Natural resources are integral part of the sustenance of human existence. This is because, without the availability of and access to natural resources, people’s right to livelihood security can not be fulfilled. However, in many cases people are not aware of the ‘sustainable utilisation, conservation, and regeneration’ aspects of natural resources.
People protect natural resources when they feel a sense of ownership, and when they have a value for them. Even today, sacred ponds and groves are preserved by communities who otherwise live in barren landscape. There is a need to devise indigeneous models of conservation that are based on people’s daily relationship to and use of natural resources. What we have today are ‘islands of diversity surrounded by oceans of devastation’. Our natural resources are endangered because of a lack of understanding of the link between nature and the livelihoods of people. Once people place a value on natural resources, they will protect them and use them wisely. Participatory management of these common property resources, is the only way to ensure their protection.
This is all the more important in a state like Rajasthan (a desert state in north-west India), where many natural resources are scarce, water being one of them, which is most valuable and under-appreciated as well. Over the past three years, erratic rainfall coupled with inadequate water resources has created severe drought condition in the Rajasthan state and it has been affecting people’s livelihood.
Background of the campaign
Since a decade CUTS-Centre for Human Development (CHD) is actively involved in grassroots activities in the rural areas of ‘Bhadesar, Chittorgarh, Gangrar, Nimbahera and Kapasan’ blocks in Chittorgarh district. Its focus is on “people’s empowerment” (mainly women, poor and the disadvantaged) for developmental initiatives on ‘environment, health etc’. The centre has found that since there are no perennial rivers flowing through, the people of the district heavily depend on rainwater for irrigation and drinking water purposes. The present drought situation also has placed heavy burden on the women as household chore demand ‘collection’ of ‘water, fodder, and fuel-wood’ by them. It is because of this, their involvement must be ensured in the planning for ‘conservation and regeneration’ of the natural resources.
Last year CHD had launched a community participative Water Awareness Drive in ‘gram sabha & ward sabha’ level to “analyse the drought situation and emerging expectations of & priorities before the rural population”. Subsequently exposure visits were conducted for community leaders to sensitise them and create a multiplier effect of the “thought and discussion process” in the parched areas. The residents of Pemadiya Khera village in Nimbahera block in association with ‘CHD and the Forest Department’ had conducted a plantation drive last year. During that time, the villagers had mooted the need of public awareness generation on “maintenance of water resources and revival of traditional water sources” for ‘deepening and widening of the village pond’.
Chaupal Baithak (meeting at the central place of the village) is a traditional rural event ‘innovatively’ revived and widely appreciated as well recognised by the various communities as an important intervention of the CUTS-CHD. In the recent years, the ‘peasants and women’ belonging to the marginalised and weaker communities have been hammering in the ‘Chaupal Baithak’ discussions about the need for a shift in paradigms to deal with “the problems of falling water tables and shrinking water of sources”.
‘To create a sustainable impact and garner community participation as well as government cooperation’ on the “management of water resources” in rural Rajasthan, CHD launched Water Campaign in its five project blocks of Chittorgarh district. This programme, launched on ‘World Water Day 2001’ aimed to cover the water scarce regions and planned to highlight the linkages of water with “land & forest” as well as “health & sanitation” with special emphasis to effects on ‘women’. Five contemplating sessions were launched to create an enabling environment in the community for achieving their water rights and ensuring execution of their duties to water.
Objectives of the campaign
The centre has been a ‘catalyst’ in working at the “user-end” with the community and at the “supplier-end” with the decision-makers (self governance institutions, in particular) for synthesising the value of water and ensuring accountability of all the stake-holders. The “Water Campaign” organised to ‘bring together all the partners and sustain community involvement’ had the following objectives.
- To deliberate on the basic issues of conservation & regeneration of water through community activity and participation;
- To analyse the linkage of water with livelihood security, particularly for those from weaker and deprived sections of the society; &
- To evolve and take forward well-argued viewpoints and grassroots concerns on the management of natural resources and livelihood security in rural Rajasthan to the development community at large.
