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Water & Environment

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  calamity.

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 once known.

Sainik 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.

Environment & Survival

Can   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

we 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: -

(a)      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

(b)      Additional one-hectare area will be covered by tree plantation.

(c)      Grazing grasses as pilot pasture will cover one-hectare area.

(d)      Three new water points will be available to the community for horticulture and other activities.

(e)      100% population will have toilets.

(f)        The community will get training in new skills and know through fresh programmes.

(g)       Nearly 2000 population will benefit directly from the above.

(h)       New complementary programmes will be launched through institutional resources with emphasis on women and children.

            Read On


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)        A general economic debility due to insufficient return from agriculture, the main vocation of this region.

(b)        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.

(c)        The poor soil and ground conditions difficult to handle and bad in leaching precipitation for recharging the water table.

(d)        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.

(e)        The absence of education and awareness on emerging problems for the community related to management of its resources and environment in general.

(f)          A tradition bound community with an urge for self-reliance in betterment of the quality of life.

 Location and Terrain (See map)  

This is a 60 km long and 10 km wide ravine belt with rugged   and broken ground and

            Rugged ravines with scattered thorny brushwood.

 Contours between 120 to 150 metres making deep gullies, generally oriented east west. The

Southern 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 located. 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.

Socio-Economic Conditions

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 latrines.

Primary school Salaita                                    Vice President with community 1998

 It 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.

 The 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: - 

(a) 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.

 (b} 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.

 (c) The check dams would impede the forward movement of ravines reducing and stopping  

  The shrinking of cultivable land and saving it from damage during monsoons.

(d)   With   assured 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.

(e)    Assured and steady water table could also be utilized to support selective centralized community piped system, which does not exist in any villages.

(f)     In mid term islands of forests could reappear around the check dams to start with, once social forestry is kept in concert with other community activity.

(g)    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

(h)     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.

(i)      Wild life and birds could return to these belts, which were rich in these at one time.

(j)     Gully plugging integrated with check dams has also resulted in checking the advance of ravines and reclamation of culturable land.      

The Initiative.   Based 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 WAPCOS               (Ministry of Water Resources).

 Governance of Project’s Implementation

 In 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.

The 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 recently.

The accounts are audited centrally by an authorised auditor and also submitted to the Income Tax Department as applicable to non-profit voluntary organisations. 

Organisation for Implementation

Mobilising the Community.                                                                                  

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. 

 The various self help groups needed for this Project as explained below, was a new exposure for the community: -

     ·       Water Resources Committee- (Jal Samiti) Headed by the Pradhan With at least one-woman member. 

·              Women’s Committee – (Mahila Samiti) Headed by a respected woman Volunteer.

·               Monitoring Committee (Dekh Rekh Samiti) Headed by a senior Citizen.  

·        Technical Committee (Taknini Samiti) Headed by a Technician

·               All manner of publicity is given to the above committees and their  

              Composition is displayed at prominent places in the village.

Below- The First Village Assembly                            Below- Vice President in field office

                  Core wall                                         Check Dam A                                      Embankmen

               Lessons from Phase I

(a) The terrain is ideally suited for arresting monsoon run off at any point of interception and prevents this draining off into the Yamuna R. This provides the most effective measure for recharging the water table, which hold the key to restoration of congenial eco system in the belt. Water bodies so created can in the long term be stabilised and return the belt to its pristine state, also opening new opportunities for income generation for farmers.

(b) Check dams can directly contribute to enhancing surface moisture and thus restoring topsoil cover of foliage and grasses while also checking the advance of ravines. The addition of biomass in the soil will naturally improve its nutrient contents too.

(c) Soil and moisture conservation will directly help in forestation of the bare ravines.

(d) Bad soil can be reclaimed to provide for grazing pastures adding to the income generation capacity of the farmers.

(e) Watershed programmes must integrate environment (health), education and sanitation to be effective and lasting and without which there can be no safeguards against environmental and eco up gradation. Village units must become self-sustaining for all round growth to achieve a certain level of quality of life to deter their thinning out for the towns and cities, which can be disastrous for the environment too. This requires an institutional approach for advice and guidance. Water bodies created within village clusters can become the basis of village nodes for watershed development, as tried out in Phase I. 

(f)) Children and girls are most responsive with a higher index of commitment. These should be targeted appropriately for their stake in environment. Through education and benefits.                     

   Observations and Experiences from Phase I

(a) Water for Construction   Water is at a great premium and a major deficiency during construction, especially for an earth embankment due to the moisture required for compaction. For Phase I, water was purchased from a tube well one kms away and transported by an agricultural pipe, which proved very costly. A tube well which was dug later for grassing of embankment proved very economical and effective and should be incorporated with every check dam in this terrain.

 (b) Anti Scouring Measure   Earthen check dams require immediate protection of the bund /embankment from scouring and erosion by rain to prevent profile deformation. Especially where pitching is yet to be completed. In the absence of stone we tried out brick pitching, interlacing the bricks with rows of locally available wild grass called the ‘dhoob’. Rooting this grass in summers requires surface watering; a tube well was thus dug up at the base of the embankment immediately after the check dam had its first collection of run off. Water was struck at 30 metres when general depth was 35-45 metres. Watering the embankment with this tube well gave striking results. The grass was lush green within a week, showed great binding and holding property, keeping the bricks in place. The far embankment was complete when the monsoon shower struck hard. This pitching stood the test remarkably well.  This technique gave us a cheap and lasting anti scouring treatment for bunds and embankments in silt.

