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
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
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
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
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.