- Advocacy with the Decision-Makers, viz. the government, planners, people’s representatives (particularly members of Panchayati Raj Institutions) included the following activities.
- (a) Prioratisation of ‘water conservation and regeneration programmes’ in development planning;
- (b) Framing of regulations to control over-exploitation of groundwater and water pollution as well as effective implementation of existing laws/rules;&
- (c) Identification, development as well as maintenance of traditional and natural water sources.
- At Community level, the awareness generation and information dissemination activities included the following.
- Initiate dialogue on ‘the looming water scarcity and consequences of neglecting its severity’;
- Orient the community for ‘identification, development as well as maintenance’ of traditional & natural water sources’ and ‘sustainable consumption of water’;
- Revitalise the waning-down participative traditions of ‘water conservation and regeneration’;
- Facilitate the community in designing a framework to make themselves accountable for ‘rainwater conservation and groundwater recharging’; &
- Ensure involvement of community in ‘water conservation and regeneration programmes’ implemented by the government agencies.
- The person picking up cow-dung in the tank area has to dig the tank to deepen it as well as put the mud on the banks to strengthen it.
- Community-based punishment was in the form of putting labour for widening/desilting work of the tank. The amount obtained from economic punishment was usually utilised for maintenance of the tank.
- The whole community contributed labour, as and when required for de-silting of the tank.
- Irrigation schemes should be undertaken for groups of farmers, rather than individuals. In it to ensure the food security aspect, water allocation has to be done on the basis of the number of family members, rather than in proportion to land.
- A time frame has to be formulated by the community members to restrict cropping to seasonal crops with low water requirement.
- Water rights must not be attached to land rights. That is, if the land is sold by any of the community member, the water right should revert back to user’s collective.
- All the members of the community, especially the landless should be given right to water, since their other livelihood sources could be allied agricultural activities.
- All the beneficiaries should bear a mutually agreed cost of the “water harvesting structure” to include a sense of ownership and thus accountability. They themselves should get involved to plan, administer & manage the system and distribute water in an equitable manner.
Action Plan for the campaign
The people-centred ‘sensitisation events’ of CUTS-CHD were aimed to be an advocacy effort for planning on water related issues through special commemorative days viz. ‘World Water Day, World Meterological Day, Earth Day, and World Environment Day’ and encourage the local communities to act as taskforces to mitigate their own problems.
The strategies on “awareness generation, information dissemination and advocacy mechanisms” were planned at ‘promoting an effective partnership between all levels of the government, the full range of non-governmental/voluntary organisations (NGOs/VOs) and local community action groups in the discussion and decision on design of development process to duly take into account the roles and responsibilities of respective stakeholders’. To activise the above-mentioned programmes, CUTS-CHD decided to act as a ‘catalyst, facilitator and resource centre’. All the programmes were decided to be organised in association with the local panchayati raj institutions (PRIs), self help groups (SHGs) and government agencies.
Situated amidst the Aravali mountain range and besides the big Gambhiri dam, is a small village called ‘Pemadiya Khera’ (alias ‘Pemanda Khera’) in Nimbahera block. Since the village is located at a higher level, the benefits of the dam have not accrued to the residents. The first in the series of five Jal Chintan Sammelans (Contemplating Sessions for Dialogue on Water) was held in this village on 23rd March 2001 (the ‘World Meterological Day’), since 22nd March 2001 (the “World Water Day”) coincided with a local religious and cultural event, viz. Rang Teras (part of Holi, the ‘festival of colours’). This public awareness meeting was organised in association with the local gram panchayat (village-level self-governance institution) and ‘self help group’ on the bank of the village Nadi (small pond).
Leaving aside their agricultural engagements (which included harvesting of wheat & opium, a major crop of the region) and labour work in government-sponsored drought-relief projects, more than 1,200 people from 16 villages of the district, from different communities in traditional colourful attires had assembled in the event. Nearly 75% of them were women, who are actively associated with various activities of CUTS-CHD.
