Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

India: Villagers Lend Hand to Revive Historical Legacy
February 2006

The drive to Jatara in Madhya Pradesh, one of the most backward states in central India, is a long one. The historical significance of the region grows with the ride from the state capital Bhopal to Jhansi and then through a twohour long ride to Tikamgarh. Upon arrival at the destination, one gets the feel of the magnificent history of the area. NEGLECT, DISREPAIR Jatara is home to the historical Chandeli water tanks built by Bundela kings and feudal landlords in ancient times. But neglect and disrepair over the past decades had nearly wiped out this magnificent historical legacy. Enter a group of professionals who assisted local villagers to rehabilitate the tanks. Encouraged by the government and Canadian donors, officials from the non-profit development group Self-Reliant Initiatives through Joint Action (SRIJAN) have helped local communities revive the near-defunct Chandeli water tanks. The revival is still on-going and it can be seen in Shahpura village. A visit from journalists raised palpable excitement among local villagers who eagerly told the story of how they had tried to change their destiny with the renovation of the tank in their area. Sixty five year-old Haricharan Rajput, a member of the tank user’s group (TUG) managing committee, says that many years ago, when the tanks were functional, its waters were used up to 2.5 kilometers away. But in the 1970s, the government’s Water Resource Department (WRD) converted the tanks for large-scale irrigation purposes. “The plug that used to let water out was replaced with a sluice gate that went half way across the ‘bund’ and left the other half open, letting loose soil be washed away with rainwater. This led to the continuous flow of water,” he says. Over the years, says another TUG Managing Committee member Karanju Pal, they would lose a lot of water because of seepage and severe water-logging in adjacent areas. “Apart from the loss that people faced, fisheries and livestock too have been hit by this loss of precious water,” he adds.

“THE WORK WE HAVE DONE” The discussion with journalists was followed by a visit to the tanks where the elders proudly showed “the work we have done.” They walked slowly through the area and explained the previous problems and the corrections that have been made with assistance from SRIJAN. In spite of the progress, however, nature still exacts its toll. Villagers mention that “while a lot of good work has been done, the Gods have not heard our prayers.” Little rain has fallen in the area in two years. The pride these men have in their work manifests in little ways as they proudly showed water-logged areas that used to be uncultivated. This area of roughly 80 acres or so used to be submerged throughout the year because of seepage from the tank, villagers say. After cultivating the rice crop, there was very little that they could do. The land was a waste for them. Today, the entire stretch has neat plots of various crops. “This has been made possible only because water does not leak any more,” says one of the villagers. SRIJAN is loved in this area today, but when it first came here two years ago, villagers suspected its motives. Rajput, Pal and a colleague Punno Ahirwar laughed and recalled the early impression they had formed of the SRIJAN team - that the group had come to collect contributions and would ultimately loot them. An exposure to Jaisinagar in neighboring Sagar district, where SRIJAN has another project, helped TUG office bearers realise that they could change the future course of their village. In February 2004, farmers got together to form a committee tasked to oversee the revival of the tanks. With contributions of 6,000 Indian rupees (133.33 dollars) from the village, and 125,000 rupees (2,777 dollars) from Canadian High Commission (CHC) to SRIJAN, work on the Shahpura village tank began.

OWNERSHIP MAKES A DIFFERENCE Though outsiders have poured in time and resources to help revive the tanks, the villagers have contributed in no small measure, creating a sense of ownership of the tanks. This has been the secret to the revival project. “We have some money left from our earlier contributions in our account and work for the outlets remains to be done,” says one of the villagers. Rajput adds, “We will probably be asking for contributions from people who want the outlets for themselves.” FEE ISSUE UNRESOLVED During a recent community workshop organised in Toriya Suklan, TUG members expressed the need for de-siltation and hoped to take up fisheries and livestock promotion in the future. However, the major issue that came up in the discussion was tax collection. The tanks owned by the ‘panchayat’ or village council have an advantage over the WRD tanks in this regard. Panchayat tank users have developed a system of water charges. These have not been levied because of the low amount of rainfall in the last two years. WRD tank users meanwhile are reluctant to pay for usage because the government already collects tax from farmers which go into government coffers. Hardly any money is sent back for operation and maintenance, villagers complain. Various proposals have been floated to simplify the tax issue, including charging according to usage, considering the volume of water remaining in the tanks and the volume of crop production, and even paying through barter. But the issue has yet to be resolved. “People do not want to pay for the water. Government officials have spent a lot of time in these villages trying to convince people about the need to pay taxes. But we have been stonewalled at every instance. The farmers say they do not have any money,” says Jatara WRD sub-engineer ML Kori. “The point is that users will take interest only if they see benefits. If the water in the tank is controlled and managed properly and the user groups are able to pull in 100 percent taxes, the exercise will be worth it.”

But could this happen, given that the region has not recorded good monsoons over the last two years? Kori says, “There is no water in the tanks right now. When there is water, that is the time to see what will happen."

_____________________________ Based on the article of Sushmita Malaviya, Asia Water Wire journalist. The views expressed in this article are the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), or its Board of Governors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this paper and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. Terminology used may not necessarily be consistent with ADB official terms.

*This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in February 2006: http://www.adb.org/water/actions/IND/historical-legacy.asp. The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.

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