Water out of stone

A lift irrigation system helps tribals in Gujarat fight the tyranny of the seasons

 
By Rakesh Agarwal
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

Water out of stone

The water flows up: Kabripatha (Credit: Rakesh Agarwal /CSE)IT WAS a Herculean task. For 6 months in 1993, the residents of Kabripathar village enthusiastically carved channels in the unflinching, hard soil, laid pipes and tamped down and levelled the sloping land. Today, this newly-established lift irrigation system is helping them battle the tyranny of the seasons: they can now harvest wheat in the spring and moong (Phaseolus radiatus) in autumn.

Earlier, this little village of Vasava tribals, situated on a plateau surrounded by the Rajpipla hills of the Satpura range in Gujarat's Bharuch district, grew only paddy. "We were totally dependent on the monsoons, but today we get 3 crops a year," says Champak Bhai, secretary of the Jivan Jyoti Lift Irrigation Society (JJLIS).

The JJLIS was formed in 1992 expressly to establish the lift irrigation system. It manages the system and ensures an equitable distribution of water among its members -- which means all but 10 of the village's 95 households. The irrigation system, comprising a couple of 15 hp monoblock pumps, lifts water from the shallow Tarav river, a tributary of the Karjan, which flows through a ravine some 45 meters below the village.

The system irrigates about 50 hectares of fields belonging to 40 society members. "Waribandi (rotational water supply) ensures water to every member. Every week, we fix the irrigation schedule in advance by drawing lots, and every member gets water in the ratio of his field's acreage; and we share the cost," says Gimsingh Bhai. The current rate is Rs 170 per acre (0.45ha) per cycle. While the wheat crop needs 6 water cycles, moong needs 3.
Social uplift Lift irrigation is just a part of the participatory watershed development strategy that the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), an Ahmedabad-based NGO, has adopted. "We chose a watershed as an unit because its uniform drainage pattern makes it easier to adopt an effective strategy for development, conservation and management of land and water resources of the area," says Umesh Desai, programme coordinator of the AKRSP's Bharuch branch, located at Netrang.

Although close to Ankleswar and Surat -- the industrial hubs of Gujarat -- Bharuch's overwhelmingly Adivasi-populated blocks of Dediapada, Sagbara and Valia are bastions of neglect. The lack of education -- and of a formal political structure -- prevented the Adivasis from initiating the task of development themselves. The AKRSP's intervention as a motivator and facilitator was necessary.

A formal institution, the Gramin Vikas Mandal (GVM), has been created in every village to plan, execute and manage development programmes. There are 53 GVMs -- each with a man and a woman member from every household -- in Bharuch district. A GVM's executive committee has at least 2 women members. Right from the establishment of the GVM concept in 1989, the villagers of Kabripathar have been instituting measures to check water runoff -- including gullies, contours and bunds. They also started farm forestry on 30 ha of village land, and started marketing cotton and groundnut.

Damania Bhai, who had built contour bunds on the single hectare that he owns, says, "We soon realised that we could ourselves improve our living standards because we had enough skill." By 1992, Kabripathar was straining at the leash in search of bigger activity.

Kabripathar plumped for Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) to arrive at a shortlist of what the village needed. One member from each household took part in the exercise. "For 6 days we were busy drawing a big map of the village, using seeds, twigs, leaves, flowers and dung," says Kalpana Vasava. The map depicted forests, fields, social institutions, educational facilities, water resources and households. "At the end of the exercise, we decided that village needed a lift irrigation system," recalls Khan Singhbhai Vasava, GVM member. Never having grown wheat before, the members of the society call the modest yield "good". Vasava's 1.8 ha, for example, produced 5,000 kg of wheat this year.

