MAHARASHTRA: Ujjwal Chavan, a 2010 batch IRS officer who works in a central government agency in Mumbai, has changed the face of his drought-prone barren village. Perennial water shortages are over in other villages as well, as check dams have come up in this area of Maharashtra’s Jalgaon district, to preserve rainwater. Chavan has set a target of preserving 500 crore-litre of it this year.
Chavan and his team have helped 40 villages to store 200 crore-litre in various check dams. The villagers also planted 45,000 trees, turning the once barren land into a thick green cover, bringing back peacocks and other birds. Chavan said his hamlet called Dhamangaon in Chalisgaon taluka always faced an acute water problem. One, which had multiple adverse ramifications.
“Women had to spend the entire day just to get drinking water. School-going children were engaged in this,” said Chavan. He recalled an incident that moved him. A farmer who owned 40 acres committed suicide due to consecutive droughts in 2017-2018. “It forced me to think that if a man owning 40 acres could not bear the water crisis, what about marginal farmers and labourers? I decided to look for long-term solutions,” he said.
Agriculture in this area is dependent on an erratic monsoon. “I alone could not reach a conclusion on what should be done.” Chavan then called a meeting of villagers and this is what he told them: “I am ready to travel 350 km every weekend from Mumbai to work on a mission that will change everyone’s life. But you too have to chip in.”
The officer focussed on community effort, which led villagers to construct dams to store as much water as they could. Chavan said under Jalyukta Shivir, they received Rs 80 lakh, plus Rs 40 lakh from Siddhivinayak Trust and Rs 10 lakh from relief fund organisations. “We started constructing major check dams in the first year that resulted in storing 14 crore-litre of water”. He and the villagers prepared an integrated development plan for Dhamangaon. The model was to replicate in other villages. “We were surprised after seeing the success of our efforts in this village. That encouraged us to carry it forward.”
“While undertaking the construction of small check dams, sites were identified where maximum rainwater could be stored. Then, we formed a five-member team to execute the plan. These five were from village panchayats. We gave them leadership training as well.”
In 2018, they stored 20 crore-litre in five villages. “Next year, we collected 121 crore-litre in 43 check dams. We decided that each village would have a maximum of 30 check dams. In 2020, 200 crore-litre was stored in 34 villages.” For 2022-23, they have set a target of 500 in 70 villages in five districts.
High storage of water has recharged the groundwater table. “Women have stopped going out for miles. Farmers have started two or three-season crops that has increased their income substantially,” said Chavan. Big and marginal farmers are earning well. Labourers don’t have to shift to other places for livelihood. The Spin-offs are impressive. Mud houses have been replaced with concrete ones. Plantations have helped reduce the temperature in the region.