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NGO effort, MGNREGA funds help women restore, repair water bodies in Jhansi dist

By Bharat Dogra* 

Maanpur Tank, located in a village of the same name in Babina block of Jhansi district, was constructed during the times of Chandel kings several hundred years back. It is spread well over a hundred acres of land and has been a source of pride for this village for a long time. An irrigation canal that takes off from the outlet of the tank has provided a very important source of irrigation for this village for a long time.
However in recent times the canal and the outlet had been badly damaged so that the irrigation capacity of this tank had been very considerably eroded. Hand pumps became more difficult to operate with water level going down. Many women had to cross the main road to fetch water and an accident injured several of them.
During Covid times there were distress conditions in this village and people badly needed some immediate livelihood support as well. Combining the two needs together Parmarth voluntary organization planned to take up cleaning and repair work in this tank. A Jal Saheli or woman volunteer working on water issues named Geeta made a particularly important contribution for mobilizing people. Later she received the water warrior award from the government and another award from the UNDP as well.
Due to paucity of resources initially Geeta and her co-workers sought to create only a temporary structure made of sand-sacks to plug the seepage. However impressed by their brave efforts, some of the more influential villagers now started coming forward to support them. The panchayat also extended its helping hand so that more durable repair could be taken up. As a result of this the irrigation and water recharge from tank could again become more protective for the village.
Similarly in Lahaar Thakurpura villages of the same development block (Babina) a tank spread over 80 acres of land had been seriously harmed in recent years by heavy siltation and even higher growth of water hyacinth. Parmarth started a campaign for its cleaning and this received a good response from the administration as well, resulting in allocation of MGNREGA funds for its restoration and repair. Some senior officials took a keen interest and personally visited the tank-site to supervise the work.
The removal of hyacinth proved to be a big problem but finally good success was achieved in removing this and a lot of silt. The vast sheet of clean water provided a beautiful view and the administration chipped in with some further stabilization and beautification work. However some of the tiles were obviously fixed hurriedly and already repair work is needed. The lighting work has also been left half-complete.
Some of the most promising work on tank restoration has been taken up by women led by jal sahelis
Some villagers feel that the effort made here will be amply rewarded if some irrigation benefits are also provided. As with repair work there is now more water retention capacity, they feel that an irrigation canal should be created so that the tank can be used for irrigation in addition to its present use for fisheries.
Some of the most promising work on tank restoration has been taken up by women led by jal sahelis in Bara Malhera block of Chhatarpur district. Here in Chaudhri Khera village a much-needed tank had been neglected and had fallen out of use due to certain strong superstitions relating to harm that would come to those who try to reclaim this. Ganga, a jal saheli, challenged these beliefs and mobilized several women in cleaning and reclaiming this land. 
This involved not just work relating to removing silt and dirt, but also creating a temporary sack bund on a rivulet to get water flow for the tank to fill up after a long time. After all the brave efforts of Ganga and her friends succeeded, the village has benefited greatly from water in the once condemned tank.
In another village of this block a student Babita Rajput led an effort of several women to dig a 107 meter canal across a hill to bring rainwater collecting in a nearby forest to the village. This work was once considered too difficult to be considered seriously, but once the brave women initiated it, several others also joined it and the work could be completed successfully.
These are just a few examples of how relatively small investments, helped by the bigger contributions of people and particularly women, can provide very cost-effective solutions to situations of water-scarcity. Such efforts should get much more attention, instead of tying up vast resources in massive dam projects whose gains are often lesser relative to investments and in addition there are several serious social and ecological adverse impacts too.
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*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include “When the Two Streams Met”, “Man over Machine” and “Navjeevan”

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