Swadhyayee movement captures running away rainwater in Saurashtra

Extraction of groundwater coupled with severe drought led to a reactive response in people of Saurashtra to divert rainwater into their wells in a bid to "capture" water which was "running off"

Saurashtra is the peripheral region along Coastal Gujarat. It is composed of a Central basaltic plateau that rises 100 to 200m above mean sea level with an average annual rainfall of about 600 mm. The rainfall is concentrated in a few days during which the incident rainfall leads to flashfloods draining into the sea. Due to low reliability of rainfall, farmers in the area have had been heavily dependant upon the ground water. This resulted in deterioration of quality and increase of Total Dissolved Solids of the ground water severely affecting the agricultural production and productivity of the soil.

The excessive draft of ground water for commercial, agricultural and growing urban agglomerations led to the problem of saline water intrusion. It is estimated that the area affected by saline water intrusion has increased from 35000 ha to100,000 ha by 1977 (Patel, 1977).

During 1985-87, Saurashtra suffered one of the severe spells of extended drought. This led to a reactive response in people who decided to divert rainwater into their wells in a bid to “capture” the rainwater which was “running off”. This was done directly or by diverting rainwater from the drains and fields into the wells. While doing this, what was of utmost importance was to store water than to look at the long term (or short term) effects of siltation of wells and the subsequent effects of the “yield characteristics” of the well. Having experimented this “native” technique in 1988, the farmers of Dhoraji-Upletta, a small township in Saurashtra region, found that the diverted flood waters have raised the water levels in their wells considerably leading to a good kharif crop.

The spiritual leader Shri Pandurang Shastri Athawale gave a boost to this “ native well recharging” technique. He explained the “phenomenon” in a simple language to his large followers motivating them “…to give the water back to the earth which has been used exhaustively by the people….”. He exhorted people to solve the problem of water by themselves on a self help basis. Nirmal Neer (pure water) was one of the early experiments which comprised of activities related to recharging wells, tubewells and handpumps; diverting rainwater in to the exisiting ponds, construction of check dams and construction and renovation of ponds. The movement not only inspired the people but also brought them toegther with a sense of oneness and a spirit of self help. Amazingly, the movement has emphasized building of a self reliant community able to address its own problems rather than basing on the benefits of the Nirmal neer program.

Interestingly, another organisation called the Saurashtra Lok Manch Trust studied the technique in a limited but scientific way. The Manch propagated the technique as it had the essentials of soil and water conservation through rallies, meetings, interactions and melas.

The movement picked up with several religious institutions, voluntary organisations, individual scholars and saints and above all the rural communities propagating the need and the utility of well recharging technique.

However, there has been no systematic scientific study made so far of the technique so much so that there are no accurate estimates of the quantum of recharge achieved. Back of envelope calculations might reveal impressive figures, but the hydrological conditions of the aquifers, their aquifer characteristics are essential elements to bring about the best in the technique that has taken birth as a coping instinct to droughts.

(Taken from Status and Policy Framework of Groundwater in India-1999 by Srinivas Mudrakartha, Viksat; Nehru Foundation for Development, Ahmedabad)
 

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