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MP village breaks cycle of drought

Vichitra Sharma describes the collective action of a village to beat droughts

The villagers of Baloda Lakha in Madhya Pradesh have shown that the water revolution led by Anna Hazare in Ralegaon Siddhi and Rajender Singh in the districts of Alwar can become a full blown movement in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh.

In just two heavy downpours,[86mm] the drought conditions prevailing for the last two years here have already become history. Scores of ponds, tanks and water-bunding of nullahs and a few village style roof water harvesting efforts have raised the ground water level in five to seven wells and some tube wells. " In the next one or two years, we will once again have plenty of crops," says Arjun Singh Rathore, President - Watershed Committee of the village.

Self-Tax for a solution:

Old legends has it that the name Lakha was added when its 'lagaan' [tax] went up to a lakh of rupees. Only this time they coughed up lakhs to save themselves. The striking difference between Baloda Lakha and other water conservation efforts is that here farmers have spent several lakhs of their own funds to de-silt old tanks, build new ones, set up bunds, clear low lying farmlands for new ponds, repair old wells and recharge wells through underground pipes from the nullahs. More importantly, the well-off farmers have built ponds all around the village land as well as on the edge of their farms so that neighbouring poor farmers who helped with labour and others in the village could also benefit from the conservation efforts.

Around 70kM north of Ujjain, Baloda Lakha is a village few would dare approach. It means braving three hours over non-existent roads that are pot-holed and jagged. Most vehicles are unable to undertake the arduous journey. In spite of the poor connectivity, the villagers are brimming with energy and hope. Their effort both in terms of labour and finances has started yielding results.

Feeder for sweet shops:

The cracked brown fields dotted with dying cattle and scorched crops of last year have turned into green pastures where cattle graze freely, their thin frame a reminder of a bad kharif season. Sowing of soya is going on and in some farms, little seedlings have started germinating. There is corn in some fields and brinjals in the others. Baloda Lakha is a comparatively better off village. Around 4000 inhabitants live here. They include Rajputs, Harijans, Backwards, Malis, Muslims, tribals and the "nuts' [those who perform acrobatics]. It is better known in Madhya Pradesh as the village that sends daily two quintals of khoya for sweets to Bombay via Ratlam. Water scarcity had brought down the village to almost ruinous levels.

Water conservation drive got a renewed push with the launch of the  "Pani Roko" ['stop the water"] campaign by the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Mr. Digvijay Singh on February 4,2001. Water was the focus of the entire state machinery. In a rare show of encouraging people's participation, Malwa region's soil and conservation officer, Mr. Amar Singh Parmar led the drive to collect personal contributions from the district staff to set up a model tank in the village. The first contribution of Rs.5000 was made by him, the others followed and soon they had collected Rs.50,000. This was the beginning of the first water tank.

"...pug, pug roti; dug, dug neer":

The selection of the site was left to the village water-management committee, which decided on a low lying ground near the village cremation platform. "There was a purpose behind this," said Arjun Singh Rathod the president. The committee is one among many , like pashu samiti, agriculture samiti and women's savings group that are all voluntarily set up by the gram sabha. "The tank called Mukti Sagar became the centre of rituals connected with the cremation. As a measure of their gratitude villagers came forward to contribute generously for other water conservation schemes in the village," he said.

"This was the first step to reviving the old saying, " Malwa dharti gahen gambhir. Pug, pug roti; dug, dug neer." [Malwa is the region of immense hospitality and warmth. There is plenty of food and water at every step.] The committee's ten members were a representation of the village, comprising Rajputs, Harijans, Muslims, the landless, women agriculturists and some who had retired from non-gazetted state government posts. "It was time to show that we villagers can change the face of our village without the government," said Bhagwanji Patel, owner of 7 acres of land. It was not difficult. They were on the brink of being ruined. "We were starving for water. The crops had failed. My cattle was dying in the fields. I and many like me were left with no option but to cough up money for water conservation. We had been very irresponsible with the water and never thought that one day the water table would dry out," he admitted.

