He constructed the first check dam in Jamtoli village in Jharkhand to ensure heavy rains don't wash away farms
“I remember how heavy rains would wash away my father’s farm every year,” says 88-year-old Simon Oraon, a resident of Jamtoli village in Jharkhand’s Bero block near Ranchi. “I also remember how my community laughed at me when, as a 13-year-old, I had suggested that the washouts could be averted through check dams.”
Little wonder, when Oraon started farming himself in the 1950s, his first resolve was to fix the problem. Check dams offered a simple solution, Oraon says, but the initiative needed community support.
In 1961, he started constructing the first check dam in his village while trying to convince the members. The dam, which is spread over 12 hectares (ha) and holds water round the year, was completed in 1970.
He said building the first dam was difficult and that the community volunteered to construct three check dams after realising its benefits. “Not only did I give a sizeable portion of my farm, I had to persuade others to donate land as well.
I also grew paddy on commonland for two years to generate the funds for the same,” said Oraon, who has also constructed two channels to navigate the water to the rain fed farmlands. Today, more than 50 villages in Bero block have replicated his water conservation model and ensure water supply to 500 ha of farms.
“We have started growing three crops a year now,” Oraon says. This is unthinkable in Jharkhand where, as per the Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas of India, 68 per cent of the land is undergoing desertification and water erosion is the primary reason for it.
Besides water conservation, Oraon also took on the timber mafia to save the sal (shorea robusta) forest surrounding his village. He was even jailed for the protest. Oraon devised a simple process that helped conserve over 250 ha of sal forests. “On the one hand, we started guarding the forests round-the-clock, while on the other, we set up a committee to look after the forest.
We also decided not to commercially exploit them.” If members need the wood for personal use, they approach the committee for approval. The member is also charged a nominal fee of 50 paisa per log. Oraon, who was awarded the Padma Shri in 2016 for his conservation works, says the Centre should promote check dams and not large dams which alter the river’s flow and do more harm than good.
(This article was part of Down To Earth's print edition dAted October 1-15, 2019)
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