Maharashtra, in western India, has suffered severe drought conditions for decades. This has affected the agrarian economy of much of rural Maharashtra. **Statistics report that since 2009, nearly 23,000 farmers have committed suicide in the state. The situation is only getting worse – the UNESCO report for 2018 predicts a severe water crisis in India by 2050.
Efforts have been afoot for quite some time to make Maharashtra a drought-free state. Government and private institutions have been working hard to alleviate water scarcity by teaching the villagers about rainwater harvesting, water conservation and agricultural practices that will revive the land.
Buldhana district is one of the most afflicted regions in the state. Khamgaon, one of the talukas in this district, was once known as the ‘cotton city’ for its rich soil and high-quality cotton. Irregular monsoons played havoc with the water-intensive cotton crop and soon Khamgaon fell from grace. But even today, its residents are dependent on the irregular rain for their farming.
The only ‘nala’ (water canal) in Kadampur village in Khamgaon wasn’t in use any more, due to the scarce rainfall and the resultant siltation. Similarly, Rantham village in Malkapur taluka was facing severe problems due to the lack of rainfall. The only percolation tank available had lost its water retention capacity due to lack of maintenance. The other talukas were no better.
The Tata Trusts supported Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana (BJS), a not-for profit organisation to alleviate the problems in this region. The aim of BJS’ drought-proofing project is to make every drought-prone area in the state into a drought-free one, by way of desilting and restoring waterbodies. The project was begun in earnest in Khamgaon and Malkapur, two of the 13 talukas in Buldhana district.
The Trusts supported the development of the drought-proofing programme, provided financial support to purchase 134 excavators and backhoe loaders that could be deployed in the area, as well as operational costs of the equipment for a year. Armed with these machines, Buldhana’s district administration came forward to implement the drought proofing project in their villages. Approximately 41,250 cubic metres of silt was removed from the water canal in Kadampur, thereby increasing the canal’s water holding capacity by 4 crore litres. The excavated silt was spread over 68 acres, which improved the field soil. Farmers in the region can now plant high-yielding crops as well as diversify into horticultural produce.
In Rantham, 31,500 cubic metres of silt was removed from the village pond. This silt was used by the farmers to fertilise their holdings, reducing their dependence on chemical fertilisers. The pond’s water holding capacity increased by 3 crore litres helping the villagers to diversify into wheat cultivation as well as vegetable cropping.
Suresh Bagale, the tehsildar of Buldhana, and his team also discovered a forgotten water structure in the village of Kumbefal, home to around 3,000 people. With the help of the structure owner and the Water Resource Department team, BJS desilted, repaired and revived the ‘Kumbephal Bandhara’, providing immediate succour to the water-starved villagers.
The project has brought a ray of hope to the farmers in these drought-afflicted areas. Water bodies have been rejuvenated, soil quality has been improved, ground water levels have increased, and the changing cropping patterns have offered increased yields and enhanced income. The success of this drought-proofing programme has led the Trusts and BJS to initiate similar interventions in four other water-scarce districts of Maharashtra, namely, Latur, Osmanabad, Akola and Washim.
** Source: BJS video on the Sujalam Sufalam project — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zba_DHauDac