District Magistrate's push for revival of wells, ponds brings hope in Banda; 471 gram panchayats join movement

Editor's Note: This summer has taken a toll on large parts of north, north-west and north-central India. As the country witnesses extremely high temperatures ever, here is a look at the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh which has been hit by another drought, and several villages don't even have basic drinking water. This is the sixth in a seven-part series, which explores the situation in Banda, Panna, Damoh, Mahoba and Chitrakoot.

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Banda: Women walking miles under the scorching sun with empty vessels to fetch water is a common scene in most of the drought-hit areas of India. But the picture is much different and positive in Banda district in the arid Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh. Villagers from the district under the guidance of a government official have taken it upon themselves to revive the water bodies in Banda, instead of passing the buck.

People trenching wells and ponds in the morning and cleaning them in the evening has become a common sight across all gram panchayats of the district.

This all started with ‘Kuan-Talab Jivao Abhiyaan’ (well and pond revival initiative) initiated by District Magistrate Heera Lal, who also mobilised the community to restore the natural and man-made water bodies in the district.

 District Magistrates push for revival of wells, ponds brings hope in Banda; 471 gram panchayats join movement

District Magistrate Heera Lal inaugurates work at a pond in Banda as part of the Kuan-Talab Jivao Abhiyaan. Manoj Kumar/101Reporters

Lal, who is determined to end the water crisis in the district, started the initiative in February, well before the arrival of peak summer.

The 1994-batch PCS officer, who was promoted to IAS in 2010, said the initial aim was to clean the wells, which were being treated like dustbins in every village, and the ponds.

What is the water body revival initiative?

“I know the problem of water is going to become very serious in the coming days, especially considering how dry the area is. There is no harm in trying something that can help the people in the long run. Wells across India have become waste bins, and my first aim was to clean them up, because trenching helps in opening the pores, which results in water recharging. It is the same with ponds,” he added.

The District Magistrate refers the water revival initiative as a game of cricket in which “the support of the full team is needed”.

"To ensure everyone’s participation, I myself started visiting the villages and cleaning the water bodies. Watching me do it, more and more people joined gradually after they realised that it was being done for their benefit. I may get transferred from the district, but the residents have to stay here; if they take action today, it will help their future generations,” he reasoned.

Lal said the work of reviving the water bodies in Banda is being done in all 471 gram panchayats across the district’s eight blocks.

Heera Lal inspecting well with villagers in Banda. Manoj Kumar/101Reporters

Heera Lal inspecting well with villagers in Banda. Manoj Kumar/101Reporters

“I have engaged the civil society along with the villagers, and that’s something that goes beyond the duties of a district administration, which is being appreciated by everyone,” he said, adding that he can’t comment on the impact of the initiative at the moment as monsoon is yet to arrive in the region. However, he assured that water would be collected in the cleaned ponds and wells and, this time, would be usable.

“The deadline to complete all work has been set as 15 July, and we are hopeful of meeting it. We haven’t arranged for any separate funds for it and are availing those from the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan and other programmes,” explained Lal, saying that reports of people fighting for water in adjoining districts have been regularly pouring in, and he does not want a situation like that in Banda.

“If I am investing my time, then I want to see the project give good results; that’s why I am working 18 hours a day. I have visited all the villages and started this project in each and every hamlet,” he added.

It's an age old method, say villagers

Bhadru Sahu, 53, a vegetable grower from the Chhota Bharkhurd area in Banda says, "Few of the people from the parched Bundelkhand have been doing their best by following the same method for many years to revive the water sources in the area. There is a saint in Hamirpur area who has been doing this for many years and there are others as well. The District Magistrate only helped in mobilising the people otherwise people suffering from water scarcity have been doing their bit to revive the water bodies."

Villagers take part in a programme organised under Kuan-Talab Jivao Abhiyaan. Manoj Kumar/101Reporters

Villagers take part in a programme organised as part of the Kuan-Talab Jivao Abhiyaan. Manoj Kumar/101Reporters

Howere, Jamuna Prasad, 47, a farmer from the Pandui village where the trenching work started a few days ago says this is the best and traditional way to bring water to a dry land.

"Our forefathers told us that if we have to bring back the lost water then trenching should be done time to time. Our generation did not care for water and ecological conservation until they lost it. Now the villagers have started doing this again and the District Magistrate, with help from a few non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like Water Aid and others, is encouraging the villagers to do it on a large scale. This is very effective and we all know that it will help us in years to come because water recharging in pre-dug ponds and wells is easy while it takes a lot of time in the new water bodies," said Prasad.

Activists laud initiative

Banda-based environment activist Shobha Ram, one of the main forces behind this initiative, said Bundelkhand was once known for its ponds and wells.

"The problem of water has always persisted in this region, so ponds and wells, which were the main sources of water, were prioritised. Of a total 7,508 wells, only 3,223 still have water in them; the rest have dried up, and the reasons for that are both man-made and natural. On the other hand, of the 2,292 ponds in the district, only 1,193 have water in it; the rest have either dried up or been acquired by people," said Ram.

He lauded the water body revival initiative and said it would help people a lot during dry days. He, however, added that the district administration also needs to start work on reclaiming the acquired ponds and wells and give them back to the public.

Another water activist, Pushpendra Bhai, said, “I am quite sure that if there is another world war, it will be due to the scarcity of water. Solutions like this initiative are a step towards preventing that.

Heera Lal addressing villagers in Banda. Manoj Kumar/101Reporters

Heera Lal addressing villagers in Banda. Manoj Kumar/101Reporters

“The residents of Banda will be able to save at least 3,930 kilo litres of water, while 11,001 kilo litres of water seepage into the ground in a year will help in recharging (the groundwater)."

Pankaj Kumar, a farmer and an activist who has been actively participating in this initiative, said that, initially, only a couple of people in Bundelkhand were making efforts to conserve and preserve the water bodies, and hence, this initiative from the administration was much needed.

“It is hard to convince people in the initial stages, but the presence of the District Magistrate himself helped in getting good public participation. Now, people have started doing it even if the DM  is not able to visit their village. They have realised how much this initiative will help during severe dry spells,” Kumar added.

'DM taking undue credit'

Banda-based activist Ashish Sagar, who has been raising his voice against the illegal mining in the district, also champions the initiative, however, he says that the administration also needs to address the problem of illegal buildings that have been constructed on dry ponds.

"If the District Magistrate really wants to bring back the glory of Bundelkhand, he should also take his initiative to places where big buildings are standing. There are over 10 places in Banda where buildings have been constructed (on dry ponds) and no effort is being done to revive them. Also, (he should) let the villagers take credit for this initiative because this was started by them and not by the District Magistrate. He is just leading it from the front foot," says Sagar.

The author is a Lucknow-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com

Read previous parts of the series here:

Part I: In MP's Panna district, villagers launch initiative to restore local water bodies as successive droughts give rise to malnutrition, migration

Part II: Villagers in Madhya Pradesh's Damoh are forced to drink from dirty pond frequented by animals due to water crisis

Part III: UP's Kabrai battles year-long dry period due to illegal sand mining; parched residents turn on each other for water

Part IV: Severe water crisis in Uttar Pradesh's Gopipur leaves bachelors in Chitrakoot's parched village without brides

Part V: Farmers in Uttar Pradesh's Banda change cropping patterns, restore ponds to make profits despite persistent drought

Updated Date: Jun 19, 2019 21:34:47 IST