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The Muse

July 14, 2004

Heroes of a different kind

In these days, where corporate CEO's and movie stars are being seen as "role models", here are some people who are every bit, if not more, deserving.
Source: www.rainwaterharvesting.org

Mahesh Kant and Sarita of the Institute of Research and Action (IRA), a Patna based NGO, have changed the way of life in Shabdo village in Fatehpur block in Gaya district of Bihar. They revived an age-old water harvesting system – ahar and pyne.

To unite the villagers from different castes and community, in this naxalite dominated region and then imparting the lessons on water conservation was never an easy task for Mahesh and Sarita. Few months back, Mahesh shared his experiences, “In the beginning we were considered as state government’s spy and were not readily accepted by villagers”. But they did not give up.

They educated the villagers on the relevance of ahar and pyne in the socio-economic well being of the local community. This traditional water harvesting technique comprised of a channel (locally named as pyne) diverts water from rivers to a tank (ahar) from where it is distributed to the fields. The system went into disuse because of siltation as well as encroachment by the influential lot, adversely affecting the livelihood security of the local population.

Persistent efforts started yielding its results after almost three years. 30,000 villagers from forty villages (including Shabdo) came together forgetting the caste differences to revive Hadadwa pyne—45 kilometre long water harvesting system. There was very little external assistance for this initiative—most of the work came in as shramdaan (voluntary labour). The villagers have also devised a management system in the form of sinchai samiti --the irrigation committees --who operate and maintain the ahar and pyne. The impacts are visible—two crops in a year (quite unusual few years back) resulting in additional revenue. Most of the tubewells have water today, thanks to the groundwater recharge facilitated by the ahar.

Another outstanding initiative was the introduction of community farming in Shabdo—first of its kind in the region. Today, management of 175 acres of agricultural land belonging to forty families (individual share being 2-3 acres) is looked after by the Sinchai Samiti. Daily meetings are organized to finalise the day’s plan of action. Instead of every one working in the field, the work is delegated to individual farmers (as decided in the meeting) in rotation. The benefits are also shared in accordance to the landholdings.

IRA has also promoted diversification in income generation activities as well. For the first time in 2003, fishing was done in the ahar spending Rs 8, 000. The return was three folds. Interestingly the return is again channelized back into this activity.

For their efforts, Mahesh and Sarita, the young activists will be always remembered forever for their contribution to the society.

At the same time it is a challenge for the villagers to keep the momentum going…why? The region’s land mafia consistently opposed IRA’s work in the region. On January 24, 2004, Mahesh Kant and Sarita were shot dead...

Related links:
PBS - Rainwaterharvesting
India - Rainwaterharvesting


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