Recently, I had a chance encounter at the place least expected. It was Twitter! For someone who was averse to any form of social media just a year back and refused to succumb to the pressures of the digital world, I found one of the most inspiring stories about social discipline, perseverance and community empowerment on this social platform.
It happened when I was scrolling through my daily feed of Twitter notifications. Just for a millisecond, I stopped at a tweet by Paani Foundation about Water Cup winners announced in August. As it was meant to be, I came across Kumbharwadi, a picturesque village nestled in small hills of Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra. In the next week or so, the people of this village not only inspired me but also left my earlier, rather unfounded, presumptions about community movements shattered.
I found a gem on @twitter. It's known as Kumbharwadi village in A'nagar dist of Maharashtra. I decided to visit it in Jal Shakti Abhiyan. Was pleasantly surprised to meet #watersmart citizens here. All are super motivated citizens committed to creating a self sustaining village. pic.twitter.com/a3vw4Vguh6
— Manuj Jindal (@MJindal4) August 20, 2019
After seeing this tweet that mentioned Kumbharwadi village and its exploits in the Paani Foundation Water Cup, I decided to visit it, as part of the Jal Shakti Abhiyan. I traveled across the scenic hills of western Ahmadnagar and finally reached this lush green village. At first glance, I thought, “Did this beautiful, grass-laced village even have any water problem?” This was a casual outlook and what appears to be isn’t always true. When it comes to understanding water and watershed science, a green landscape could have much to hide.
I was greeted by friendly faces and was escorted into a small community hall in the village. The first signs of ‘water-awareness’ in this village were at display right outside, on the notice board of this hall. Flex boards with information about water-crop intensity levels, an overview of the water budget for the year, soil health reports, the relationship of soil-crop-water, and many others relating to water science were hanging outside this hall. This struck a huge contrast against a usual sight at Indian villages where generally outdated information, torn posters or betel stains are at display on notice boards. The priorities and intentions of its residents and the panchayat were clear. They wanted complete independence over water.
The next couple of hours could not have been more humbling. I spent an hour listening to Kumbharwadi residents talk about the history of water problems, the root causes of water shortage, the attitudes and actions of the village residents, and also various initiatives taken by the government and NGOs. Rainfall has been scanty in the village for the past three years. Due to this, groundwater levels have dipped to alarming levels. The village has been relying on water tankers for most part of this year. Every resident I met was acutely aware of the calamity they were facing. There was a clear consensus in the village about the fact that they had to find solutions as a community, together. In all this, the grit and determination of Kumbharwadi is spellbinding – despite the fury of mother nature and absolute desperate shortage of drinking and agricultural water, its residents remain steadfast in finding solutions through the community.
Residents of Kumbharwadi have achieved many milestones in watershed development work over the years. They have finished a barrage of water conservation works in partnership with Paani Foundation (some other work had been done earlier in partnership with WOTR as well). The Water Cup has been one of the key sources of training, motivation, and collective engagement in this movement. It encapsulates awareness, training and implementation phases at the village level. First, the village is made aware of man-made solutions to water shortage. Second, the village selects individuals to go through an intensive training program in water conservation. Finally, the village undertakes the construction of water conservation works under the leadership and guidance of these trained residents. Villages across the districts and the state are then evaluated on various parameters to determine the winners of the Water Cup. This competitive process ensures that an ecosystem of water conservation experts is groomed within the village. A healthy competitive spirit unleashes the maximum potential of the community.
As I walked through the fields, young men of this village enthusiastically described the plan and purpose of many water structures built over the past few months. I was left overwhelmed and admitted to them that they had done their part and now it was the gods’ turn to shower them with good rain. After all, that is a must for much of the water recharge to take place. They are hopeful to reap the rewards of this work and eagerly wait for a good rainfall. They also take extreme pride in the work they have done in trying to achieve water self-sufficiency. I witnessed some of the most well-designed and constructed water structures (ponds, compact bunds, trenches, loose boulder structures, etc.). What is astonishing is that all of these have been done through jan-bhagidaari (community involvement) and shramdaan (volunteer labour)!
When I finished this eye-opening tour, I asked the residents about a few things I could take back with me. They unanimously agreed upon two points. One, the need for drip irrigation for the entire village and second, the need to re-demarcate boundaries for the development of water-conservation works on the basis of watershed area and not on the basis of revenue-administrative boundaries. I also believe that the onus lies upon us, the citizens of this country and the world, to pay close attention to climate change and water scarcity, and do our little bits in conserving water and our precious environment. The adverse impact of our carbon footprint is felt in the most far-flung communities such as those in Kumbharwadi, more than we can fully grasp. In the next phase, as I witness and participate in much work being achieved through the Jal Shakti Abhiyan in both, behavioural change in water use and building of water infrastructure in India’s villages, I also eagerly await a good, hearty rain in Kumbharwadi.