Environment is central to our activity since this is seen in a holistic
form to include water for drinking and cattle, hygiene, foliage, grazing
fields, forests and fauna without which a rural habitat is incomplete.
Since water is most important in this structure, a water source is
adopted as a node for an integrated development of the community starting
with the development of the source itself in the first phase. Health,
hygiene, non formal education, income generation and restoration of eco
balance follow up as building blocks. Unless these
parameters can be met we feel that the flight from villages
for t5he cities cannot be arrested to obviate a social and environmental
It is the core of any sustainable development as shortages are now a
looming crisis in most villages. Acute water shortage will drown India
by 2017 warns a UN report.
Our focus on water
was the result of a poignant situation in a village where an old widow
pleaded that she be shot rather be solicited for her vote in elections
since there was no drinking water in the village during summers.
This was in 1966. Today after a Herculean effort against many odds, the
village is self sufficient in water with its well brimming to the top and
a check dam changing the once barren landscape. We focus on
rainwater harvesting for its suitability for resuscitation of wells,
creating water bodies and rejuvenating traditional techniques. One
such crisis area is the Yamuna ravine belt affected by unrestrained
exploitation of ground water and deforestation visibly driving many
villages to semi drought conditions. The first check dam in the region
was completed 2003 through community participation and self-help groups
organised by the Sainik Foundation in village SALAITA in Jamuna ravines. This
check dam has shown strikingly visible results by recharging the
water table so much so that even the dead wells have been activated giving
excellent yield in summers too. Social forestry and new
varieties of grazing grasses have been integrated to arrest soil
erosion and reverse eco degradation. This in course is expected to
change the very rhythm of life of the community with new income generating
opportunities. With a series of check dams of this nature wasteland in
ravines could be changed into pastures and horticulture belts.
Effort is on to provide linkages so that at a later stage even drinking
water can be piped direct to village while also restoring the environment
to become fit to sustain the rich fauna and flora for which this belt was
Foundation is grateful to UNDP for funding this and other schemes in
Saliata under SGF. Projects on water harvesting harvesting in
watershed development such as ours rely wholly on their sustainability
through linkages, with confidence building in their reliability which can
not come without sustained funding.
A Simple Approach Transform Ravine Terrain?
Yes as visible in village SALAITA
Phase I has
sent a clear message of awareness in a region, which has never seen an
engagement of this nature, and in a generally unvisited and remote area.
Environment andecology are unknown, quite
unregistered among the people and distanced from their daily routine. That the vernacular press has
featured this phase is significant where news of this nature has little meaning. The change in
local environment by visible transformation of terrain has been a dramatic
experience for the community.
The challenge is whether
Above – Original site of check dam
Below – The same site six months later and
new experience for children
are resolved to transform this belt with replication of this in a
progressive mode. The model culminating in Phase II is expected to be very
much more striking in every way and unique in geographical perspective.
. What are the deliverables in Phase II?
Phase II is vital for carrying to its effective conclusion,
the concept tried out on ground successfully in Phase I. And for providing
a full model of a ‘water source unit’ of watershed development,
based on a check dam or a group of check dams with a village as the node. Emotionally
this will mean a lot to the community for the confidence this would
inspire and stamp their achievements.
The completion of this model is thus
equally vital to developing the concept of IWAC as a tool for quick
replication of development models. IWAC is flexible, relevant to the nature of involvement and
result oriented. Its
strength lies in articulation with ideas and not manpower or equipment.
The impact of this would be enormous and eye catching if it can develop as
a district node as planned, where such organizational tools are unknown.
Environment, ecology and the state of village units would then come to
right notice at levels where they are needed the most. It is only then
that the future models can become self-sustaining. In the short and mid
term Phase II will achieve the following targets: -
Consolidate on gains of Phase I for augmentation of water resources
in Salaita Ravines. The community can exploit its resources more liberally
to achieve total self reliance
Additional one-hectare area will be covered by tree plantation.
Grazing grasses as pilot pasture will cover one-hectare area.
Three new water points will be available to the community for
horticulture and other activities.
100% population will have toilets.
The community will get training in new skills and know through
Nearly 2000 population
will benefit directly from the above.
programmes will be launched through institutional resources with emphasis
on women and children.
