset managers are far off track to meet the  2050 net zero commitments , a new study  released by InfluenceMap , a London-based think tank working on climate change and sustainability, says. Released on August 1, the Asset Managers and Climate Change 2023 report by FinanceMap, a work stream of InfluenceMap, finds that the world’s largest asset managers have not improved on their climate performance in the past two years.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Evading primary responsibility, ONGC decides to invest Rs 15,000 crore in sick subsidiary

By NS Venkataraman*  It is reported that Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) will infuse about Rs 15,000 crore in ONGC Petro-additions Ltd (OPaL) as part of a financial restructuring exercise. ONGC currently holds 49.36 per cent stake in (OPaL), which operates a mega petrochemical plant at Dahej in Gujarat. GAIL (India) Ltd has 49.21 per cent interest and Gujarat State Petrochemical Corporation (GSPC) has the remaining 1.43 per cent.

Sales, profits of Indian firms 'deteriorate', yet no significant increase in cost pressures

By Our Representative  The Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad's (IIM-A's) latest Business Inflation Expectations Survey (BIES), a monthly exercise, has said that while cost perceptions data does not indicate significant increase of cost pressures, sales and profits of the Indian firms have deteriorated.

Why Bangladesh is achieving 'new heights' amidst economic collapse of Pakistan

By Sufian Siddique*  Pakistan's economy is on the brink of bankruptcy like Sri Lanka's. Pakistan's foreign exchange reserves have fallen below $3 billion. They have asked the IMF for a 'bailout loan' a long time ago, but the IMF is trying to impose strict conditions that Pakistan's current ruling coalition has no capacity to meet. Even China and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan's long-standing loyal friends, are now reluctant to shoulder Pakistan's burden.