By Jitendra Singh Khangarot
Reviving the green cover
Rajasthan has long been known for its traditional water harvesting systems. Drawing upon centuries of experience, people built structures to catch and hold the monsoon runoff and store them for the dry season. Archeologists date back some rainwater catchments to 1500 B.C. The dominant structure among these is johad, a crescent-shaped dam of earth and rocks built to slow down rainfall runoff. In the medieval period, rulers in Rajasthan financially supported the construction of village-level structures for rainwater harvesting. The johads also capture and conserve rainwater and recharge groundwater by improving the percolation. The height of the embankment varies from one johad to another, depending on the site requirements and water flow in topography contours. In some cases, to ease the water pressure, a masonry structure is also built for excess water to flow out.
Five villages of Samra panchayat (village council) in Alwar district, Rajasthan, relived the old times by constructing johads to augment water for agriculture and other use. Strong community participation has led the panchayat, located on the periphery of once water abundant Sariska forest, to solve water scarcity in the area. In the 1970s and 1980s, high population growth rate led to large-scale unemployment. Wood cutting, an easy livelihood option, lured many youngsters in the village, starting a vicious cycle of environmental damage. Mass-scale cutting of trees reduced the protected area of forest and led to soil erosion that increased the sediment load in rainwater runoff. This sediment, deposited in johads, reduced their capacity to channel water underground. With less water percolation, the water table in the region slowly dropped. Trees and vegetation died as the water table fell beyond the reach of their roots. The loss of vegetation led to more erosion and sediment in the runoff. As a result, johads disappeared, resulting in loss of local water supplies (underground sources) and forests. As a result, farmers plant single crop in a year due to lack of water resources in the region. To reverse the situation, villagers undertook water augmentation work in Samra panchayat area that includes Samra, Hameerpur, Kaler, Jaitpur Gujran, and Natata villages, with the help of Sehgal Foundation.
Members of a village water committee, formed in the project villages, took stock of the problems in the region and prioritized them. Rudaram, an active member of committee, said, “Our first priority should be water management, followed by health and education. If we have enough water in our area, we can do commercial agriculture and can generate livelihood. We must revive our old johad.” Heeralal, a village elderly also known as Babuji, said, “Sahab paani to khushiya lata hai (Sir, water brings prosperity).” With the help of Sehgal Foundation, the water committee revived five johads within six months and constructed three anicuts/ check dams. The johads have helped in increasing the retention of water in cultivable land, resulting in increased soil moisture for around 3-4 months. The improved agricultural productivity has enabled marginal farmers to grow two crops a year.
The passersby see a remarkable difference in the area. After the first rains, people around the johads were seen singing songs and their cattle could be seen swimming. The rise in water level in the wells is a cause of happiness among villagers. The village Sarpanch (village council head) proudly remarks, “This is just the beginning. We will revive all johads of our area.”
Yes, this is indeed a beginning!
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