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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum

People's participation in water conservation / Gujurat-India.

Posted By: Rupa Abdi Desai and Bharati Mehta
Date: Thursday, 16 November 2000, at 12:29 p.m.

In Response To: Local solutions: recharge of wells / Kathiawar-India. (Vidyut Joshi and H. C. Dube)


While the Gujarat State Government fails to come up with any lasting solution to the chronic water shortage in Kutch and Saurashtra (arid parts of north and southwest Gujarat State, India), and ambitious centralized projects like the Narmada Dam appear to be like the Tower of Babel with no end in sight, people’s participation in community-based rain water harvesting has begun to dispel the myth that drought is due to paucity of rain.

Year after year, every summer, both the rural and urban areas of Saurashtra and Kutch reel under water shortages. In the coastal areas the problem is further compounded by salinity ingress into ground water aquifers. The government machinery responds with its usual quick fix solutions by providing water through trucks and trains. While a large number of people continue to depend on the Rain Gods or the government water tankers, in some areas people have begun to take the matter in their own hands.

In Gandhigram, a coastal village in Kutch district, the villagers had been facing a drinking water crisis for the past 10 to 12 years. The groundwater table had fallen below the sea level due to over-extraction and the seawater had seeped into the ground water aquifers. The villagers formed a village development group, Gram Vikas Mandal. The Mandal took a loan from the bank and the villagers contributed voluntary labor (Shramdan). A check dam was built on a nearby seasonal river, which flowed past the village. Apart from the dam, the villagers also undertook a micro-watershed project. Due to these water retention structures, the villagers now have sufficient drinking water, and 400 hectares of land, which earlier lay barren, has come under irrigation.

Similar examples of people’s initiative in organizing rainwater harvesting can also be seen in the two villages of Khopala and Jhunka in Bhavnagar district of Saurashtra.

A noteworthy example of students' participation in such an endeavor took place in 1995–98 at Bhavnagar University under the guidance of the, then Vice Chancellor of the University, Prof. Vidyut Joshi. The coastal city of Bhavnagar was facing a severe drinking water shortage. Prof. Joshi initiated the digging of a percolation tank in the university premises. About 650 students, 245 teachers and other employees of the university worked as voluntary labor. During the following monsoon, all the bore wells in the university as well as those in the adjoining areas were recharged.

These success stories have proved that management of water resources by the end users themselves can lead to sustainable benefits. Such community-based systems of resource management are not new to society. They have been practiced by many traditional communities all over the world, but are gradually being replaced by ‘modern’ centralized systems of resource management. One is reminded of what a great Indian poetess, Mahadevi Verma, once said: ‘it is not possible for us to take a step forward without putting one foot firmly on the ground’. Whether it is education, culture or natural resources management, a society which tries to move ahead towards technological advancement without keeping itself firmly rooted in its own tradition, is bound to fall.

Ms Rupa Desai Abdi and Ms Bharati Mehta,
Bhavnagar University,
Gujurat, India

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