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Opinion

Water management: Not only the government’s work – analysis

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On 25 December, Prime Minister Narendra Modi published the operational guidelines of the Jal Jeevan Mission, which aims to provide drinking water to 14.6 rural crore households. In line with the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution, gram panchayats are expected to take the lead in implementing the program. This will, however, instill a “sense of ownership” of the program among the local community, create an environment of trust and provide transparency in the planning, implementation, management and operation and maintenance of water supply in rural areas.

The renewed focus on local community involvement in water management is a welcome step. If implemented correctly, it can do wonders. Take, for example, the case of Chureddhar village (6,693 feet) in The Tehri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand. Like most mountain villages, Chureddhar residents relied on natural springs (which opened on or near the surface of the land for groundwater discharge), which are known as groundwater discharge, which are known as dhara, mool, kuan in the central and eastern Himalayas and chashma And naula in western Himlayas, for their domestic and subsistence-related needs. A report by Jal Shakti’s ministry—Spring Rejuvenation—says nearly 200 million Indians depend on spring water across the Himalayas, western Ghats, Eastern Ghats, and Aravallis.

But by the summer of 2002, the village, which has about 400 residents, was in the midst of a debilitating water crisis: Its only hand pump had dried up, as had many springs due to the growing demand for water, years of ecological degradation and the climate erratic trends induced by changes in rainfall. This negatively affected residents’ lives, livelihoods, irrigation and drinking water supplies.

To understand the importance of the springs to a Himalayan people, Guddi Devi, a resident of Chureddhar, told me, one needs to understand the old relationship that existed between them and the communities. “After a wedding, the newlyweds prayed in a spring, filled a container of that water, and took it home,” she explained. “But as development became infrastructure-focused [the village relocated near a road] rather than resource-focused, everyone forgot to take care of the springs and their catchment areas, which led to the water crisis.”

In 2009, a team of hydrologists and geologists from the Himotthan Society, a local NGO incubated by Tata Trusts, one of India’s oldest philanthropic institutions, began working with the community to solve their water problem. They explained to the villagers, especially the women—as they and the children traveled additional distances to get water for their families—the science behind the springs and how to revive them. Once the community arrived on board, the next set of work— the construction of groundwater refill ponds and pits, and the increased green cover (springsheds management) – began.

Within a few years, his hard work was worth it. There was a reduction in the number of tankers who arrived in the village during the scarcity season (April to July). The demand for water from the village in 2002, when the project began, was 2,993 cubic meters and availability was 1,496 cubic meters. Today, there are 5,019 and 6,307 respectively, which makes Chureddhar a fat people.

In addition to reviving the springs, and managing their recharging areas, residents have also done the rainwater harvesting. The per capita availability of water in 2012 was 12 litres per capita per day (lpcd); today it is 55 lpcd, which matches the rule of government. The post-implementation phase is also critical, so each household pays 50 euros a month to take care of the work done. Today, the Himotthan Society is also working in 450 other villages in nine districts of Uttarakhand to solve drinking water problems.

The successful implementation of the programme and the socio-economic impact of the project (women and children have more time for other activities and there is an improvement in agricultural production) shows that there is an urgent need for mapping data monitoring systems, understanding of socio-economic benefits and spring governance systems. What is also needed is the transfer of knowledge to local communities about springshed management. The list is long, but must be completed. “Without water, these villages, where we have been living for many generations, will become ghost villages, and people will be forced to emigrate,” Guddi Devi said, no doubt.

The opinions expressed are personal

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