Note Scouring on bund before pitching            Bund after pitching with grasst

                                                      (Doc Maj Meeta Singh with health workers campers)

 Surface Water for Planting – Local Recycling Tube Well    Forestation and grassing programme integrated with a check dam can abort if dry and hot spells extend far too long as climate change is indicating. The integration of tube well in close vicinity of check dams exclusively for nursing plants and grasses was found very effective in enhancing the survival rate of plants and accelerating growth on top soil and improving its moisture content. A check dam makes it possible to recycle water for surface use without affecting the water table adversely. This concept is explained pictorially below from the actual experience of the tube well at the home bank of Check dam A

Above-Concept of Recycling explained by pictorial annotation superimposed on the actual photograph of the far bank after the first showers in Check Dam A. A solar submersible pump would be more economical in the long run for sustaining the facility over long periods for grassing and tree planting.

Below – The photo of the existing tube well at the home bank when it was dug for grassing of the embankment. Vice President tasting water with children. Contrast the surface of the two embankments


(d) Recharging of Wells. A check dam can give immediate results by rapidly recharging of wells specially in its vicinity, The effect was observed by us in a 1.5 km periphery where even a fully defunct well was restored rapidly the rise of water level to the tune of one metre per day.  This greatly helped to gain respect for the scheme from the community.

(e) Response of Top Soil to New Varieties of Grass

The experiment with new variety of grasses imported from the National Grass and Fodder Research Institute provided very heartening results. Two of these ‘Napier’ and ‘Guinea’ rooted and grew very fast, providing a quick cover within a short time even under hot spell with recycling tube well providing surface watering. These grasses are also excellent fodder and can provide for good grazing fields, an ideal soil conservation asset. Below a photo of Napier grass as it grew along the base of home of Check Dam a one-month after planting, 3 feet high!


 (f) Soil Moisturisation of   Down Stream Fields

Agricultural fields located down stream of the check dam have shown visible impact of rising subsoil water table as for the first time farmers experienced that their fields had sufficient moisture content as required for turning land before sowing for the second crop sown on October. Earlier a farmer had to spend $ 25.00 for every watering which he saved this time. More than 50 families drew the benefit of this.   

 (g) Toilets.   There was a great demand for toilets. The 44 UNICEF type constructed by us with cost sharing of 10% by the community was very popular. They’re being a girl’s toilets in the school premises now attendance during winters saw a sharp rise. Sanitation drive needs to be maintained and sustained by more support. The community is ready for a 50% sharing of cost in Phase II.                      

How was the mission coordinated? - by a frugal organisation the IWAC

This is Integrated Watershed Data and Action Cell, ‘action’ encompassing all the facets of activity, a nerve cell at the node to which the community can have access to for all forms of help.  This conceives a dedicated and effective organisational structure for providing close support to the community in planning and execution of village based watershed development schemes, of the nature that was undertaken in Phase I. Reconnaissance, liaison,

Feedback and a host of other tasks are involved in fruition of such schemes. This was tried out in ‘skeleton’ during Phase I and proved very effective in all aspects including motivation, monitoring and data collection, even if rudimentary. When placed at the district level the cell can be of great educational value and also help in generating funds for sustaining of programmes. Resources sought for this cell are one time as we expect that if Phase II gets going there will be enough capacity for additional funds generating by lectures, demonstrations and symposiums. A light vehicle has been included in the inventory but we would prefer a micro light, for this would give immense surveying capability over the difficult terrain and wide domain between the two rivers. In any case this will be a novel and correct application of this capability. IWAC is a tool for watershed development support system.





                                                                          CONCEPT OF A WATERSHED NODE AT DISTRICT LEVEL 


Oval:          Rural library-



                                               Watershed Mission Stations at work sites

                                                  (Organised by the Respective Pradhans)

                                                        (Where projects are taken up)

                                      IWAC – Integrated Watershed Data and Action Cell

                                      Nerve Centre for Executing, Monitoring

  Controlling Watershed Projects, their Evaluation, Collection

 And Dissemination of Data, Maintaining a Library, Holding Records and

Project Histories, Interaction and Liaison with Communities and Pradhans

IWAC can operate on a bicycle when so necessary so long as its functions can be fulfilled. It must normally be at the district town for ease of communications. But it is flexible for positioning anywhere at the village worksite. It could be mobile operating from a field vehicle.

IWAC concept has already been tried and tested in our Phase I but without full

Exploitation due to resource constraint. A lot of improvisation was therefore   resorted to.

 A light IWAC! Field coordinator at cross roads 4 kms from the                    project site with watershed board behind him.


 Solar Pump In a region blessed with good sunshine for 10 months in a year, solar energy holds a great promise of long-term benefits for community schemes. Solar submersible pumps can accrue tremendous flexibility in shifting and redeploying water points, economical in long term, and essential for dedicated programme for restoration of soil cover and affrication. Village nurseries, orchards etc when they come up will be able to tap on such facility. This will also mean a big step towards clean energy, a new breakthrough for the region. Solar pumps have not been tried out anywhere in this region, one reason because the water table is far too low. With the visible rise in water table to within 30 metres in the vicinity of a check dam, solar pumps have become very feasible.

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