It may be hard to believe but there is a remote village in Uttaranchal where people themselves took the initiative to bring water to their fields from a distance of over 2 kms to be able to irrigate their crops and meet other needs.
They even managed to arrange for the necessary funds, partly from their own resources and largely from other sources, including the local members of Assembly and Parliament who gave money from their area development funds.
The motivation, of course, came from an agricultural research institute whose experts conceived the whole project and supervised its implementation. Not surprisingly, the local forest department charged the villagers for allowing to lay down underground water pipes through its area for carrying water.
The village, Pao Wala Soda, is situated about 25 km from Dehradun in the typical hilly terrain of the lower Himalayas. The 40-odd families residing there subsisted traditionally on rudimentary rainfed farming in the absence of assured water supply. The closest source of water, a natural perennial sub-surface flow, was inaccessible to them, being some 2.2 kms away in the hilly forest.
They could never imagine that this water could be brought to their habitation till the experts of the Dehradun-based Central Soil and Water Conservation Research and Training Institute ascertained its feasibility by conducting a topographic survey of the area.
But, being a research body, the institute could provide only the expertise and get the work done but without inducting any funds. That part was taken care of by the villagers who also contributed through voluntary labour and locally available material.
The first hurdle they faced was the demand of Rs 48,000 by the forest department as land lease for laying pipes. The villagers shared this cost. Then came the issue of raising nearly Rs 10 lakh (Rs 1 million) that would be needed for creating the necessary infrastructure of ponds and pipes.
Their relentless efforts resulted in getting only Rs 600,000 from the state government's directorate of watershed management and Rs 200,000 from the MLA's local area development fund. The remaining Rs 200,000 was contributed by the villagers themselves in the form of labour and local material.
However, this infrastructure brought water to the periphery of the village and not to each farmer's field. That required laying another network of pipes at an estimated cost of over Rs 900,000.
The villagers again managed to get about Rs 670,000 from the area development fund of the Member of Parliament and contributed the rest themselves through labour and material.
Significantly, the whole water system, which is operational now, is being managed by the local people through their village water resource committee, which also decides the water share and charges to be paid by each of them.
However, the CSWCRTI experts have been guiding and assisting them in making the best use of available water through diversified farming systems. The villagers are now growing not only wheat and rice but also fruits and vegetables for better returns.
This, obviously, is a unique example, which can be emulated elsewhere as well, especially in the hilly and mountainous agro-ecological conditions.
According to CSWCRTI director V N Sharda, nearly 16 per cent of the country's total geographical area falls under the hilly and mountainous agro-ecological region. This institute has taken up scores of developmental projects in this region with substantial participation of the locals.
Indeed, Sharda feels that the participatory model of development can be adopted on a wider scale for undertaking soil and water conservation measures. A vast chunk of around 175 million hectares of land is reckoned to be affected by various forms of degradation and urgently needs intervention for conserving soil and water.
If this issue is left unaddressed, the menace of landslides in the hills and silting of rivers and reservoirs downstream would assume an alarming proportion. For, a humungous 5,334 million tonnes of soil is estimated to get eroded every year through wind and water flow.
What is worse, some 30 per cent of the eroded material is believed to be lost forever as it flows into the sea. The eroding material also carries away with it millions of tonnes of essential plant nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potash.The soil and water conservation techniques developed by research bodies like the CSWCRTI can prove handy to avert this colossal wastage of vital natural resources.