That “the very existence of human life is threatened due to the present water-crisis” and there is need for “understanding the relationship between water, land, forest, people & animals (jal, jamin, jungle, jan & janwar); ensuring accountability for sustainable consumption; revival of traditional system of maintenance of natural water sources; preservation of existing resources; & reduced dependency on government” emerged out of the participatory discussion.
The participants decided to conserve rainwater by desilting & deepening the nadi, and also by creating awareness among the communities on water conservation and regeneration. The meeting ended with token voluntary labour (shramdaan) given by all the participants, marking the beginning of community participation.
The Second Event
Traditional way of community participation was key feature of the second ‘Water Campaign’ organised at the Araniya Bandh village in Balarda Gram Panchayat of Kapasan Panchayat Samiti. This included “wearing colourful costumes; songs signifying the importance of water, relationship between water & women; Jal Kalash Yatra (a rally in the village by the women with a brass-pot full of water, a coconut and mango leaves on it); and worshiping (Pujan) of natural water resources”. Nearly 850 people, mostly women had participated in this event. The local Tehsildar (block level administrative official) termed it as an innovative intervention.
The issues discussed were ‘reasons of the drought scenario; challenges before women; water pollution resulting from water shortage & subsequent effects on health, nutrition & living standards; and economic exploitation during drought-relief works’.
The most noteworthy deliberation was on “the decreasing adherence of the community-formulated mechanism for the upkeeping of the water bodies”. Some fifty years back, the villagers had constructed a nadi (small pond). They also had devised the following rules to ensure its proper utilisation and systematic maintenance.
The Third Event
The “Third Contemplating session for Dialogue on Water” was held at Gardana village of Bhadesar block. The short-term focuses of this event were on ‘environment building among community for water storage & harvesting’ and ‘sensitisation of people to adopt the traditional community-devised system for ensuring proper management & equitable distribution of water resources’. “Adherence to sustainable practices of revitalising traditional water sources and conservation to increase the level of ground water” was the long-term motto. About 800 people, most of whom were women, had congregated in this event.
‘Sharing of experiences and learning from exposure visits’ by various community leaders associated with CHD was a specialty of the event. Senior residents of the village narrated the uniqueness of the Asabara Mata Talab (pond) located in the village. That pond was named after the famous goddess of the locality and the villagers also believed that bathing in the pond used to cure skin diseases. But, community apathy has turned it into a waste-dumping ground.
During the event, the villagers decided ‘to take initiative for contribution of labour in reviving the pond and its upkeeping’. Expectation of the community from government were “scope of community involvement in local-level, need-based planning to address the qualitative & quantitative aspects of government initiated activities on drought-mitigation programme; special focus projects on water conservation & regeneration as well as revitalising & maintenance of traditional water sources; making the land & water policies more community-friendly; and construction of smaller water harvesting structures”.
The Fourth Event
Women members of PRIs, people’s representatives from legislative assembly, government officials and leading social engineers actively interacted with the rural people in the fourth Jal Chintan Sammelan organised at Laxmipura village of Gangrar Panchayat Samiti. Nearly 800 people, mostly women, from various parts of the district had participated in the event.
The issues discussed were ‘identification of reasons of water scarcity & strategies to overcome the same and sensitisation & mobilisation of the community as well as the government agencies for prioratisation of water conservation & regeneration activities’. Special emphasis was given to highlight the bond between ‘water (Nir) & women (Nari)’, its gradual weakening and subsequent ill effects. The members of the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) decided to carry forward the discussion to the gram sabhas & ward sabhas to prioratise watershed development programmes.
The most significant outcome of the event was the community-identified need for “integration of indigenous knowledge with scientific knowledge” to devise locally appropriate, socially responsible and flexible strategies. Help of village-elders could be taken to identify traditional water sources and their suggestions should be included while framing mechanisms to ensure effective management of the water resources.
