Note Drafted by Uma Shankari , 1 August 2014.
Sounds like a fairy tale to the children of Venkatramapuram (E. Palaguttapalli Panchayat, Pakala Mandalam, Chittoor dt. AP) but it is true. Eyewitnesses say that till late seventies there was water everywhere in the village, wells used to overflow, tanks (man-made small and big lakes and ponds) used to fill up with just one or two rains. There was fish in the ponds and paddy fields, and buffaloes used to laze around in the ponds and lakes.Came the borewells and the waters vanished within three decades (See the maps below). (The maps are not getting pasted; pl. see the attachment for the maps)
Today a water tanker supplies 10 pots of water (of 15 litres each) per family every alternate day! Agriculture has practically come to standstill in many villages ; farmers of Chittoor district, faced with high costs and low returns, went in for mango orchard cultivation on a massive scale; this was also encouraged by the district administration under the NREGS. Most rainfed as well as “wet” lands were made into mango orchards with heavy investments in borewells, securing electricity connections, landscape designing, buying saplings and watering. Farmers also invested on milch cows on a huge scale for short term cash returns. Today these investments are under jeopardy, with rains failing since 2010-11 as well as thousands of borewells failing due to unsustainable discharges. In fact there is no drinking water, leave alone water for cultivation.
This is the story of many many villages in the Chittoor district of AP as well as many other districts of Rayalaseema in AP. The district administration sure undertakes palliative measures like drilling new borewells or supplying drinking water through tankers. But no long term solution is visible. The watershed projects which were commissioned under Chandra Babu Naidu regime were discontinued in favour of Jalayagnam projects under YSR administration. It launched the Handri-Neeva project, and dug up the canals but water has not come anywhere near Chittoor district. Meanwhile the jalayagnam projects of Rayalaseema have come under dispute with the newly formed Telengana state.
In E. Palaguttapalli panchayat, we have not been silently watching the growing ground water crisis all these years. Since the last thirty years, under the leadership of late G. Narendranath, we had undertaken clearing of supply channels to lakes and ponds, and silt removal and deepening of lakes and ponds, repairs to lakes and ponds, afforestation program, construction of check dams, prevention of sand smuggling, etc., construction of farm ponds, under various schemes, including the NREGS program, assistance from AID (Association for India’s Development) and WASSAN. We did not take up watershed works as our Mandal (Pakala Mandal) was not eligible for it. And yet the water crisis looms over us, destroying livelihoods and forcing people to migrate to towns and cities. Obviously we need to do more. New situations demand new solutions.
Searching for a solution, in my discussions with many resource persons/institutions- I realised a multi-pronged approach is necessary. I am happy that these institutions have come forward to assist and ground the program in the area. With the help of these resource persons/institutions I plan to develop a detailed project proposal. But in brief, the program will have four components: 1. Watershed works ( including tank restoration) and 2. Tree planting to saturational levels 3. Borewell recharge pits around every borewell; to begin with drinking water borewells. 4. Ground water collectives to undertake sustainable and shared operation of borewells.
Of these some are short term, one time components : eg. recharge pits around borewells, farm ponds. Some are long term components eg.ground water collectives. Some involve natural resource regeneration eg. Tree planting, and some involve construction works eg. Recharge pits. Some can be funded privately, at least partly eg. Private borewell recharge pits, but most components involve investments beyond farmers’ capacities.
We are seeking funding interest for this program . Fortunately we have a set of well trained local resource persons thanks to all the efforts we had made as mentioned above, including a GIS mapping of water resources, under the leadership of K. Nagesh with the cooperation of WASSAN.
The present Sarpanch is also an enthusiastic young person, willing to learn new concepts. The DWCRA groups and women leaders are also there and can be harnessed for this purpose. We plan to also discuss with the district administration to pilot at least some components of the project. But in the immediate term there is need for resources for preliminary activities such as exposure visits to areas where these programs have been carried out with reasonable success, awareness campaigns, travel expenses of resource persons, etc. Needless to say that it is impossible to predict how the project will evolve and the outcomes of the project. But we wish to undertake this program in the spirit: Effort Is Success; Effort Gives Joy.