15 November, 2022

Happiness flows through the taps in Fafna

How a Tata Trusts’ intervention transformed the lives of villagers in a remote village in Uttarakhand

With Tata Trusts’ intervention, villagers can irrigate their fields suitably
With Tata Trusts’ intervention, villagers can irrigate their fields suitably
With Tata Trusts’ intervention, villagers can irrigate their fields suitably
With Tata Trusts’ intervention, villagers can irrigate their fields suitably

Sixty-six-year-old Bachuli Devi resides with her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren in Fafna, a small village in Lamgarha block in Uttarakhand’s Almora district.  Home to 154 people in 29 households, the village sustains itself with agriculture and animal husbandry. Moreover, people in the hills have limited landholdings and depend on rain-fed irrigation to grow crops that provide income and a substantial portion of their food. Fruits and vegetables, dairy and agricultural products provide the bulk of their income. Bachuli too derived her main income from dairy farming and vegetable production. However, they were unable to make significant profits due to the lack of water for their livestock and to support irrigation or raise a nursery.

Water woes

Water is a scarce resource in Fafna. Located approximately 15km east of Almora’s district headquarters, Fafna is situated at an elevation of 1800-1900 miles above sea level in a steep hilly region. The average rainfall is around 800-1100mm. A perennial natural spring is the primary source of water supply, while a naula (rivulet) offers a secondary source. A water supply scheme constructed in 1994 had temporarily supplied water to some of the inhabitants, but when it stopped working in 1995, the villagers had to depend on the spring for water.

Then, in 2009-2010, Jal Nigam proposed a new water delivery scheme for the village as part of the Swajal Project. A natural spring called Toli Gadhera in Ujyola village 5km away from Fafna was tapped and the Toli Gadhera Spring Gravity Water Supply Scheme was launched. A new pipeline was laid, and eight or nine common stand posts were erected in Fafna, each shared between three to four families resulting in frequent clashes between the residents.

The situation was exacerbated when the naula ran dry every summer. Water scarcity affected not only the support irrigation to the small landholdings for agriculture, drinking water was scarce as well. The women in the village had to walk long distances, searching night and day in distant areas, to fetch water. Often, they would arrive late at night. Queues at the public water taps late into the night were a common sight. Fights were even more common. It was not only the lives and livelihoods of the people that was at stake; the very social fabric of the village was being torn apart by the lack of water.

Bachuli Devi remembers those days with horror. When the family increased in number, water became more important, as did the demand for everyday essentials. There just wasn’t enough water to meet their daily requirements and irrigation. Without the latter, the family couldn’t earn enough to sustain themselves. “My companions and I had to go collect water at night to meet our needs,” she says. “Frequently, we fell while fetching water, injuring ourselves. There was also the danger of being attacked by wild animals.” The situation was intolerable.

Taking charge

The villagers’ plight continued until 2020, when they finally approached Himmotthan, a Tata Trusts associate organisation, to help address the water crisis. When Himmotthan surveyed the target area, what they found was a community water supply system in poor working order. The pipes had rusted, corroded, and were leaking in various places. All the stand posts were broken and unusable. Water wouldn’t reach the village due to a leakage in the water intake chamber near the source and damages and blockages at various spots along the pipeline and alignment issues. Himmotthan’s baseline survey revealed all these issues and more, says Dr Vinod Kothari, who heads the water portfolio of Himmotthan.

In November 2020, the Himmotthan team conducted a meeting with the villagers and formed a Village Level Water and Sanitation Committee (VWSC) that would take the lead in planning and executing the initiative. A second meeting was held to finalise the best alternative plan for practical water delivery. Himmotthan’s first decision was that the villagers would not only provide labour but also 10% of the overall cost of the scheme. In Himmotthan’s experience, the villagers were more involved and took ownership of a project when they had to make a monetary contribution rather than when they contributed only their labour. After the initial hesitation, the villagers wholeheartedly took charge of resolving the issue themselves.

The sweet taste of success

Under Himmotthan’s advice, the villagers agreed to repair the existing gravity water supply that ran from Toli Gadhera spring. The team helped the villagers obtain a no-objection certificate from the Gram Panchayat and construction work (construction of the Spring Collection Chamber (SCC), Roughening Filter (RF) and Clear Water Reservoir (CWR), laying of the pipeline, etc.) began under the supervision of the VWSC and the Himmotthan team. The former source from the spring was repaired. Water was tapped from the planned source, and labelling and pressure issues were addressed by building a new SCC at an appropriate height. A roughening filter was fitted to separate impurities and avoid pipe blockage. A new water storage tank and a distribution tank were built. Around 2km of the existing water supply line was repaired, and water was supplied to each of the 29 households through new and existing pipelines. The overall cost of the project was Rs 8.12 Lakhs and maintenance costs will be shared equally between the VWSC and the villagers.

“While the project had met with initial scepticism, the community soon realised that the positive outcomes far outweighed the end of water scarcity,” says Dr Kothari. Women had more time to focus on their families and to share the workload in their fields. The availability of water has allowed the villagers to irrigate their fields properly, leading to increased yields of fruits and vegetables. The villagers are now looking at growing high-yielding vegetables that are in demand. The additional income has raised their standard of living, and fights over water are a thing of the past. Societal harmony has returned to Fafna.

Bachuli Devi cannot stop smiling. “Earlier, we collected water from far away springs or stood in line at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. We fought with each other, and when we collected water from other places, we got into fights with the neighbouring villages as well. For years, I have struggled to get water, and those were the most difficult years of my life. Today, our village has water, and life is heavenly.”