11th Pani Yatra - Madhya Pradesh  
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A group of twenty people of varied backgrounds and walks of life found themselves together on the Gujarat -Madhya Pradesh border at 6 AM, September 12th 2003. One thing bound them all: interest in water and its management by local communities. CSE's 11th Pani Yatra, which had attracted people from places as far apart as Kerela, Jharkhand, Gujarat and Karnataka, from the government, from the corporate world, from NGOs, went off to a good start in Kalakoonth village of Jhabua district, MP. The villagers awaited us with garlands and the clear fresh smiles of those untouched by city sophistication. We were escorted to the bank of their talaab where brightly-hued chalk markings on the ground - a PRA map- depicted the village before and after the community started managing their water with the help of an NGO, Action for Social Advancement (ASA). A lively discussion ensued where the yatris, a particularly curious bunch, got a sense of this tribal community's involvement in watershed development and the impact it has had on their lives.

The week-long Pani Yatra took us to a number of villages tucked away in the Malwa region, a hilly tribal tract in Western MP. Jhabua district held for us the joy of a Jal Pujan organized by ASA in Ratmaliya village at the end of a pad yatra of 5 villages, where amidst the gathering, women of all ages from different villages brought water collected in urns from 64 talaabs to be blessed; the jewel of Dhar district, Mandu Fort, amazed us with its elaborate and sophisticated rainwater harvesting system, conceived thousands of years ago; and Sanjay Dubey, the young and energetic Collector of Dhar held the yatris spellbound with his recounting of the works related to watershed management and general development in his district, as seen from the other side, that of planners and pushers of plans.

In Ujjain district, perched precariously on a tractor, ploughing through the treacle-like, wet, black-cotton soil, we visited the percolation ponds in Baloda Lakkha village, pushed forward through the drizzle by the sheer enthusiasm of the villagers. A beautiful, enigmatic woman Sarpanch who was just a figure-head, a socially and politically divided community, hinted at the troubles behind the scenes, but a warm welcome, a home-cooked meal and great pride in their coming together to retain all the "gaon ka pani gaon mein" through their own efforts and contributions cheered us nevertheless. Our next stop, in Dewas district, brought the yatris into contact with the Samaj Pragati Sahayog, an NGO doing formidable work on watershed development by village communities apart from training scores of others to carry this on elsewhere. A rich store of knowledge and experience, and patient explanations given to us, the novices, made the trek winding our way through the teak-covered ghats to their remote center well worth it.

In Khandwa, the yatris divided into two groups, one to visit an all women-led watershed area in a village of the civilization-shy Korku tribals, where a Kerelite sister managed to do the unthinkable, which was to draw out these people by addressing their most important concern: water. The other group was treated to the hospitality of the CEO of the district, RK Gupta and, along with his people and Sheik Osman, the President of the Watershed Development Committee of Torni, (a village where 90 per cent of the families used to be BPL previously) visited structures, interacted with the villagers, and learned and opened their eyes to changes in the country in a way that is only possible by being on the ground, in the village, with the community.

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