Published: Saturday 15 January 2000


This check dam has captured mo The people of this small village of Bhil tribals in Dahod district had been facing a serious water crisis. About 78 per cent of them used to migrate for at least 10 months. There were no wells in the village. The farmlands were of no use; there was no water. "We used to walk four to five km in search of drinking water," recalls 70-year-old Madia Fatha. Things changed for the better in 1994. Today, the people are confident about weathering any drought. This has only been possible due to wm projects and the construction of a series of check dams with the assistance of the Sadguru foundation on the seasonal river Machhan.

According to Harnath Jagawat, director of Sadguru, "When I discussed the idea to work on water problems in this area, many government officials and politicians laughed at me. They asked where would I work when there was no water in the area. They did not realise that I was thinking of rainwater. " The residents organised a meeting in February 1994, requesting Sadguru to build a check dam on the Machhan. The dam was completed in April-May 1994 within a record 85 days, such was the level of people's enthusiasm. The engineers of Sadguru worked out the technical details.

Later, a series of dams were built all along the Machhan to slow down the run-off and impound the water for irrigation. The Sadguru foundation has also carried out an intensive watershed project by stone trenching and bunding, terracing and planting trees in the area. Since then there has been a total transformation (see table: Making themselves prosperous). After the construction of the check dam, a reservoir has been created that has a capacity of 453,070 cubic metres. The river that used to dry up four months after the rainy season has enough water to meet the irrigation needs despite the drought. "This has been possible only because of constant recharging of groundwater through watershed interventions," explains Rakesh Pandey, deputy director of Sadguru, who led the team that worked out the technical aspects of the water harvesting structures. "The 'cascadal reservoir model' has been very successful," says Pandey, explaining that it involves building small dams near the source of the river and the construction of a series of small irrigation structures downstream. The water trapped in the dams recharges groundwater. Jagawat points out that the water in the Machhan is from last year's rain as there was no run-off this year. The rainfall this year was a mere 350 mm, compared to the annual average of 830 mm, Pandey points out. Yet, all the 23 wells have enough water to meet their drinking water requirements. The farmers will cultivate three crops as there is enough water to irrigate 135 ha of land. The water is accessible to all 154 households of the village.

Today, the residents are entirely responsible for managing the dam. Jagawat estimates that almost the entire population of the village is now above the infamous 'poverty line', with the average household income rising from Rs 8,000-9,000 per year to Rs 35,620 per year. Sadguru has constructed another check dam on the Machhan near village Mahudi. Farmers here are now growing wheat, sugarcane, gram, maize, tomatoes and other vegetables. Says Ramjibhai Katara of Mahudi: "Earlier, I had to work as a labourer hundreds of kilometres away from home. Today, I employ labourers in my field."

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