Project Boond - V, a comprehensive mitigation initiative in the drought prone regions of Bharatpur

Water scarcity in Rajasthan as monsoons fail and Bilaspur- dam dries up

With the failure of monsoons in Rajasthan and dry-up of the Bilaspur dam, the water situation assumes graver proportions in most parts of Rajasthan, besides Jaipur, Tonk and adjacent districts. These areas, now in the news for acute water shortage problems, have always depended upon monsoons for their traditional rainwater-harvesting systems and the riverine sources.

While the Government has taken remedial measures with construction of tube-wells across the rural and drought-prone areas, they have been sporadic and insufficient at their best.  Merely announcing relief measures and planning of schemes on paper as an immediate disaster management strategy are not solutions to mitigation of water problems in this State.

The problems of water in this arid region are historic and increasingly assuming multiple dimensions, as changes occur in the natural phenomena aided by human interferences. Coupled with a lackadaisical approach that has resulted in a loss of its water conservation heritage and rampant construction of new structures along the catchment areas of dams, the water problems here are serious, requiring a tactical approach with a long-term perspective.

The State's rich tradition of water storage and conservation structures like baoris, wells, tankas and natural reservoirs, that primarily rely upon rainfall, have mostly denigrated into drains and dried up craters. The riverine system too is scanty and cannot be banked upon.  Groundwater levels have also been fast depleting with the people having to depend upon deep tube-wells for their needs. Where drinking water itself poses a huge problem, the needs of cattle and crop, the very source of livelihood, gets subjected to a conflict of priorities.

In this scenario, initiatives like the Project Boond structured around drought proofing with a societal approach, assume the role of a much-needed messiah in these drought prone regions. Community awareness and participation for a long-term sustainable mitigation, has been exemplified by the Projects Boond IV and V, in the Bharatpur region, which is yet another casualty of environmental changes primarily driven by man-made factors. The Projects have been undertaken as a collaborative effort of Oil Industry Development Board – Drought Relief Trust (OIDB-DRT) and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) along with Rajputana Society of Natural History (RSNH).
 
Bharatpur, although in the Yamuna flood drain area and confluence of the Ruparail, Banganga and Gambhiri, is a typical example where floods intersperse with droughts. However, the last decade from about 1995 has witnessed a shift in the patterns with an increase in drought situations.  As seen in the current situation with the Bilaspur dam, here too it was the human interference that affected the natural flow pattern in the rivers.  Checkdams along the upstreams of the Banganga and Ruparail in the 1980s almost stopped the water flow, resulting in a nearly total reliance upon the Gambhiri. And when human needs for energy outweigh the primary concern for water, one is faced with such situations as in Bharatpur region.

Increase in the height of Panchana dam at the origin of Gambhiri, coupled with erratic monsoons, has grossly affected the water supplies to Bharatpur district since the late 1990s. The underground water table has lowered from an average of 10 feet to more than 50 feet. Consequential increase in salinity and TDS of the water has posed further problems for this region. A region that was historically blessed with the natural environment of a riverine water supply, Bharatpur was ill-equipped to deal with the new situation imposed upon them. Neither did they have a mental set-up geared towards water scarcity, nor did they have the water conservation know-how that has been the boon for western Rajasthan. Rampant and deep-rooted caste discrimination also prevented equitable access to water in the existing bores and wells.

This is where the RSNH stepped in with a long-term approach for a sustainable solution with support of OIDB-DRT and BPCL. Beginning with a survey of 100 villages in the region, it collected baseline data that pointed towards a grass-roots approach for natural solutions to the water scarcity problems.  Project Boond - IV took shape with the active assistance of Oil Industry Development Board - Drought Relief Trust (OIDB-DRT) and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) under the aegis of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for community participatory projects through the Boond movement.

While Achalpura and Nagla Maliyan villages were adopted during 2008-2009, the Chak Ramnagar village in Khadera Panchayat was adopted for project Boond -V in 2009-2010.  

Case Study and Implementation of Project Boond in Chak Ramnagar Village

In 2009, Chak Ramnagar village had no source of drinking water. Village women had to walk 3-5 km distances each day to access potable water from nearby villages wherever the wells had not as yet dried up.  Oral records also revealed that the levels of sweet water in the area had fallen from 5-10 feet to 30-50 feet within a span of two generations.