The Concluding Event
Involvement of key government departments/agencies, viz. watershed development & soil conservation, agriculture, forestry and irrigation was an important feature of this fifth “Water Campaign” held on 5th June 2001 (The World Environment Day) in the premises of the centre. Nearly 1000 people, mostly women from six project blocks of the Chittorgarh and Bhilwara districts participated in the event.
The issues identified by were “unbalanced consumption of water, large-scale deforestation, and heavy top soil erosion”. Everybody felt that these could be overcome by ‘individual as well as collective effort and self discipline to treat natural resources as common property resources’.
Planners/Decision-makers should make a systemic change to ‘prioratise water harvesting, afforestation and soil conservation activities’. Traditional water bodies in the past have acted as lifeline of people and the principle of distribution their sustenance. Communities should be encouraged to undertake repairing and restoration of degraded watersheds.
As water is an essential component of life, the need to use it judiciously for all purposes and also conserve it has surfaced among the users. This series of “awareness generation programme” has been able to facilitate the process of women ‘PRI members and SHG leaders’ monitoring the water resources in their area.
There has been a creeping realisation among the people and the government agencies about the need for ‘prioratisation of projects related to water conservation, ensure decrease in the activities leading to reckless extraction of ground water, plantation etc.’. People have discussed these issues in the recently held ward sabhas & gram sabhas.
People’s representatives (of Panchayati Raj Institutions & Legislative Assembly) have assured their active cooperation and participation in water conservation and regeneration activities. Local ‘Community Based Organisations (CBOs)’ viz., self help groups, mahila mandals too have decided to take initiative in this kind of programmes.
Mr. Meghraj Jat, Pradhan of Nimbahera Panchayat Samiti (the block-level self-governance body) had recommended to the District Collector to include the ‘deepening and widening work of the Pemadiya Khera village nadi’ under “drought relief work”. As per the District Collector’s order work has already been started in the pond. The villagers are also putting in extra labour in the work.
Mr. Kalulal Khatik, the local MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) has declared that he would donate a sum of rupees One Lac for development of water bodies in the Laxmipura village of Gangrar Panchayat Samiti.
Tubewells dug in the district for irrigation purposes to favour water-guzzling crops (e.g. sugarcane, opium – a primary cash-crop of the district) in place of natural cropping patterns have depleted the earth of its aquifers without proper recharging.
The government drought-mitigation programmes with provision of employment opportunities for the parched areas to prevent migration, must emphasise on building assets for the villages, by constructing water harvesting structures, and cleaning water bodies.
Generally, where the cost of development does not ensure returns, villagers do not include themselves in those projects/activities. World over it has been found that, decentralisation of water conservation activities is the key and the cheapest way to prosperity. Water policies have to be decentralised to help the communities adopt the technologies most suited to them for water storage and harvesting.
“That there is a need to prepare a Strategy Paper by incorporating people’s concern regarding water harvesting, soil conservation, afforestation, and sustainable agricultural practices” emerged during the Water Campaign. Revival of traditional values like Shramdaan (contribution of labour), Jan Sahabhagita (people’s participation) have to be integrated in it.
Networking with leading environmental activist, training and research organisations will be done at national and state level. Similarly, in the district level CUTS-CHD will act as a resource centre for small NGOs/VOs & CBOs (Community Based Organisations).
This “Water Campaign” will be carried forward in the coming months as Jal Chaupal Baithaks (JCB). In these villagers will strategise on issues concerning environmental regeneration and watershed development programmes based on community participation.
In addition to the present action plan aimed at the ‘Planners/Decision-makers & Community’, at the village level efforts will be initiated to facilitate the “people’s decision-making process” on the following model of right of & duty to water.
Depending upon the need of and demand from the community CUTS-CHD may takeup ‘watershed development’ programmes based on “traditional water harvesting system”. These cost-effective and employment-generating ‘water-harvesting structures’ could act as flood & drought control measures.
For more information, please contact:
Srinivas Krishnaswamy/ R. K. Sharma
CENTRE FOR HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
Chittorgarh 312 025, Rajasthan, India
Ph: 91.1472.241 472
Fax: 91.1472.240 072
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