are solutions to problems, which are so often within the reach of
everybody, without depending on the government and yet changing
This is the feeling echoed by the collective of
the members of Maali, a group of people who have come together in
Tejgadh area of Chhotaudepur, Gujarat, to harness the elusive
commodity called water.
a country where the government has not taken much initiative on
the developmental side after more than half a century of freedom,
there is no other option but to resort to self-help
strategies," says Dr Ganesh Devy, currently involved in
setting up water banks in this area.
Gujarat is internationally known as a leading industrial state,
large pockets of it seem to have been bypassed by development:
particularly the eastern parts inhabited primarily by tribal.
Bhasha, a Vadodara-based NGO, working with the tribals of
Chhotaudepur for the past nearly three years, especially in the
field of language, arts and culture preservation, soon realised
that there was no need to look to the outside for answers of any
kind. The tribal themselves were a storehouse of information and
knowledge that had been passed down for generations - all it
needed was a little support.
brain behind this set-up, Dr Ganesh Devy, through his constant
interaction with the tribals realised that if there was any fixed
answer to their specific problems it lay right with them. Says he,
"Lop-sided government policies have led to these areas being
economically and educationally the most underdeveloped parts of
people here have finally realised that in order to rectify their
condition the change has to come from within. "We were just
the catalyst in sparking off something that has been dormant for a
long time," adds Nima who is closely involved in the water
bank programme called maali.
the local language the term maali means, `the sacred space for
storing water'. In this area, it is synonymous with the people's
participatory project for water harvesting, optimum utilisation of
water resources and irrigation. The maali project covers nearly 24
villages, with a total population of approximately 45,000 people.
The total land under cultivation in these areas per village is
about 250-300 hectares, the total of which is 7,000 hectares.
average land holding of a tribal adult (for Chhotaudepur region)
is 1.5 acres. About 70 per cent tribal farmers hold no larger a
piece of land than two acres and about 10 per cent hold land
between five and eight acres. The average rainfall per year here
ranges between 25-30 inches. The tendency of 70 per cent of the
population is to grow only one crop during the monsoons. During
the winter months, people migrate to towns as far as 300 km away
and end up as construction workers. "In the current
year," says Nima, "there has been an influx of workers
in Vadodara due to the unusual drought situation, and the Bhasha
survey has noticed that getting employment for even three days a
week is a problem."
Dr Devy, "The single most important factor that will empower
the tribal to rectify this sad scenario is to have enough water
for irrigation, which would in turn enable them to have two to
three crops a year. If they have adequate water they will not need
to migrate in search of jobs and food." He strongly feels
that enough water along with the micro-credit societies will free
them forever from the hold of the moneylenders.
eastern border of Chhotaudepur is about 25 km from the river
Narmada. The Orsang, which is a dry river and an important
tributary of Narmada, carries water only in the monsoon.
project is based on the concept of voluntary participation in the
management of natural resources. In each village, tribal farmers
have come together for forming cooperative water banks. Adds Nima,
"We hold monthly meetings where we decide upon the number of
subscribers for each water bank, which usually ranges from 30 to
50. In addition, each maali is an autonomous and democratic body,
and for its administrative convenience has to elect a pramukh and
a mantri. The subscribers of the bank have the right to take part
in all decision-making processes."
Dr Devy, "Certain ground rules have been laid down by the
tribals themselves after a lot of discussion which are making this
project a successful one."
the group has decided collectively to undertake reconstruction of
an existing water-work, creation of a new one or utilisation of a
natural or manmade one, the cost is determined, in consultation
with the field supervisor designated by the Bhasha centre. Nearly
25 per cent of the total cost of construction, creation and
maintenance is to be collected by the group on a pro-rata basis.
The collected amount is deposited in the group's bank account
after informing the supervisor. The Bhasha centre facilitates
obtaining of appropriate grants available in various governmental
schemes for this purpose. It also makes available about 25 per
cent of the costs as a loan amount, preferably as a non-refundable
centre also tries to obtain the remaining part of the funds
required for the project from national or international funding
bodies. "If that cannot be done" says Dr Devy, "we
liason with a nationalised bank and secure a short-term loan to
meet the requirement." He adds that field supervisors are
provided to monitor the working of the maali groups. In order to
ensure fool-proof monitoring we choose volunteers from the tribals
themselves because they are well acquainted with the topography
and language, and are sufficiently educated to liase with
government officials and external funding agencies. The Bhasha
centre also undertakes short-term training courses for orienting
the pramukhs and mantris of the self-help groups formed for this
Nima, "Even though this SHG is only about six months old the
tribals have realised that fighting a problem singly does not have
enough impact, but results are clear to see when people work
collectively." Though this is a positive impact it also has a
flip side, she adds -- somewhere down the line it is giving rise
to a new social leadership and it is a very potent weapon,
breaking up, in a way, the stranglehold of the panchayat."
effect, the maali project visualises that over a period of seven
to 10 years the average annual income (currently it is Rs 12,000
per year per family) of at least 70 per cent of the population of
the 24 villages will increase in real terms by 150 per cent. The
level of indebtedness will come down between zero and five per
important than anything else, as Dr Devy states, "In the
cyclic droughts faced perpetually by Gujarat the villagers will
have enough surplus food-grain and fodder to fall back on. This
would also lead to competitive agriculture, not in terms of
becoming another industry, but to protect their rights and
privileges and determine the crop cycle by producing enough to
survive and last in the rural market. "