The drought conditions in Rajasthan for the past few years have been a source of concern to the people at large, both within the state and outside. It has hit the State on a regular basis for the last three years. As a result of this, the livelihoods of the poor rural population have been adversely affected. One of the reasons for the frequency of the drought is mismanagement and exploitation of natural resources by the community. When natural resources are degraded, it is the poor who bear the brunt of its ill effects. Water scarcity for the poor leads to deplorable living conditions, utter misery and sometimes, even death.
Land based activities have been the sole source of sustenance for the rural populace. The drought has created a menace for both humans and cattle with respect to food, fodder and drinking water.
With the passage of time, the community also lost track of its traditional water conservation and water harvesting methods. But the disaster caused by the drought has compelled the community to once again delve into the ancestral books of their forefathers for revival of traditional rainwater harvesting.
CUTS Centre for Human Development (CHD) in Chittorgarh has been working with the marginalised sections of the rural community since the past twelve years for natural resource management. It has also gained the trust and commitment of the people in its area of operation. The Centre has addressed the issue of water scarcity by involving the local populace to generate means for conserving water through restoration and regeneration of natural resources. The efforts of the Centre are ongoing for the development of the community it is working with.
The United Nations Development Project (UNDP) for Biodiversity Conservation and Natural Resource Management aims to conserve the natural resources by the management of land and water.
World Water Day and Project Launch Meeting:
‘World Water Day’ was celebrated on 22nd March 2003 at the Pemadiya Kheda village of Chittorgarh district. The UNDP project was also launched on the same day. Over 150 villagers from Pemadiya Kheda and its three neighbouring villages participated in this event. Its objective was to bring together the villagers to develop a sense of ownership in them for the project so that they can bestow their wholehearted support for furtherance of its activities.
National Water Resource Day
The ‘National Water Resource Day’ was celebrated on 5th April 2003. The villagers along with the members of Environment Action Committees (EACs), Self Help Groups (SHGs), and bal panchayats (groups of children in the age group of 0-18) participated in the event. The participants discussed the importance of forest conservation and rainwater harvesting.
‘Biodiversity Day’ was celebrated on 22nd May 2003 in the Pemadiya Kheda for endeavouring an in depth understanding of ‘biodiversity’ within the community and relevant stakeholders, whose support could be further solicited. The entire population of the village bequeathed its fervent participated. The EAC members pledged to protect the natural resources. As a part of the celebration, competitions were organised. Women participated in the Rangoli (illustration in powder colours) competition while the children in drawing competition; theme of both being Environment. Ms. Nilima Khaitan of Seva Mandir graced the occasion as chief guest.
Saman Dona: Pemadiya Khera has a couple of ponds, namely chhoti nadi and badi nadi. The latter by virtue of being positioned at the foothills of the Aravalli hills had become heavily silted. Both the ponds had dried up on account of drought. The women of this village donated their labour willingly and dug one pot/tagari of earth from the silted badi nadi everyday and put it on the earthen walls/paal of the pond. With the onset of monsoon, the pond collected substantial amount of rainwater. Subsequently, the water level in the wells around the pond rose.
The Nature Adherent: Pemadiya Khera had been blessed by Nahar Singh Ranawat, who treated the flora and fauna as “Nature God”. He passed away in 1985 and is respected and remembered till date. During his lifetime, he had motivated the villagers along with the headman/thakur to institute a system of protecting the woods and wildlife in their area. If the villagers traced any incidence of trees being felled by outsiders, they opposed this horrendous act collectively. Since long “biodiversity” has been cherished by the community greatly.
Ram Dhun: The catastrophic drought for the past three years has shook the masses vehemently. The rural people have started concentrating on means to ensure regular rainfall. The villagers collect money from every household each year to light a lamp of ghee/oil in the village temple. The idol of Lord Rama is taken around the village followed by a procession of singing and dancing crowd. In the evening, a community feast is organised in front of the temple. It is believed that this ceremony would increase rainfall every year.
Vegetative Fencing: The villagers have fenced the plantation area with cacti for protecting the saplings from grazing animals. This reflects on the sense of ownership and participation of the community.
Community Caters Care, Compassion and Cooperation
Thirst Quenched: Bhanwar Lal Choudhury, a rich farmer of Pemadiya Khera has been deeply moved by the drought. Since the ponds of the village had dried up, there was no drinking water available for the cattle. Bhanwar Lal supplied water from his private tube-well to the badi nadi (pond) for the cattle to to drink. Ratan Lal Dhakad, the secretary of EAC constructed a pyau (water tank) this year. He supplies water to this tank from his personal tube-well.
Development of Community Grazing Land: The village charagah/community grazing land has been shrinking in size due to various reasons like encroachment, soil erosion etc. The villagers were very hesitant to allow plantation in the remaining charagah. The EAC and SHG members convinced the villagers that the plantation would prevent further depletion and encroachment of the land available. Finally it was mutually agreed to give a certain area of land for plantation work and leave the rest for cattle to graze.
Concerted and Cogent Effort: Pemadiya Khera was drought-hit but surprisingly no ‘drought relief work’ had reached the village. The ‘world water day’ celebrated in the village created an opportunity for the villagers to voice their problems and demands to the local M.P., Mr. Kriplani, who had participated on this occasion. Assured by his cooperation, the EAC members subsequently approached the local MLA, Zila Pramukh, Pradhan and Block Development Officer. In due course, their major needs were sanctioned as drought relief work, i.e. deepening of chhoti nadi, construction of drinking water tank, establishment of hand pump, supply of drinking water through hand pump and repair/construction of village road.
Consciousness Evolved: Rewaris belong to the western part of Rajasthan. They migrate to greener areas along with their livestock due to acute shortage of fodder in their regions. Villagers of Pemadiya Khera protested when the cattle of Rewaris tried to enter the plantation area. The villagers repaired the damaged fencing. The EAC members asked the Rewaris not to repeat such acts.
Protecting the Rivers from Pollution: The government has taken onus of cleaning the major rivers by the year 2007. The list of polluted rivers and lakes is expanding with time, while the money for cleaning them is exhausting. The National River Conservation Authority is finding it difficult to keep at par with the ever-increasing problem of river pollution. If track records of various states are traced, only a few states can be pointed out that have shown some results. Not surprising, AP, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Orissa, Uttaranchal, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal have shown expenses less than half the sanctioned cost of schemes. (Times of India, 2003.06.17)
War for Water: Experts say that the big wars of the 21st century are most likely to be fought over controlling precious water resources rather than black gold. On the occasion of the fifth “Technology Day” at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, they said that the changing climatic patterns and depleting water tables are increasingly causing concern over the availability of this invaluable life-sustaining resource on our planet. (The Hindu, 2003.05.13)