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M P Vasimalai discovers his roots at IIM-A[continued]

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Today there are 18,000 Kalanjiams in 6,000 villages spread across seven states of India. They have an accumulated capital of Rs.80 crores that is circulated among 3,00,000 families of its members.It is a highly credit-rated brand and a darling of bankers looking to lend safe credit; a Kalanjiam's repayment guarantee is enough for banks to lend up to a few lakhs to a member. The DHAN success has catalysed even more SHGs by other NGOs. The DHAN initiative has given mobility and confidence to poor women, redefined their importance in society, ended usury, improved health and education of children, combated social evils like dowry, female foeticide and domestic violence. State government have realised that it is this ground-up transformation that can be sustained, and they have extended support with the least intrusion.

Revisiting water:

DHAN picks up a theme and works on it intensively for a period of time and then spins it off as an autonomous institution which can upscale and deepen the theme's work. DHAN is transforming into the DHAN Collective of institutions that have a shared purpose, value and culture

The Kalanjiam wildfire was lit by young, educated Indians from humble social backgrounds. Their idealism and commitment to what they quickly realised as a nation-building activity, prompted DHAN to seek more of them. The Tata Dhan Academy was born five years ago, to mould young graduates into committed field workers among disadvantaged Indians. It is not an employment scheme but a formal place to give direction to young, educated people with temperaments suited for grassroots development work.

Since 1987, Vasi has been aware of the centrality of water for developing communities' prosperity. DHAN discovered, from Anna University's work, that there are 39,000 water bodies in Tamil Nadu, meant to save rain water. Most villages had historically assigned spaces for three kinds of water bodies: for humans ['oorani'], cattle and for fields['kanmai']. These lay in disrepair, with encroached watersheds and flow channels, silted beds and broken bunds, with virtually no one accountable for their upkeep. Most lethally, people had abdicated participative practices in favour of somnolent government departments. They needed to be motivated to organise themselves as water users. Thus was born the initiative that DHAN called, Vayalagam ['living fields'].

The purpose of Vayalagam is not to replace government's own work in reviving these bodies. The scale of funding required or executive action required to vacate powerful encroachers are possible only by governments. On the other hand, governments are very poor in motivating common people. Block development by babus has just not worked. There was no feedback from people. Unless people are given the right and the means to maintain ponds and tanks, civil works will remain achievements on paper. It is here DHAN's Vayalagam is playing a role.

They have Vayalagams in place in 1,100 villages to discuss and evolve action on water and farming related issues. Soon they realised that meaningful development for water security has to go beyond local tanks, to a network of tanks in a water shed. Thus the Gundar Riven Basin [GRB] restoration that Vayalagams are involved in. These are crucial links in getting the ultimate beneficiaries involved. GRB spans 5 districts of Tamil Nadu. 2000 tanks are targeted for revival. Work will go on for a decade more and cost Rs.1,000 crores.

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