Mahur village in Purandhar block of Pune district is like
a green oasis in the parched, drought prone district of Maharashtra.
Standing on a small hillock, for miles around green fields could be seen.
At the base of the hillock is a minor irrigation tank into which the
rainwater is harvested. This almost perennially full water body is the
lifeline of Mahur village and its principle of equity in water
distribution is its sustenance.
In a country where rural people failing to get return
from their agricultural lands are migrating to the big cities in search of
jobs, in the 30 odd villages of Pune district where Vilasrao Salunkhe's
pani panchayats are in operation, reverse migration has begun. Farmers who
were getting barely 50 kg of bajra and jowar per acre and the annual
income was Rs.2500 to Rs.4000 are now earning Rs.10000 to Rs.1 lakh from
the same land. In addition to the traditional cereals, farmers in this
area are growing wheat, onions, vegetables, a variety of flowers like
marigolds, lilies etc., fruits and a cash crop that is not a water
guzzler. The villagers practice organic farming. They have been able to
provide employment to people from the adjoining villages and farmers who
had gone to Pune and other cities for work are returning home.
Engineer turned farmer
The man who pioneered the radical technological and
social innovations that repair and restore degraded water sheds and
guarantee each family within the community an equal share of the water
harvested, is an engineer with his own factory. It was in 1972, after the
terrible drought that affected some 4-lakh people in Maharashtra that
Mr.Salunkhe realised the need to intervene. There was just no water
available for agriculture of any kind. Even drinking water was scarce and
tankers would supply water for basic needs.
Travelling extensively in the area, he found villagers
breaking stones for road construction in a desperate bid to earn
subsistence allowance from the government.
The engineer in him realised that environmental
regeneration and water shed development with the full participation of the
community was the only solution. Rainfall in this region fluctuated
between 250 mm and 500mm. He initially tried his ideas of water shed
development on a 16-hectare plot of hillside in Naigaon village in
Purandhar block. The land belonged to the temple trust but it was barren
and uncultivable. He got the land from the trust on a 50-year lease and
built a hut where he and his family lived and worked with the community.
From 2 to 100 quintals.
Conserving soil and harvesting water was given top
priority. A series of contour bunds were raised to trap water and check
soil erosion. At the base of the hill slope, a percolation tank that could
hold upto a million cubic feet of water was constructed. A well was dug
below it and water pumped from there up the hill slope for irrigating the
fields. Trees were planted in the rocky areas; fruit trees grown in the
more fertile areas and grass and shrubs regenerated on lands not being
cultivated. Slowly production from the land increased. As against two to
four bags of grain in an year, 100 quintals was harvested and enough
employment was generated for the survival of five households and their cattle. Half
an acre of irrigated land could provide a man's food needs for the whole
The Naigaon experiment was ready for duplication in other
parts of the state. Water had to be treated as common property resource
with all villagers having equal rights and access to it. So five basic
principles of the pani panchayat or Gram Gaurav Pratishtan were evolved .
These are in operation to this day:
These are in operation to this day:
~ Irrigation schemes are undertaken for groups of
farmers, rather than for individuals. Water is allocated on the basis of
number of members in a family, rather than in proportion to the land
holding. A family unit of five is given water rights for irrigation of one
hectare of land.
~ Cropping is restricted to seasonal crops with low water
requirement. Crops that require perennial irrigation and large amounts of
water like sugarcane, bananas and turmeric cannot be cultivated in pani
~ Water rights are not attached to land rights. If land
is sold, the water rights revert back to the farmers' collective.
~ All members of community, including the landless have
right to water.
~ The beneficiaries of the panchayat have to bear 20
percent of the cost of the scheme. They have to plan, administer and
manage the scheme and distribute water in an equitable manner.
With farmers paying 20 percent of the cost of lift
irrigation, the government provided another 50 percent and the remaining
30 percent was provided by pani panchayat as interest free loan.
The half a dozen landless people of Mahur who have joined
the pani panchayat scheme have taken land on lease from landholders and
put to good use their quota of water. They too have prospered and now some
of them have bought land.
In the early eighties when the cloth mill in which the
villagers of Mahur were working closed down, they came together for their
own water panchayat. Ten to 15 percent of the villagers who already had
irrigated land have not joined the scheme. People living on the hilltop
where the water could not be reached have also stayed away. As have
carpenters and others doing different jobs. "Where the cost of
development does not ensure returns, villagers have not joined in,"
says Lakhsman Khedar, who works closely with Salunkhe to ensure that the
scheme stays on line. Though the region received close to 1100 mm of rain
annually there was no storage facility, villagers recall. Today it is
wonderful to see the prosperity of Ramchandra Sripathi Chavan, one of
Mahur's early beneficiaries of the pani panchayat scheme. The old mud hut
in which he lived till the eighties now serves as the godown for his crop
of onions. A solid two-roomed cement house with galvanised iron sheets for
roof is his new abode. A television set has been given pride of place.
Of the four acres of land that he and his brothers own,
two acres are now irrigated through lift irrigation. Earlier he was
dependant on the rains and grew just bajra and jowar. He was able to
harvest just 5 to 6 quintals in a year and earned just Rs.2500. Today he
grows a mix of crops and his income has soared.
Others from the village gathered to recount similar
success stories. Niranjan Ganpat Rao Chavan and his brother have 12 acres
of land. Now under the pani panchayat scheme 4.5 acres is irrigated.
Earlier he grew groundnuts in the rainy season and bajra, jowar and rice
and earned Rs.5000 to Rs.6000 in a year. Now he grows mogra, marigold and
lilies in addition to wheat and vegetables and earns Rs.70,000 per acre of
Niranjan, an MA, LLB had left his village in 1984 and was
working in offices in Ratnagiri and Pune and sending home money. In 1987
he returned to Mahur to look after the irrigated lands. Like him Satyawan
Gole has returned from Mumbai to work on his fields at home. Paying a
donation, he has been able to send his son to an engineering college.
Balasahib Chavan and his brothers own 11 acres of land of
which three acres are under the pani panchayat scheme. Balasahib who
studied till the 12th class is the village patkari, the man who operates
the lift irrigation scheme, bills the villagers, collects payments and
ensures that each member of the panchayat gets his due share of water. The
pumps operate round the clock and Balasahib ensures that each acre gets
water for three hours continuously. Though there is load shedding in the
area, it is not as bad as it is in U.P., the villagers pointed out.
Balasahib underwent special training on motor repair and electricity at
Sashwath before taking charge in Mahur. He gets a salary of Rs.1500 as
patkari. Every member of the panchayat contributes Rs.1000 a year towards
maintenance. Balasahib who was earning Rs.9000 from his land now earns
Rs.2 lakh a year. What is more, he has a special status in the village.