Kathayi, a scheduled tribe (ST) dominated village in the midst of the forested stretches of Shahnagar block in Panna district faces acute water scarcity during the 3-4 summer months. Through the government schemes, three wells and two hand pumps were installed in this 75 household village in the last 10-15 years, but most of them are dysfunctional now. In the month of May and June, a perennial spring in the village supplies drinking water to all the households. Women have to spend whole night queuing to fetch water. After a lot of review, a water tanker was provided by the gram panchayat, but the supply is intermittent.
At first impression, the groundwater potential seemed to be very low in the region looking at the status of wells and handpumps. But detailed investigation show that this is not the case. Villagers say that there was one perennial Bharka (naturally occurring ponds within river bed) at Puttan Ghat. The Bharka was almost 200 meters long and 2 meters deep.
“Villagers never faced water scarcity until government built a stop dam downstream of Bharka in 2001-02, even though villagers resented to the construction. The Bharka got completely filled with silt and debris after 5-6 years. Some of the base flows (Jhir) in the downstream too disappeared,” says Ujiyar Singh, a farmer from Kathayi.
Perennial Bharkas and Kunds are a common site in numerous villages in the Shahnagar block of Panna district. Villagers in Aloni seek one to two lifesaving irrigation for wheat crop in the 10-15 ha of land from one such perennial Bharka called as Panghata Kund and domestic needs are satisfied in peak summer from two other Kunds. The villagers confirm that these Kunds are in use from the time their ancestors settled here around 300 years back. They would have settled because of the presence of this natural resource.
River Ken is bestowed with various geological and geomorphological marvels like rocky channel at Pandvan, canyon formation at Raneh fall, Dhuvadhar Seha in Panna tiger reserve, Doline formations like Brihaspati Kund etc. The uniqueness of these features has been documented by Prof. Brij Gopal, river activist Manoj Misra, SANDRP and others. Most of these geological marvels are found in the middle stretch of River Ken. There is no documentation on the geological features in the upper catchment of the river. These Bharka/Kunds (and springs) play an important role in supplying drinking water to the populace as well as lifesaving irrigation to hundreds of acres of land in the parched region.
This is an observatory account from 26 villages in the upper catchment of River Ken.
“At first impression, these Kunds look like large springs i.e. groundwater discharge point. The southern plateau of Bundelkhand is called Vindhyan range and this is broadly characterised by sandstone, shale and limestone. The huge cavities must have formed due to erosion of limestone over the geological period due to base flows. More details can be established only if hydrogeological study is conducted by taking measures like pumping test etc,” says Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni, ACWADAM.
The topography of Panna district is mostly hilly and traversed by hills and valleys. Physiographically, Panna district forms part of Vindhyachal range in the south followed by Bundelkhand upland in the north, as per the District Groundwater Information Booklet - Panna, CGWB. The southern plateau is formed by cascade type rocks of Vindhyan series.
As per People’s Science Institute (PSI), the study area is underlined by quartzite formation and it has little trace of pyrite which makes quartzite vulnerable to weathering. A network of joints, fault planes, bedding planes, weathered, fractured and saturated fractured zones act as a secondary porosity and forms the aquifer system. This explains the horizontal bedding and vertical fractures as seen in the images of the Kund. CGWB’s district groundwater profile confirms the presence of limestone layer called as Nagod limestone, which is eroded forming large solution cavities. Fractured/weathered rocks and bedding planes discharge the groundwater into these solution cavities. This explains the formation of Bharka/Kund and the complexity of hydrogeology.
PSI conducted the preliminary assessment in 26 villages, of which 11 villages are along River Baghane, a tributary of River Patne, whereas 15 villages are along River Simardha and Ken. The assessment is based on the usage of the water to quantify and extrapolate the groundwater potential. The solution cavities are categorized into three types based on their size and usage.
The study area is ST dominated, inhabited by 3600 families with a population of 15532. A family owns 4-5 cattle (big ruminants) on an average. Based on secondary data, primary data, and focus group discussion with the villagers, the total water usage from the solution cavities is estimated to be almost 17 lakh cum (16 lakh cum for protective irrigation, 1 lakh cum for domestic needs) in the study villages. If the data is extrapolated to the entire Shahnagar block, the total usage is approximately 20 mcum which is 2 percent of the total rainfall received in the entire region[i] and 20 percent of the net annual groundwater availability in Shahnagar block[ii]. This is indicative of the huge groundwater potential of Bharka/Kund in the upper catchment of River Ken, which drains out Vindhyan Range travelling through some of the blocks of Damoh, Sagar, Chhatarpur and Panna districts.
In the absence of government recognition, the only answer lies in traditional beliefs and customs instituted and maintained by communities. Ganesh Singh Gaur of Banjari village narrates that “Raja Kund was the bathing place of Gond Raja. The gods reside in the Kund at certain depth. If water level goes below and gods are exposed to air, this is a sure indicator of drought and famine. In 2017, people overexploited the Kund and the village was faced with one of the worst droughts the next year. Hence, villagers did not use this water for irrigation in the last two years and instead left it for livestock and wild animals.”
Similar beliefs are in place in Siharan village of Raipura tehsil where Shivpuri temple was constructed next to the Kund almost hundred years ago. The statue of the deity was found in the Kund. Almost 15-20 villages around this place maintain the sanctity of the place. The Shivpuri Kund is treated as sacred, and nobody is allowed to fetch water from it except freely grazing animals.
Bundelkhand has become synonymous with drought and the region is facing a meteorological and/or agriculture drought for over a decade now. The state of its crippled agrarian economy, mass migration, malnutrition, starvation death, mortgaging of cattle, child, women etc., and the desertification of villages in the search of drinking water was all over the media last year. The distress is getting exacerbated due to climate change and hence, holistic planning of the water resources in the region is necessary.
There is abundant literature available on Bundelkhand’s water resources, but it mainly focuses on surface water and there is little documentation on groundwater. As per the reports published by CGWB, groundwater resources are more depleted in the plains i.e. northern region of the Bundelkhand as compared to the southern hilly terrain. These assessments are based on observatory wells and borewells, the density of which is very low in the hilly terrain of Panna, Damoh, Sagar and Chhattarpur districts.
Additionally, the Madhya Pradesh Water Resources Department’s assessment on groundwater recharge excludes the hilly terrain with slope more than 20 percent. Due to such lacunae, there is no real assessment of groundwater in the upper catchment of Ken River. Moreover, wrong interventions around these formations can destroy the vital resources as was the case of Kathayi. “Other policies like power rationing for agriculture purposes interferes with the groundwater exploitation,” says Mithla Yadav of Saraikheda village.
Groundwater potential varies across the Bundelkhand region owing to the diversity in the geology and hydrogeology. Hence, “one-size-fits-all” state policies would not help in mitigating the current water crisis. For the holistic water management, knowledge of groundwater is essential along with surface water. The unique groundwater resources of Upper Ken need acknowledgement, investigation and conservation efforts by the groundwater departments.
Seema Ravandale heads the Innovative Project Group (IPG) in People’s Science Institute, Dehradun. Her special focus is on Bundelkhand region, water management and rainfed agriculture. She is a graduate in Technology and Development from CTARA, Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay and has work experience of 8 years in the development sector.
This article has appeared in the SANDRP Blog here