The ravine belt north of the Yamuna River
makes a conspicuous watershed and has been under our study since 1998. It
evokes interest form many angles, which underscore socio-economic and
environmental issues with immense import as highlighted below-. -
A general economic debility due to insufficient return from
agriculture, the main vocation of this region.
The systematic destruction of eco balance due to over exploitation
of subsoil water table rendering this belt extremely prone to water
scarcity with water table receding to 35-40 metres below the surface.
The poor soil and ground conditions difficult to handle and bad in
leaching precipitation for recharging the water table.
The visible effect of scouring and erosion carrying away topsoil
thereby shrinking cultivable land with the advance of ravines. This has
left the topsoil without any foliage or nutrition.
The absence of education and awareness on emerging problems for the
community related to management of its resources and environment in
A tradition bound community with an urge for self-reliance in
betterment of the quality of life.
Location and Terrain (See map)
is a 60 km
long and 10 km wide ravine belt with rugged
and broken ground and
between 120 to 150 metres making deep gullies, generally oriented east
face on the Yamuna R is steep at many places with the northern edge
merging into the cultivated plain. The project proposal focuses on this belt and specifically on its extreme
western and remotest end ere the village of Salayata (Slaita on map) is
Five prominent gullies merge here draining the monsoon run off from
40-hectare catchments. By road the project site is 90 kms east of Agra.
The Taj Mahal city and 21 kms west of Etawah, the nearest railhead. This
is also the district headquarters. 15 kms to the south is the Chambal
Rivers famous for its yet bigger ravines and also crocodile farms.
Agriculture is the main stay. There is one
main crop, but those numbered with tube wells can get the second crop too.
Wheat, bajra and jowar are the main crops. Some grow mustard in the rabbi
season. Horticulture is not possible because of scarcity of water, absence
of irrigation infra structure. And poor soil. In the absence of water for
agriculture, there is no trace of modern and progressive farming.
Livestock have reduced due to lack of pastures. The gazette of 1911 pays a
tribute to the health of the people of this region, once famous for its
milk products and weaving industry. This has disappeared and with little
educational facilities, absence of industries the youth are taking to
migration to the cities adding to their problems. Taking the current
standards the quality of life varies from just minimal to dismal, since
these regions have seen little change since centuries.
Literacy level is low with less than 40%
women able to read and write. Those who have managed to keep abreast
however have good qualifications but no job openings. Primary school
Education is most affected since this gets
minimal support from the administration. There are little teaching
facilities or equipment. Children
generally squat on floors. There is practically no science in our rural
education and thus people are devoid of any scientific temper. Teaching
and learning are drudgery in general, through sheer neglect. Environment
awareness being concomitant with education and economic security is thus a
casualty. There are no games or cultural engagements.
The majority of housing in this belt is in adobe
with thatch roofs. In heavy
rains many houses get destroyed or damaged with little relief for
restoration. Cattle and farm produce are mostly accommodated within the
50-50 square metre premises of the living accommodation.
Animal wealth (specially mulch) constitutes an important input for
village economy. There is little sanitation, with open drains and some pit
Primary school Salaita
Vice President with community 1998
was during our visits to the belt in 1996 that an old widow lamented
that since there was no drinking water in the village during summers
most of the five wells receding in levels, one having dried up
completely, she be shot rather than be solicited for her vote with every
general election. This set our institution on course to take up the
challenge against many odds. The project area characterizes degraded
soil and water conditions, which are taking this region into an arid
zone environment. The Yamuna wetlands here once attracted large species
of birds specially the Siberian cranes, but this is becoming a rare
sight with the wetlands drying up. The government has installed many
hand pumps but most of them are defunct due to receding water table. So
far no alternative measures had been thought of for the region as a
whole with a focus on restoring the environment and eco balance, which
have a direct bearing on water resources.