Everyone chips in:

A flat plateau land, Malwa region with 1200 villages has the highest number of tube wells. Around 1 lakh tube wells for about 8 lakh hectares. "This was the first district that got electricity, way back in 1970-72. It altered their lifestyle. They forgot traditional water management practices, started drawing out more water without recharging it. As a result they paid a very heavy price," said Mr. Bhupal Singh, the Collector of Ujjain.

The decline in the water table can't be reversed completely in a year or two but at least the villagers have seen the water table rise in some cases. It will trigger a multiplier effect and others will emulate, he hoped.

Around seven ponds cost them Rs.3 lakhs. It was common knowledge that if the government had undertaken the job its quotations would have been threefold more. Arjun Singh mobilised the villagers and contributed Rs.2500. Two brothers Buwanji and Mange Ramji put in Rs.20,000. A poor farmer, Gainda Lal Mali owning just one acre of land worked on the construction instead of financial contribution and enthused others with little means to do the same. Heeralal Parmar provided his tractor and gave Rs.500. Ram Chandraji Dadodia, Rattanlalji and Mohanlalji contributed Rs.33,000. Ram Singh Sasodia gave Rs.2500. Kishore Singh gave his land for a public tank and Rs.3 lakhs. The list seemed endless. The villagers who had started conservation work almost a year ago captured every drop of rain that fell on the village in these structures. Out of 250 dry wells in this village alone, seven have been regenerated. Last year the total rainfall of two days measured 400mm. This alone raised the level of three tube wells.

Tree belts:

This reporter covered several acres of village lands to see the water conservation efforts, astride  Kishore Singh Chauhan's motorcycle, as the village paths are cattle tracks, uneven and slushy. Some stretches had to be trekked on foot because of the mud dunes. Most villagers walked 4 to 5 kM to reach their fields, through paths strewn with the prickly Babool bush.

Chauhan has used innovative methods to recharge his well. He has built a water carrier channel, which brings rain water from a distant nullah or water tank to his well. His well is recharged each time the nullah is flushed with a heavy downpour. The water flows through a six-inch PVC pipe that runs under his farmland for 350ft and converges into the well. The parched and moisture-less lands are continuously sucking in all the rain water stored in the ponds and yet many tube wells are still water less.

Mr.Parmar's team lending technical support to the villagers has also encouraged the construction of compost pits for generating organic manure. A few farmers worked on these structures personally and proudly explained the technique of layering it with wet cattle dung.

Small farmers benefited from the de-silting process of the existing tanks and ponds. The silt was used as manure on their holdings. Now Chauhan is planning a green belt of neem and amla trees around his farms. "This will be the first in this area. May be others will also see the benefit in creating the same on their farms," he added.

The single most amazing and innovative achievement is an indigenously developed, low technology roof water harvesting structure using common materials. Bhagwanji Patel, the age of 57 epitomises extreme enthusiasm for water conservation. Perhaps, the desperate water situation drove him to discover it. The tin roofs of the house were restructured to slope towards a channel in the courtyard. the channel was formed of plastic sacks, cut from the bottom and stitched together into a tube for free flow of water to a point in the courtyard by the side of an old tube well. The rain water flows into a newly bored opening in the ground and is filtered with charcoal and coconut husk. The purified water successfully regenerated the tube well.

Baloda Lakha has redefined people's role in water management and participatory decision making. The Chief Minister too has acknowledged its landmark role in setting standards for the entire Madhya Pradesh. An enabling environment initiated by the administration, gave confidence and technical direction to the people to take charge of their own lives. "It has taken the load off my back. An impressive beginning has been made; now it is imperative to sustain it," summed up the Collector.




A series of village level initiatives enabled the village Baloda Lakha, near Ujjain in MP to break free from recurring droughts -- and government hand-outs. This story is reproduced by the kind courtesy of  "Grassroots" magazine. 



Illustration; not pictures of the village.