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Rajendra Singh pioneers a new development model

Tarun Bharat Sangh is transforming rural Rajasthan by awakening old memories!

The work of Tarun Bharat Sangh, and it's founder Rajendra Singh in the districts of Rajasthan can easily be over-simplified as water-shed management whereas, it is in fact a revolution in regenerating life and society in denuded and deserted lands.

It's a seemingly  simple two-step programme.  First, revive vegetation on barren hill slopes and second, build  small water catchments in the valleys and the plains.

The revival course.

We will see in some detail, how it was done, a little later; but now a quick fast-forward to what happens down the time-line and how nature organises her rewards.

.... dead rivers begin to flow

.... agriculture becomes possible round the year

.... impoverished villagers, labouring in cities return, and families are re-united

.... wearying labour like fetching water, gives way to positive developmental work 

.... with enough water and fodder, income from animal-husbandry begins to flow

.... nutrition levels rise and public health improves

.... wooded hills welcome back wildlife, that round off forests' whole-ness

.... people rid of insecurities, come together to address other issues of life, like education and local governance

.... awareness and confidence, enable micro-credit schemes that lower the cost of households and start small enterprises.

.... people with leisure, turn to crafts, reviving folk practices like herbal medicine and community welfare

.... when small communities like these succeed, the government itself wakes up and development becomes what it should be: ground-up, instead of top-down.


Well, it has happened in the space of 15 years in Rajasthan. Beginning from the small village of Bhikampura in Alwar district, the people-centred development model is spreading all over Rajasthan. Today you can see the river Arvari, dead for 40 years flow again . So too the rivers Ruparel, Jahjajwali and numerous other rivulets. You can drive through Alwar district and  observe without effort, stark barren hills contrasting with those beginning to turn green. You begin to believe more hill slopes will be green too. You see a land where peace reigns. The contentment in the air is palpable.

Johad rediscovered.

How did it happen?

It all began with a young man called Rajendra Singh in 1985. A self-effacing man with nerves of steel. As he himself would want it, let us talk of his Tarun Bharat Sangh's [TBS] work first and then look at his personal story.

The first step was to identify water and fodder as the key to revival of rural life in the ravaged lands of Alwar. To make both available round the year, micro-structures to trap water had to be built and the denuded hills allowed to regenerate, unimpeded by animal browsing.

Tarun Bharat Sangh [TBS], discovered that only people's fullest co-operation can achieve these ends. No amount of money, government action or legislation can deliver results. Therefore the design, location and construction of each water harvesting structure is discussed endlessly by Gram Sabha's until a true consensus is reached. True consensus is measured as attained, when every member of the community agrees to contribute either money or labour towards the construction of a johad [ see picture 2], a check dam or a weir. In one village the consensus took 5 years to arrive at. To the modern mind, that may seem too long for a piece of civil works, that then took only about 6 months to build. But, once such consensus-works are built, they become 'everyone's', are guarded and maintained. Issues of use and sharing, have been settled before construction began rather than later. Such works are forever and the 5 years of deliberation recedes into insignificance.

Rules for the hills.

Again, regeneration of hills needs everyone's involvement. Hills revive when left alone by man cutting off mature trees, and cattle nibbling at sprouting stumps. TBS guides villagers in the chosen hill areas through hundreds of hours of meetings over several months until they all agree to not let browsing by

.... cows for 3 years

.... goats for 5 years and

.... camels for 7 years.

This agreement leads to what TBS calls 'social fencing' which, in contrast with physical fences, is virtual; only in the mind. With great fanfare , elders lead villagers on a walk through the entire line of the agreed 'social fence', sanctify it by sprinkling a mixture of sacred waters and milk. Once thus notified, TBS has found that villagers respect it and police it! Can government funds and fiats ever achieve this?

Talk, talk, talk.

TBS's 'people-centred' approach to development is 

.... endless discussions on every conceivable issue

.... arrival at a consensus, however long it takes

.... involvement of villagers with labour, service, money or material

.... keeping the government at bay, with defiance if needs be

.... and finally, low down the list, balance fund raising and  actual execution of the works.

This was not a received wisdom that Rajendra Singh has handed down. He put the rules together as he worked over the years, close to the people. In 1985, as a newly married 28 year old he was well-settled, with a government job in Jaipur. But the ghosts of Mahatma Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan haunted him goading him into 'doing something'. Not unlike the Buddha he walked out on his wife and home and was inaccessible for two years. Along with 4 of his friends, he arrived at the village of Kishori and said to the  bewildered villagers, that he wanted to 'do something'. They were puzzled, intrigued or wary.

Accident had chosen the place well for him. In the thirties, the district of Alwar in the green valleys of the Aravalli hills was a prosperous land. But a greedy prince, with an eye cocked on a free India that would take away his primacy, sold off the rights to the timber on the hills. In ten swift years, contractors laid the land low. Rains brought down loads of earth from naked hills that filled catchment works. Water sped off without stopping to feed the wells and fields. Often they hurtled into deep marble mines and lay uselessly there. Land owners joined landless labourers on a trek to Delhi and Agra to toil for small sums to send home. Families broke up.

For forty years , a whole new generation did not know that there had been hope and fertility once around them.

A hard model to follow.

A few like Mangu Ram remembered the old ways. He led Rajendra Singh and his friends to a place where they began to dig. It was the first johad in forty years. A johad is a dug-out pond, created at a place chosen with native wisdom, informed by remembered patterns of water flow during the rains. After the rains, water stays in for months and recharges the wells nearby. The success of the first johad switched on the collective memory of the people. And enthusiastic construction began all around, guided by elders. When the 650th johad was dug out, close to the forgotten river bed of the Arvari, the river 'woke up' at the next rains and began to run! And done so, round the year for two years now. At Hamirpura [ see pictures] it is a broad river supporting year-round agriculture on it's banks. Today all over Rajasthan the TBS model pioneered by Rajendra Singh, is spreading.  There are 3500 'people-made' water conservation structures. Villagers contribute one third the cost of all construction. TBS organises the rest.  Government at last, has stopped being a hindrance and begun to be a facilitator. President Narayanan, flew down to Hamirpur to pay tribute to the villagers.

It is nothing but humbling to see the transformation brought about by unlettered men who rallied around an unsophisticated young man, who preaches that 'mountains are nature's breasts and river waters, the milk.'

The full story of Rajendra Singh's work, adventures and tribulations can be read in further detail elsewhere, by following the links below. And information about how to get to TBS's centre in the countryside can be got from the following Jaipur address.


Tarun Bharat Sangh
34/24 ,Man Singh Sarovar
Jaipur, Rajasthan
ph: 393178


For further reading:
The article from the Week
The article from Down to Earth








Click on pictures below  for  larger views: