Two villages in Uttar Pradesh have reversed the trend of migration by digging six kilometres of channels to bring water to drought-hit farms
Channels of change
Call it the fallout of seven years of severe drought or government inaction, a silent revolution is brewing in Lalitpur district of Uttar Pradesh. Communities are getting united and digging channels to bring water from government canals to their fields. Some are volunteering labour, while those belonging to Scheduled castes and tribes are using the government’s employment guarantee scheme to link their farms to the canals.
Their efforts are beginning to pay dividends. As one travels through Lalitpur, Tindra and Budwani villages present a sharp contrast to the situation prevailing in the district. Despite a prolonged dry spell, residents are harvesting two to three crops a year. And those who had migrated are returning home. The ball was set rolling at a funeral meeting in Tindra in April 2007.
Facing a severe drought since 2003, farmlands in the village looked like a moonscape. Deficit monsoon—40 to 50 per cent—ensured farming only in onetenth of the 140 hectares (ha) farmland. All but six of the 56 families in the village had migrated in search of living. “A few of them would visit the village only in case of a death,” said Uttam Singh, who works on livelihood issues with Parmarth, a non-profit in Uttar Pradesh. He visited the village for three years to initiate drought-proofing measures. “I could hardly find anybody,” he recalled. So he took the funeral meeting as an opportunity and talked to the gathering about a new life for their village.
“We had to choose between this opportunity and the life as migrant labourers,” said Srinam Sahariya, who came to the village after almost a year to participate in the funeral meeting. Sahariya and a few other migrants agreed to stay back. Subsequent meetings saw the birth of a village association, Gram Chetna Samiti. And its first decision was to get water to the village.
It was a tough challenge All dug wells, dried since 2003, had silted up as people had abandoned them. The only option was to link the village with a nearby government irrigation canal. Though not perennial, it releases water four times a year for irrigation of kharif (summer) and rabi (winter) crops.
But diverting its water was illegal. Moreover, the link canal had to be dug through a patch of forest, which, a forest official had warned, required permission from the Central government. “We decided to go ahead without any permission,” said Ramesh Pardes, another migrant from the village. But several others cited loss of income as a pressing reason for not staying back in the village. At this point Parmarth activists promised them to facilitate works like road construction in the village under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). These works ensured them a daily wage of Rs 100 and revitalised their spirit.
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