Indira Khurana, Simi Mehta, Ritika Gupta, Amita Bhaduri

Lessons from Decentralised Community Based Approaches in Bundelkhand

It is well known that water is life and managing water is essential if the world is to achieve sustainable development. Climate change can affect the quantitative and qualitative status of water resources by altering hydrological cycles, systems and through changes of water quality via chemical and biological contamination/pollution. Water security for communities, economies, and ecosystems is critical for poverty reduction, green energy transformation, and creating a buffer from natural disasters.

Sanjay Singh Water Security in a Changed Climate Lessons from Decentralised Community Based Approaches in Bundelkhand 1

Center for Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development (CECCSD), IMPRITarun Bhagat Sangh, India Water Portal, and Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan organized a lecture under #WaterAndClimate on Water Security in a Changed Climate: Lessons from Decentralised Community Based Approaches in Bundelkhand, the speaker of the session was Mr. Sanjay Singh, Waterman of Bundelkhand, Secretary, Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan, Jhansi. The moderator for the day was Dr. Indira Khurana, Senior Expert, Water SectorVice-Chair, Tarun Bharat Sangh, Alwar.

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About Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan

Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan is a Non-Governmental, Not for Profit – Civil Society organization, working for the weaker and deprived sections of the society. The organization has been working to bring qualitative improvement & changes in the lives of the vulnerable. The organization has been made to engage diversified community groups and stakeholders such as women & adolescents groups, youth, social activists, academicians, media functionaries, lawyers, researchers, change makers, students, political forces, panchayat members in the developmental processes. PARMARTH strongly advocates for participatory processes both within the organization and with the community. The organization believes in the principle of transparency and accountability for the better interest of the poorest & marginalized communities. The organization entails a healthy, democratic, and gender-friendly working environment.

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The mission of the organization is capacity building and empowerment of deprived and vulnerable communities, improve access to and quality of public services in the prioritized service sectors for marginalized communities, specifically Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST), and with a strong and cross-cutting focus on gender.

Pani Panchayat and Jal Saheli

Dr.Sanjay Singh expressed his concerns over uncontrolled urbanization in India, and how environmental degradation has been occurring very rapidly and causes acute shortages of housing, increased squatter settlements, worsening water quality, and the problems of disposal of solid wastes and hazardous wastes.

He enlightened us with The Pioneer Model for Water Security; Pani Panchayat was formed to facilitate water security of the village and for managing and protecting water resources in the village. The members met in sample villages to work on putting forward their demands and having them met. With Jal Saheli, Parmarth has promoted women cadre from each gram panchayat, for spreading out this water right approach into the entire region and facilitate the community action and initiative for demanding the benefits from government schemes and programs. By providing them with a training program for their capacity building on different issues for discharging their roles and responsibilities in effective ways.

Water Planning and Management to community level

He expounded upon a Water Use Master Plan, a planning tool and process similar to a Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) using some of its instruments. It focuses on water, its sources, and uses, and applies an Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach. WUMP is a tool that has been developed based on a series of experiences and it can be adapted to different contextual situations. The end outcome is effective, efficient, and equitable use of water level on a local level. The goal of developing a WUMP is to delegate water planning and management to the community level, to ensure water resources are used rationally and shared fairly within communities in a sustainable way considering all the different needs.

He then delved into the history of Chandelas and Bundelas, the two major dynasties in the region which took a keen interest in conserving water to support the livelihood and development of the region. Chandela tanks have lately been on the receiving end of several problems as siltation of their beds, encroachment of their catchment, illegal occupation of the tank bed, and gross neglect by the governing bodies.

“Adaptation is a dynamic social process: the ability of societies to adapt is determined, in part, by their ability to act collectively”- Adger, 2003

Integrated Water Resource Management

In 2011, Parmarth started the Integrated Water Resource Management project with the support of the European Union and Welthungerhilfe. The villagers were organized through community action plans as well as several meetings. The plan unequivocally emphasized on restoration and development of the Budhsagar tank so that the loss of water due to seepage could be stopped. The reverberation of these tiresome efforts was that the tanks are now full of water, and act as the fulcrum of villagers’ daily lives.

Bundelkhand’s history has many women figures in positions of leadership, and they are shown as brave warriors in several folklores. On the ground, the women today are only involved in homely chores, toil begins when the sun rises and continues even after it sets. Low levels of literacy, poor conditions of health, and rudimentary mindset exacerbate the poor situations. To alleviate these ills, women-folk are nudged to get involved in the tasks for environmental conservation too.

Model of Bore-Well Recharge

All water bodies depend upon catchments and being in the open, get water from direct rain, surface run-off, and topsoil water retention. But due to mindless exploitation of the same, natural replenishment does not occur.

Excessive digging of new bore-wells and overuse of existing ones has resulted in severe depletion of groundwater levels rendering many bore-wells dry.

 By renovation, the system has revived more than 50 dried bore-wells. In the direct recharge method, an open well of manageable size, say up to 10 feet deep and diameter, is dug around the casing pipe. In the innovative approach, most of the water flows from the catchments and directly reaches the hard-rock aquifers without any losses. As a result, the dried hand pumps are revived and thus helping in drought mitigation. The efforts deployed were also extremely cost-effective as only natural resources and manpower was compiled for reserving naturally filtered rainwater.

Revival of Traditional Irrigation Systems

Farm ponds also serve various purposes, with an average water conservation rate of 4000 cubic meters/farm pond, like aquaculture, irrigation for rabi crops, groundwater recharging. The average costs of building the same are about 2.5 lakhs rupees. For water conservation by traditional practices and modern technology, land binding of 54357 meters farm was done with the active participation of the community, which ensured land area treatment, soil erosion checked, and moisture retained. With village-level organizations, more than 100 check-dams were built, which recharged surrounding irrigation wells and drinking water sources. The initiative also promoted traditional irrigation systems by the revival of Rahat.

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Strengthening Local Communities

The people at Parmarth also formed a Nadi Ghati Sangathan, to protect and rejuvenate the tributaries of Betwa and Yamuna rivers. Through this formation, the local community is being sensitized and actions mobilized to protect the rivers. Regular workshops, training, and awareness generation sessions are being organized at the grassroots level and stakeholders are being engaged.

Pertinent Questions and Concluding Remarks

Dr. Arjun Kumar gave his insights on the ramifications of the constant concretization of water bodies. Birendra Singh from the audience brought our attention to the small and marginalized farmers. Public-private liaison is needed to provide adequate training to the small-scale farmers on how to prepare for extreme weather, maximize the crop yields and negotiate for viable prices in the markets. There were discussions over nutritional security too. Dr. Simi Mehta questioned ways of navigating around the challenges of working with government officials and issues of funds diversion.

Dr. Sanjay Singh concluded by saying that climate change and water are closely linked and climate change impacts have direct consequences for water security and hence adaptation actions such as developing or adapting drainage or water storage, whether with built-in or natural infrastructure should be implemented by involving community-based approaches.

Acknowledgment: Priyanshi Arora is a Research Intern at IMPRI

Youtube Video : Water Security in a Changed Climate

Picture Courtesy: americanprogress.org