In June 2021, Rio Tinto India Pvt Ltd initiated a pond rejuvenation activity at village Kherla, in Sohna block, Gurugram district of Haryana, which was implemented by S M Sehgal Foundation. For the smooth implementation of this work, a Village Development Committee (VDC) was formed, which included prominent citizens of the community and members of the village gram panchayat.
Work on the pond began with dewatering and desilting the pond. Small shrubs of babool had to be removed from the pond’s embankment and pathway to clear the area. Before starting these activities, a no objection certificate (NOC) was procured from the village panchayat, the constitutional body for carrying out development work in the village, as the pond was located in Shamlat Deh (panchayat land).
As the word spread about the pond-related activity, an official from Forest Department came to inquire about the project. However, the forest official informed the group that a NOC would also have to be obtained from for removing the babool shrubs, because the entire area of village comes under section 4 and 5 of The Punjab Land Preservation Act 1900 of the Haryana Forest Department.
The work had to be halted, and a participatory meeting was organized between the VDC members, gram panchayat members, and the members of S M Sehgal Foundation. This was successfully concluded with the agreement that the VDC would obtain the necessary NOCs from government department for this activity.
The VDC then submitted a request letter to the Office of District Forest Officer (DFO) Gurugram in July 2021. VDC members and S M Sehgal Foundation project staff followed up regularly on the request letter, for 15–20 days. However, the request was rejected by chief conservator of Forest Department, Gurugram, who said it had not come through the proper channel.
The VDC and the project team of S M Sehgal Foundation inquired about the proper process from the Forest Department and the regional head of the Haryana State CSR Trust, Gurugram, who informed them that the request letter should be sent by the village sarpanch through the district commissioner, who would then send it to the Forest Department. The request had to come through panchayat secretary of Kherla Panchayat, block development officer (BDO) Sohna block, and District Development and panchayat officer (DDPO) of the Gurugram office.
In the second week of August 2021, this step was completed by the persistent VDC and project team. After regular visits and follow-ups with the department, the Forest Department reps realized the commitment of the community and the importance of this development work, and they finally gave permission with the condition that panchayat plant five times the number of trees in place of the babool bushes, and submit a confirmation of plantation carried out in the village. The members of VDC and village panchayat immediately took action and planted 200 trees around the pond and in panchayat land, in partnership with Rio Tinto, and S M Sehgal Foundation. They submitted written confirmation along with geo tagged photographs to the forest department and sought approval to proceed with the pond work.
With smiles on their faces on 26 October 2021, the VDC finally received permission from the Forest Department, and the work was resumed after a waiting period of four months. This was the result of a combined effort of VDC, gram panchayat, Rio Tinto, and a civil service organization.
An increase of about eleven million liters of water-holding capacity was obtained by desilting and widening the pond. A walkway was built around the pond with fencing on the inner edge for safety purposes, and animal ramps were constructed for the entry of livestock to the pond. Seven solar streetlights were installed, along with chairs around the walkway for the community to enjoy the scenic nature.
The VDC collected INR 51,500 as a community cash contribution and deposited it in a bank account for future maintenance, repairs, and sustainability of the pond. The community also contributed INR 10,000 in kind during the development of pond for removal of the babool bushes and plantation.
This project is an example of the effectiveness of a partnership between a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) organization, an implementing NGO, and the community leading from the beginning. This model helps in developing a sense of ownership within the community, which will result in long-term sustainability. The team at Rio Tinto understood and supported the project team at S M Sehgal Foundation in the face of delays, which was motivating and the mutual trust remained intact through the entire process.
In January 2022, the pond project was completed by the implementing agency and handed over to community. The community and VDC members now proudly say that no other such kind of pond has ever been developed in their region.
In this case, “the fruit of patience tastes sweet” has become reality.
Authors: Pawan Kaswan and Navneet Narwal
(Pawan is assistant program lead and Navneet is associate lead, Transform Lives one school at a time with S M Sehgal Foundation)