Rain harvest does good for parched Maharashtra belt

It's raining hope for water woes of coastal Maharashtra's Karjat tribal region, as rainwater harvesting yields a good crop of benefits

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Geetanjali Minhas | May 16, 2013




Only a couple of years ago, women from Khanand Pada, a hamlet of barely 10-15 houses, in Karjat taluka in western Maharashtra’s Raigad district had to walk for miles to fetch drinkable water. “But not anymore,” says 22-year-old Harish Nirgude, a resident who not only learnt the technique, as he saw a 10,000-litre rainwater storage tank being set up in his hamlet, but also helps others in the vicinity set up such tanks.

The tank was constructed by Jalvardhini Pratishthan, a voluntary organisation working to support and help rural and tribal population on rainwater harvesting and management by providing technical assistance and resources.

Three kilometres away on Pinglus crossroads, Kisan Sivram Bhoir, a mason, is very satisfied with the rainwater storage tank he has just finished constructing. It is a boon for the villagers’ basic water needs, he stresses.

To conserve and add more rainwater in the tank, Bhoir has made a plastic slope tied on bamboo sticks so that water falling on the adjacent roof also flows into the tank. Constructing the tank was not a hassle; Bhoir says the 1,200-litre tank took him only one and half hours spread over three days — because concrete has to dry up and settle down.

A kilometre further at Phanuswadi, a 10,000-litre water tank helps meet water requirements of its 100 inhabitants during monsoon. “When there is no water from April to June, we write to the Karjat panchayat samiti to send us water which we store in this tank,” says Janardhan Sopan Bhagat, a resident.
As a precaution against waterborne diseases, Jalvardhini Pratishthan distributes more than 1,000 chlorine bottles to tribal families at the onset of the monsoon to enable them to purify drinking water. Alum is added to the rainwater tanks so that impurities settle down.   

At Gavandwadi, a tribal village of about 800 people lying at a distance of 28 km from Karjat, work is on to connect three rainwater tanks of 10,000 litre capacity each to a river barely 3.5 km away through pipes. “We have spotted a point in the river where groundwater collects. This is an excellent source of water for potable water needs of these people,” says Hrishikesh Davalbhakt, a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) engineer who is assisting the Jalvardhini Pratishthan team.

Funding and technological knowledge for this project is being provided by a group of IIT-Bombay students.

Founded in early 2003 to support the rural and tribal population in rainwater harvesting and management, Jalvardhini Pratishthan has set up several low-cost storage tanks in different districts of Maharashtra. After finding that some areas face acute shortage of water during non-monsoon months despite high rainfall, experts from the organisation concluded that rainwater is not canalised. As a result, it drains off and gets wasted.

Ulhas Paranjpe, a civil engineer and the founder-trustee of Jalvardhini Pratishthan, says, “We found that even if the running gutters in the monsoon are blocked by simple check dams, which can be constructed even by gunny bags or loose stones, it helps water percolation and raises the level of underground water-table.” So, after much experimenting, Paranjpe and his team started building storage tanks in rural Maharashtra.

Jalvardhini experts identified the places first and then tried to educate the locals about the necessity of storage tanks. Farmers gradually became aware of the need for assured water — the trust only gives them the technological support; they build their own storage tanks. The projects cost between 75 paise per litre and '3 per litre, Paranjpe says.

“Only 18-20 percent of our water problems have been solved even 60 years after independence and despite so much urbanisation,” he says. “Eighty percent people live in villages and need to have a sustainable life. Tribal people depend on assured water supply for their cattle, food and sustainable life. While 82 percent land in Maharashtra is rain-fed, barely 18 percent is irrigated land.

“Despite having the required workforce for agriculture activities, irregular pattern of rainfall compels them to grow only one crop — even kharif crops do not give 100 percent yield.”

Further, as land is arid, it cannot be used for other purpose, Paranjpe says.

“Just as we have provided water to the cities, it is important to have water management in villages. That will also address the issue of their migration to urban areas, which puts pressure on depleting groundwater resources.”

However, Paranjpe’s USP lies in the use of organic material like coconut coir, flax (ambadi), banana and jute fibre as crack controlling (bonding) materials in ferrocement tanks. Easy to develop, construct and expand quantity, these options are affordable.

“Compare this with plastic Sintex tank that costs '9 per litre. A 1,000-litre tank will cost '9,000. Laying its foundation will cost another '2,000 to '3,000. But a similar tank made of organic material at a total cost of '2,000 will last a lifetime. Maximum expertise required for storing rainwater is a mason who is available at every pada or village and added materials like stone, sand and empty cement sacks are available in plenty and free of cost at every taluka,” says Vijay Khare, Paranjpe’s associate who does the groundwork for implementation.

As for maintenance, he says, “Just as we paint our houses every three or four years, similarly every year before rains, we empty out these water tanks, coat them with white cement so that if there are any cracks, they are filled up. And it costs only '100 to '200.”

According to Paranjpe, rainwater harvesting is the most reliable solution for increasing the groundwater level and achieve self-sufficiency in public distribution of water. In coastal areas, over-extraction of groundwater leads to saline water intrusion and helps avoid floods and water stagnation. Canalising rainwater, instead of wasting it and letting it go down the drain, will go a long way in removing hardships of farmers and rural people, he says.

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