The GVMs function as cooperative societies, both as all-purpose do-gooders and specific-task oriented institutions. "We extend financial and technical support to village institutions and train their members to manage them," says Ajith Chandran, programme officer, forestry, AKRSP. In Kabripathar, the project cost Rs 9,28,000. The Gujarat Tribal Development Corporation financed it from end to end -- 75 per cent in the form of a grant and the rest as a soft loan at an interest rate of 4 per cent per annum. Initially, in order to cut through red tape, the entire amount was advanced by the AKRSP. Soon enough, the society became self-sustaining. After harvesting moong last autumn, members deposited Rs 27,000 with the society, which used Rs 17,000 as the summer's operational costs and returned the rest to the AKRSP.

The AKRSP, unwilling to leave everything to a potentially unmotivated field staff of its own, surfaced with a new concept -- extension volunteers (EVs). EVs are usually chosen from the ranks of the needy from the village itself and then trained by the AKRSP. They form a bridge between the AKRSP and the villages, giving them technical support and reverting with the to them and, in turn, much required feedback to the programme. Says Hasmukh Vasava, the EV at Kabripathar, "Over time, we have become an independent agent of development. The villagers respect us and we earn a decent living." A landless labourer, Vasava no longer leaves his family behind for a stint as an unskilled worker in a factory in Surat. He now charges farmers Rs 25 per acre (0.45 ha) for contour bunding and landlevelling, tasks with no material costs.

"Checking heavy seasonal migration to the nearby industrial towns was one of our chief aims," says Chandran. In some villages, migration is down by 75 per cent. In the backyard of Naina Ben's small hut in Kayali Mandavi, a nursery with 10,000 saplings of bamboo, acacia, teak and poplar is flourishing. They will be tamped into 50 ha of degraded land by the monsoons, land that the forest department leased to the village society for plantation and managing under the joint forest management (JFM) scheme. She will receive Re 0.65 per sapling, the society will receive half the produce, and the rest will be distributed equitably.

Sumanbhai Naru of Jarnawadi village is employed in his own village, thanks to the joint irrigation management (JIM) scheme. Under this scheme, in 1990, the Gujarat government handed over the management of the distribution system of medium irrigation projects to farmer-run cooperatives: under one scheme run by the Jivan Deep Piat Sahakari Mandali, 4 villages presently irrigate 600 ha. And because of round-the-year agricultural activity, jobs during lean seasons are virtually guaranteed.

A new kind of leadership -- skillful and invested with the powers to make decisions for the community -- has cropped up among the weaker sections. Exclaims Kokilaben Vasava, committee member of the Jivan Dhara Tree Growers' Society, which manages 250 ha of forest under JFM in Soliya village, "I and some others decide how to protect our forest and fine infiltrators." Earlier, she just used to help her husband run his small grocery shop.

Jayaben Vasava, all of 27 years old, EV of Kayali Mandavi, was instrumental in changing the men's attitude towards the biogas programme. "Men thought that collecting fuelwood was an easy job. After the PRA was conducted in the village, they realised how hard it was." But they still wouldn't go in for biogas, suspecting the quality of the food cooked on it. Vasava took up the challenge; within a year, the village has adopted 56 biogas plants. Adequate availability of water and a high cattle population simplified her task.

Not that the AKRSP's approach is free from problems. Conflicts between people and between villages is a constant subterranean factor. The AKRSP's leadership doesn't mediate; but nor has it developed an effective conflict resolution mechanism. JFM has not ensured a proper distribution of water, and members clash regularly. Last October, a brutal fight broke between Babatia Bhai and Dhirsingh Bhai of Chitra Kevadi village. Babatia's field is situated at the head of a canal and he truculently refused to let the water pass to Dhirsingh's field at the tail end. The farmer's society intervened and a compromise was reached, but the truce is fragile.

Similarly, prosperous Pingot village, with a JFM scheme on 450 ha, has its eyes on 10 ha forest of neighbouring Mota Jambuda village because this land falls under Pingot's revenue boundary. "Why should we share the fruits of our labour with someone else?" asks Devi Singh, the secretary of the Mota Jambuda Gram Vikas Mandal; 6 joint meetings so far have not resolved the conflict.

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