community was involved right from the start in search of a solution,
which could be tried out right in their own village as a pilot project
and which if workable, could then be taken as a model for replication
along the belt. Water
harvesting was already drawing some attention elsewhere, but none ever
attempted to apply this concept in this region. This was shared with the
community and then followed up by a ground reconnaissance. A consensus
was taken to block the five gullies confluence at the village and
carrying the run off into the Yamuna, damaging considerable cultivable
land down the slope. (Site of check dam A as marked on map). Another
site was located half a km above through which considerable run off
drained into the gully below (site for check dam B as on the map). The
third major gully lies somewhere in the middle and collects water from
the eastern approaches. This was selected as the site for another check
dam (marked C on the map). Taken together it was reckoned that the run
off from a large catchments extending over 10-15 hectares could be
arrested which in due course and with proper training of natural outlets
and treatment of soil, could provide effective water bodies with
direct impact on soil, environment and eco system of the belt. These
check dams would expectedly have short, mid and long-term deliverables
as follows: -
The immediate recharging of the water table and revitalizing of the
wells, which was the Top priority for the community. Leaching would be
moderate and steady in silt.
The water bodies would stimulate growth of foliage and general greening
in the vicinity, thereby helping soil conservation so necessary to stop
the advance of ravines.
The check dams would impede the forward movement of ravines reducing and
The shrinking of cultivable land and saving it from damage during
recharging during the rainy seasons, sub soil water could be tapped more
liberally opening fresh opportunities for diversification and income
generation such as growing of grazing grasses for pastures, horticulture
and other agro activity.
Assured and steady water table could also be utilized to support
selective centralized community piped system, which does not exist in any
In mid term islands of forests could reappear around the check dams
to start with, once social forestry is kept in concert with other
In the long term, the above models could be replicated on similar
terrain, in the same belt and Chambal Ravines with salutary effect in
restoring congenial eco system
Once water bodies
start retaining water over greater periods, as bio mass reduces
permeability and leaching, new activity could be introduced such as bee
keeping, fish culture and so on.
Wild life and birds could return to these belts, which were rich in
these at one time.
Gully plugging integrated with check dams has also resulted in
checking the advance of ravines and reclamation of culturable land.
on the above approach, a village assembly was held and a final
decision was taken to put up a project in two phases with one
main check dam (A) in Phase I and two additional ones in Phases
II (project was named Swasti- Sanskrit for ‘well being’). .
The project was submitted to several agencies for funding and finally
accepted by the UNDP under their Small Grants Scheme. Since the upper
financial limit under this scheme was limited, only Phase I could be
funded. This Phase had other components too, which included sanitation,
tree planting with fencing and gully plugging. Phase I has
been duly completed and inspected by UNDP, so also the Government
sponsoring agency the Ministry of Forests and Environment and
Governance of Project’s
India the basic unit is the village (Gram) which exercises its powers
through the local self government called “Panchayat” a committee of
‘five’. Once the village was an autonomous republic in itself. A lot
of this status has been revived. The head of this council is also elected
and is called the ‘Pradhan’. Every Indian village will have a Pradhan.
Since our Project is conceived at the village level, all proposals are
passed by Panchayat resolutions and thus have the necessary authority,
commitment and involvement of the community behind them. It is also from
this democratic principle that the village generates the working ethos.
Institution exercises control through the Governing Council at Delhi
where all major items are presented for passing. In the case of Phase I,
regular monitoring was carried out by the sponsoring Ministry of the
Government of India, through progress and expenditure reports and visits
by consultants. The UNDP also conducted its ground assessment very
accounts are audited centrally by an authorised auditor and also submitted
to the Income Tax Department as applicable to non-profit voluntary
Mobilising the Community.
participation was the guiding principle for structuring the ground
organisation. Community can be mobilised only through self-help concept,
in a spirit of cooperation for its collective good. To get this spirit going in a society, which is highly
tradition, bound and politicised, without any scope for individual gains
is a Herculean task in India .Are Discipline and frugality necessary for Rural Development? Yes-
we were fortunate in having a good chunk of the population in ex
servicemen whose discipline and better education provided for the
leadership nucleus to mobilise community support. This support came in
graduated benchmarks. No one had seen a check dam much less aware of its
benefits. They awaited results before being fully convinced. This came
with the first run off collection during last monsoons. Now even adjoining
communities are urging for the same model.
various self help groups needed for this Project as
explained below, was a new exposure for the community: -
Resources Committee- (Jal Samiti) Headed
by the Pradhan With at least one-woman member.