Started as a four-phase Project just a year back, Boond - V began with a tactical approach of community involvement, while the actual field assessments and planning were in action. So by the time field work and construction started in December 2009, the project had full support and participation of the local community. It is little wonder that the Boond-V Project has saved a part of structure cost with the great support of community.

A scientific approach based on eco-ethics, taking into account the natural gradient flow of surface and underground water, has implemented solutions for trapping of whatever surface run-offs are available. Construction of new structures and lining of old reservoirs have made use of kutcha construction for effective groundwater recharge solutions.

The models of community involvement and participatory management have been adopted very effectively, with nukkad plays, screening of films, motivation camps, eco-centric events, and awareness campaigns. With special focus on women, the proverbial water-carriers, and the youth, who represent a future society, campaigns have also been geared towards removal of water-source based caste discrimination.

A school pond measuring 250 x 130 x 25 feet was lined and a new well constructed under the NREGS scheme, with sweet potable water availability at a depth of 40 feet approximately; the first such enclosed water structure in Bharatpur region.   

 A cattle pond of 50 x 50 x 10 feet dimensions was newly dug, with an innovatively designed connection from a new drinking water well that catches every drop of waste water that overflows while pots are being filled at the well. Awareness and educative initiatives have ensured that these wells are not only covered with mesh and hand-spun material, but also restrict water usage to drinking purpose, banning washing, bathing and other activities from this well. This has ensured that contamination of the cattle pond from detergents and synthetic salts does not occur. Additionally, an underground conduit connects the school drain to the cattle pond, to channelise maximum possible waste water for cattle use.

An existing depression in the village that had an old dried-up well with highly saline water was developed as the village pond, for collection sewage water of the village. Measuring 100 x 100 x 23, this too has been constructed with sloping walls.

Methodology Used
The step-by-step process involved preliminary assessment of water related problems, study of water flow pattern and the watershed status through satellite maps and topo sheets. This was followed up with interactive discussions with the local as well as scientific community, for devising possible solutions for conserving and harvesting water. The Village Development Committee (VDC) and Self Help Group (SHG) undertaken prior to the execution propelled the project through awareness, motivation and capacity building. It was made mandatory for the rural community to contribute their efforts to overcome the water problems of their village.  Low cost traditional techniques easy to handle by the community were used, with almost 95% work executed by the village community.

Wells of 12 feet diameter have been dug.  Traditional construction using bricks and sand was done for the underground sections, but from the level of pond, cement concrete beds were used for strength.  Double-walled structure at pond level had sand filled spaces between the two walls. The underlying part was made devoid of pucca constructions, to allow recharging capillaries to fill the well. So the actual inner diameter of the well, after construction is 6 feet.

I asked Mr. Satya Prakash Mehra of RSNH, who has spear-headed the ongoing Project Boond movement in Bharatpur region, how were the villagers effectively engaged, for it is a foregone conclusion that community management is the bedrock of any such campaign to thrive.

He pointed out, that with working male members being mostly outside the village for income generation, the major responsibility falls in the hands of women. The Self Help Group was formed with this in view, with the message circulated to keep the local environment clean and hygienic. It was the result of this effort that one of the village ponds was cleaned by June before the expected monsoonal rain. The cleaning and maintenance is being managed by the primarily women.

How was it designed to catch rain water?

The water flow pattern and underground flow was examined before planning a well. As geomorphologically, the flow pattern is towards Keoladeo NP, water gets accumulated during rainfall in this direction, as Chak Ramnagar is the last village downstream. This was definitely a thumb rule used when deciding upon site and construction of pond or well.

What is the current status vis-a-vis the monsoonal rainfall?

Mr. Mehra is very optimistic. "The school well is already recharged and the village pond filled. This is a definite improvement upon the last year."

So the people of Chak Ramnagar can now look forward to a future of self-sufficiency in water, and perhaps a greener future, with the ongoing efforts of Mrs Sarita Mehra in the VDC and SHG micro-models of self-sustenance in water.

Such multi-pronged pro-active and sustained efforts in the rural and district zones as undertaken by the RSNH vide the Boond Project initiatives, is likely to result in more effective mid-term and long-term solutions in the water scarcity problems affecting Rajasthan.  If such grassroots initiatives were to be replicated all over the State, the people would be better equipped to handle the changes in natural phenomena while effecting solutions to their water-centric problems.

Mr Satya Prakash Mehra of RSNH, has kindly consented to sharing data and methodology adopted. The enclosed documents have been provided by him.

He may be contacted at spmehra@yahoo.com for further information.

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