Saturday, November 8, 2014

The MGNREGA Route to Reviving Village Springs -YISHEY DOMA/ PIB


Sadam-Suntaley, Turuk-Ramabung and Mellidara-Paiyong Gram Panchayat Units in South Sikkim, muffled under the rain-shadow area of Darjeeling Hills, are no longer tagged as the driest areas in Sikkim thanks to groundwater recharge project under the MGNREGA national flagship programme.
This didn’t happen overnight. Just a decade back, these villages, owing to climate change impact, recorded fewer number of rainy days in comparison to the previous decade. Less rainfall meant drying up of water bodies – springs, streams, nalas, etc, thrusting people dependent on agriculture, poultry and dairy farming into seemingly inescapable problem. It was worse during the lean period – December to April. Worse still, the dependency on the spring water for drinking and other purposes increased each passing day.

Faced with dying springs, the Gram Vikash Kendra did not throw up its hands in defeat. Instead to address this growing threat, Melli GVK under the aegis of Rural Management & Development Department and with funding support from MGNREGA, conducted a survey in 2008-09 in five Gram Panchayat Units under Melli GVK and collected data on 66 springs, a majority of which they discovered had dried up or were on the verge of drying up.
“It was during this time that the springshed development initiative or Dhara Vikas, a new and scientifically proved artificial method to recharge the ground water was coined in Sikkim in the proactive guidance of Sandeep Tambe, the State Nodal Officer MGNREGA Sikkim and presently Special Secretary of Sikkim Rural Development Department. And we chose to use his expertise,” says Suren Mohra, the Field Facilitator of Sumbuk GVK.
Following a series of orientation trainings and exposure visits, this issue was placed in the respective Gram Sabhas. The efforts of the GVKS did not end here. “We motivated the PRIs and the water user groups, conducted a Participatory Rural Appraisal to explain the demand and supply of water from the springs after which it was finally passed by Gram Sabha,” said Mr. Mohra.
Astoundingly, the GVK in 2010-11 executed the project in 100 hectares of forest land and covering three GPUs – Lungchok-Kameray, Turuk-Ramabung and Mellidara-Paiyong. The recharge zone of the spring of the GPUs, however, falls under Sadam-Suntoley GPU – the largest worksite in the entire Northeast.
“Over the last five to six years, we have been working towards enhancing the hydrological contribution of the mountain ecosystem to ensure rural water security for the mountain communities, using a scientific and people-centric approach,” explains S Tambe, Special Secretary, Rural Management & Development Department, Government of Sikkim.
According to Mr. Tambe, the principles of geohydrology, watershed and GIS were integrated to conceptualize and design a new initiative – springshed development under the banner of Dhara Vikas in 2008.
“This science-based, people-driven programme, was initiated in collaboration with several government and non-government partners. During the first year, local expertise and experience was developed to identify the recharge area of the springs based on the structure, weathering and fracture patterns of the rocks. Successful demonstration of this rainwater harvesting technology started from the year 2010 onwards and now provides a successful model to revive springs in mountain region,” explains Mr. Tambe in several of his articles.

How did the GVKs help in reviving springs to transform the villages plagued by perennial drinking water shortage to a village thriving with life?
First, employment was gained by people, mostly from Turuk Ramabung GPU. They dug up thousands of staggered contour trenches and recharge ponds spread in 100 hectares of reserved forest over a period of 16,062 men days.
“Most men and women from Turuk Ramabung were employed to dig trenches. They dug 15,000 6x3x2 feet trenches, 5000 more than the project entailed and 2,500 10x10x2 feet recharge ponds,” informed the Field Facilitator.
The project was unlike other government projects as even after the completion of the project leading to discharge of ground water, voluntary people mostly the water users groups from Melli were maintaining the trenches and recharge ponds at regular intervals.
For the Panchayats – equal counterparts in the project – creating awareness and making people understand its importance remained critical for the successful implementation of Dhara Vikas in the villages.

Over the last five years, a total of 100 hectares land in three GPUs has been covered up under the spring shed development with a total investment of Rs. 20.88 lakh resulting in an annual ground water recharge of 150 million litres.
Today 21 springs which are under this project are completely revived with indicator springs – Dwarey, Nagal, Aiman and Lungeli Dhara – recording increased discharge in three drought prone Gram Panchayats, a positive sign in the rain shadow area.
For instance, discharge in Nagal Dhara was 9 LPM in December 2010 but increased to 16 LPM in December 2012. Similarly, the discharge in Dwarey Dhara was 13.5 LPM in January 2010 but increased to 28.9 LPM in January 2012.
With the revival of the spring came a better life for the people. Nearly 500 households in the three GPUs are being benefitted as visible impact is seen at Khani Khola (indicator stream) catering to Mellidara GPU for drinking.
Surely after the Dhara Vikas initiative, Sadam’s groundwater recharge project is a success story for all – springs are full, the quality of water is better and the villagers are gaining.
[The writer is freelance journalist and took part in the ‘In Residence’ programme of Rashtrapati Bhavan as a writer from Sikkim]

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