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Self-help brings two drought-prone UP villages to life

By digging canals themselves, villagers in drought-prone Lalitpur district, Uttar Pradesh, have begun raising two crops a year and have doubled their income

Depleting water, whether in towns or villages, and lack of water augmentation measures on the part of the government has pushed some communities into coming up with their own solutions to the water crisis.

In Lalitpur district of Uttar Pradesh, communities are organising to bring water from government canals to their fields, by digging channels. Farmers who were barely able to raise one crop a year, and were forced to migrate, have since returned. Two crops is virtually the norm in the two villages of Tindra and Budwani where work has been completed.

The village of Tindra had been facing a drought since 2003. Only one-tenth of the 140 hectares of farmland was farmed; 50 of the 56 families had migrated in search of work.

In April 2007, Parmarth, a non-profit organisation, began to think of initiating drought-proofing measures. All the dug wells had dried up and silted over. The only option was to link the village with a nearby government irrigation canal that released water four times a year to irrigate the kharif (summer) and rabi (winter) crops.

Not only was diverting the water illegal, the channel had to be dug through a patch of forest land which required permission from the central government. The work began without any of the required permissions. By also ensuring work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), which meant an assured income of Rs 100 a day, the villagers began work on the canal. 

In 60 days, with 60 people working, the 2.37 km, two feet deep and three feet wide link canal was completed. In June 2007, villagers saw water in their backyards and, in the next rabi season, “for the first time in my life I grew two crops,” said farmer Srinam Sahariya.

Now, 35 hectares have been farmed and 20 families grow two crops a year. Ten others grow three crops, including vegetables, said Ramesh Pardes, once a migrant from the village. An estimate by residents shows average annual incomes have doubled in the past two years. More importantly, migration has been halted.

In neighbouring Budwani village, a proposal by the government to dig a canal was never implemented. So the villages decided to do it themselves, led by Sarman Banskar, the elected sarpanch.

The 3.4 km link canal now irrigates 445 hectares in Budwani. Most residents grow three crops a year, including vegetables. According to the agriculture department’s records, the village saw such sowing coverage only in the early-1970s. Estimates by Parmarth show that the village will earn Rs 1.36 crore from agriculture in 2010-11. This is almost five times what the villagers earned from agriculture in 2002!

To ensure that water reached farms further away from the dug canal, Parmarth encouraged farmers belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes to demand work on feeder canals and level their unused lands under the MGNREGA. Under the law, these farmers can work on their fields while being paid a daily wage. So far, 35 feeder canals have been dug in both villages to cater to individual fields. Crops now flourish in farms that used to lie fallow.

According to villagers, at least 10 villages near Tindra and Budwani are drawing up plans for similar community canals.

Taking an irrigation system into one’s own hands means not just building it but also maintaining it and catering to demands for more areas to be irrigated. This is the second phase of the project.

Source: Down to Earth, March 15, 2011