96 women-led pani panchayats take over water resource management
As in the previous years, farmers of the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh started facing acute water shortage this year, too, with the onset of summer. There were media reports of farmers stealing water to irrigate crops. With scant rains and little help from the government, most people in the region faced a bleak future. But people of three backward districts in the region—Jalaun, Hamirpur and Lalitpur—hope to ease their water woes. They have started work to secure their water resources.
In 2011, women from 60 gram panchayats of the three districts got together to form paani panchayats (water councils) in their villages, which have become a model for local self-governance to address water and employment problems in rural areas.
The focus of these paani panchayats, mostly led by dalit women, is to create more water resources, revive old ones and conserve natural water bodies with the help of traditional and modern technology. “We are planning to revive all old and dried up water structures and construct new ponds with the help of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and the panchayat,” says Sunita Devi, a paani panchayat member of Jalalpur village in Hamirpur's Sarila block.
The first paani panchayat was formed in 2011 in Jalaun district. By September 2011, a total of 96 such water resource management councils were formed (see 'District wise break up of water management councils'). “The idea of a paani panchyat is to increase women’s participation in decision-making, especially on matters related to water and livelihood security in the Bundelkhand region,” says Sanjay Singh, secretary of Jalaun based Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan (PSSS). The organisation has been helping set up the paani panchayats with aid from the European Union.
District wise break up of water management councils
|District||No of Gram Panchayats||No of pani panchayats||No. of Jal Saheli||Category wise classification|
The results are there for all to see. For example, the paani panchayat of Gahuli village, also in Sarila block, has revived its pond, and has framed rules to protect it from contamination. “Earlier, solid and liquid waste of the village was directly dumped into ponds. As a result, hand pumps around it were yielding contaminated water. People fell ill and the water table also declined.
The paani panchayat took an initiative to clean the pond and made strict rules to protect it (see 'Rules to protect water bodies'). “The groundwater level has increased remarkably. We did not face water shortage this summer, people got water for their daily needs from the handpumps. Health conditions have improved because of good water quality and there were hardly any cases of jaundice and diarrhoea,” says Jamuni Devi, a water worker of Gahuli.
Stressed by water woes
The paani panchayats offer a way out for women who have to fetch water from a distance. Scarcity of drinking water had been steadily increasing in the region due to scanty rainfall. In the past Bundelkhand practised water harvesting and had tanks and traditional water harvesting structures. However, most of these structures have fallen into disrepair or have completely been destroyed due to apathy of local people and governments in maintaining them. This has directly affected the health of women who have to spend long hours in fetching water over long distances.
“Din bhar ghado - ghado khopdi pe dharo, ladkiya othayi rahi to baal jhadno lagay” ( all day, the girls and women of village have to carry pots of water on their heads; as a result, young girls are losing their hair), says Jamuni Devi. Though water is available in the village now, women have to carry water from one end of the village to another, covering a distance of 50 to 400 metres. The paani panchayat has demanded piped water supply from the water supply department.
|Districts||Normal rainfall (mm)||Avg. Rainfall in (2002-2011) (mm)||Water sources affected by the groundwater table depletion (in percentage 2001-2010)|
|Source: Report on Drought Mitigation Strategy for Bundelkhand region of UP and MP (unpublished), inter-ministerial Central Team, May 2008, India Meteorological Department (IMD) and question no 2305 answered on 10/03/2011 in Lok Sabha (Indian Parliament)|
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