Regaining a paradise

Involvement of locals in the management of natural resources has earned remarkable dividends for the Doon valley

By Himmat Dhillon
Published: Thursday 15 May 1997

Regaining a paradise

Survival needs: overuse of nat (Credit: Himmat Dhillon)IN A bid to reverse the ongoing degradation of the Doon valley's environment and preserve its watershed, the Uttar Pradesh government initiated a project in 1993 which seeks to involve the locals in a watershed management scheme. This participatory management programme has not come a day sooner for if the watershed is not preserved and restored, it would have serious repercussions on the ecosystem of the valley as well in the plains below. Me pattern of the Indian monsoon and water regime is to a great extent controlled by soil and vegetation cover over the Himalayan belt. Doon valley is an integral part of the Himalayan watershed and is drained by two rivers, the Ganga and the Yamuna.

In essence, the Doon valley integrated watershed management project is a participatory watershed management endeavour with financial and technical assistance from the European Union (EU). It aims at developing village-based micro watersheds on a sustainable basis. A technical assistance ( TA) team of expatriate and Indian consultants under EU funding will help officials during The implementation of the project. Under the participatory approach, a village is treated as a basic unit in which the resources are developed through community participation in all phases - from planning, implementation and finally, in the sustainable management of the resources created. "It is not merely aimed at the environment; we are working to develop the human resources of this valley," says S K Dutta, the project director.

The area of the project includes the catchments of the Asan, Tons, Chandrabhaga and Song rivers. A large number of hill villages spanning more than one catchment area, are located in ridges such as Nirgaon, Batoli and Dhanaulti. Project activities, therefore, target village watersheds. Amongst the factors taken into consideration while giving priority to a village are degree of soil erosion and its socioeconomic status.
Towards self-reliance In most cases, development activities fail in the long run because rural communities become entirely dependent on developmental agencies for sustaining such projects. One of the reasons for this is the subsidies which developmental agencies use to market their plans. In the long run, this results in a marked decline in the community's motivation and self-reliance.

The Doon valley project presents an interesting case study where this dependency syndrome is being successfully overcome. The project is trying to motivate the villagers to manage their common property resources. It seeks to manage the natural resources of the area in a sustainable way. Communities which were previously dependent on government subsidies are being encouraged to mobilise their own resources and use them to create funds.

Common areas where the community and project staff need to interact are identified through participatory rural appraisal techniques. Villagers draw up plans and maps for their own development based on their local experiences Lucknow and technology. Later, these very plans form the basis of annual project plans. The project staff and line agencies (water, electricity and public works departments) are also fine-tuning their programmes with the priorities of the villagers. The basic idea behind all this is that watershed management should become a people's movement with the project staff acting as facilitators.

"Through participatory approaches, the project seeks to ensure that the beneficiaries perceive project inputs as their own and therefore, worth maintaining. Previous attempts at implementing environment restoration strategies in the Himalayas have clearly demonstrated that unless local communities actively participate, sustainability cannot be ensured," says a senior project manager.

Sharing responsibilities
The project is helping villagers improve minor irrigation and drinking water supplies, increase fuel, fruit and fodder production, water and soil conservation, augment productivity of land and empower communities to improve their lot. Other areas of activity include energy conservation, animal husbandry and horticulture. One common feature of all these activities is that they are mostly land-based, which means they will benefit relatively larger land-holders.

The project has, hence, made provisions for the landless poor and marginal farmers so that they get an opportunity to earn a livelihood. Income-generating activities like vermiculture, poultryfarming, mushroom cultivation, sewing and tailoring have been undertaken to help landless villagers earn additional income through self-employment. K J Virgo, leader of the TA team, says, "in the long term, improved management of natural resources will benefit the landless through augmented supplies of fodder and fuel."

"Earlier projects had brought home the fact that people did not respect the things they received free," says a senior project manager. Therefore, even as project inputs have been delivered in the form of chaff cutters, tools, implements and seeds, the recipients have been made to deposit a percentage of their cost in a common account. A minimum amount is kept back as air emergency fund-cum-capital while the rest is loaned. Within a self-help group, individuals get together and decide to contribute a fixed amount every month to a joint account. The funds are jointly owned by all members and are used by them to obtain credit on easy terms for income-generating activities.

A model of success
The participatory approach has begun to show heartening results. Bangakhala village, situated eight kin from Dehra Dun, presents an interesting case study. A 10-hectare (ha) sal forest exists in the village. Continuous lopping by people from other villages and nomads had taken a heavy toll on the forest. The project team motivated the village committee to safeguard the forest. This led the villagers to oppose the nomadic incursions as well as those of neighbouring villagers responsible for the lopping.

"When I find anyone cutting the branches I first tell them not to do it. If they do not listen, then I go to the village and collect all the women. We caught hold of four people who refused to listen and banded them over to the authorities," says Pavitra Devi who receives an honorarium of Rs 600 from the project for looking after the forest.

"Our entry brought the entire village together. For perhaps the first time, people began to accept a moral responsibility for their environment," said Pawan Kumar, deputy project director, explaining the change. The heartwarming fallout of the intimate relationship that exists between people and their environment was that during 1995's spate of Himalayan forest fires, the Bangakhala forest remained unscorched. The Bangakhala women's group also undertook planting of trees on seven ha in the nearby degraded forest.

The Doon valley project has brought home the lesson that developmental activity can be sustained only by the involvement of local people. Will other agencies and departments improve upon the lessons of this experiment?

Himmat Dhillon is a freelance writer based in Debra Dun.

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