The first three parts of this series on the Maharashtra government’s integrated micro-irrigation scheme, Jalayukt Shivar, recorded stories of villages that were chosen to serve as laboratories for the project. This final segment departs from norm, and travels to Bamni, where the state plays no significant interventionist part. The 2,500 villagers who live in this village mounted a collective effort to resurrect water storage and irrigation mechanisms in the region on their own might, borrowing ideas from a local Art of Living centre, and appealing to a newspaper group to fund the project.
In August 2014 a significant portion of Baburao Bandapalle’s farm lay fallow. On another section of land – 25 acres – he had attempted to grow sorghum and tur but that, too, dried up due to lack of rainfall. “I had a lot of hope from it and could not digest the fact that I had lost all crops due to drought,” Baburao told Firstpost.
Pandurang Made, who owns a 24-acre tract, left most of it empty, save for a small swathe, which he set aside for sugarcane and jowar. “I found it difficult to meet basic needs because there were no crops for last few seasons,” he said. “I lost the kharif (monsoon) season and it seemed rabi (winter crop) would follow suit.”
About 70 percent of Bamni's 1,700 acres of land under cultivation was either non-irrigable or dependent on monsoon. Of the rest, sugarcane used up most of the water. The farmers, hard pressed for solutions, launched a water conservation project of their own devising; they were influenced by similar work that Art of Living had undertaken in Ausa tehsil nearby. “Art of Living carried out widening and deepening work along a 20-km stretch of Taverja river, with help from villagers and NGOs,” said Mahadeo Gomare, of Art of Living. Residents of 14 villages in the tehsil paid half the project cost – Rs 3 crore. Gomare said the work has “directly benefited 14 villages and almost 50 indirectly”.
Sachin Bandapalle (he isn’t related to Baburao), a farmer who heads Sankalp Foundation, an NGO, adapted the Taverja model to suit Bamni’s needs – equipped with money contributed by Sakal Relief Fund, run by the Marathi daily, he announced the launch of an effort to widen Jana river, which skirts the village before merging with the river Rena. Others in Bamni were enthusiastic, but funding remained a problem.
“Since we didn’t get a great response from villagers, we zeroed in on farmers who would benefit most from the work and asked them to contribute,” said Sachin. He also pitched the idea to NGOs and Art of Living. Of the Rs 44 lakh that went into river widening, Bamni residents – 70 of them – contributed Rs 22 lakh, Art of Living Rs 18 lakh and the rest came from NGOs. “We told villagers that we would match their contribution. We also went about raising awareness about water conservation. They warmed to the idea,” said Gomare.
Work began in March and was completed in June. A 4-km stretch of the river was deepened by 2 metres and widened by 50 feet.
Ujjwala Waghmare, sarpanch of Bamni, told Firstpost first impressions were largely positive: “We couldn’t store huge amount of water, which was our target, due to scanty rainfall but we still managed to save enough. Now we have sufficient drinking water.”
Baburao told Firstpost he is preparing to sow rabi crop. “The water level of my well, which is close to the river, has increased substantially. I'm now able to get fodder for the animals,” he said.
Much remains to be done, though. “We will have to wait until next year to see if there’s a marked improvement in irrigation,” said Sachin. “I think we do need large dams, but that requires a lot of money. Small projects like drip irrigation will better serve our problems.”
This is the concluding section of our series on Jalayukt Shivar.
Part 1: The nuts and bolts of the scheme (Click here to read)
Part 2: Widening the Sonvala river in Latur (Click here to read)
Part 3: How Injegaon’s ‘best farmer’ returned to tilling his land. (Click here to read)
Part 4: A sugarcane-obsessed region is schooled in water conservation. (Click here to read)