13th Pani Yatra - Gujarat  
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A yatra to green villages

10-days on the road, following a circuitous route in Saurashtra through changing terrains, peeking into the life of villages along the way. 25 people from various regions of our country, and some from abroad, travelling by road together. How to describe us? Students, NGO people, journalists, farmers and engineers. Muslims, Hindus, Christians. Adivasis and Europeans. You may wonder, what brought us together? What took us there?

What kept us together?

A common concern: water.

As we traveled from Dahod near the Madhya Pradesh (MP) border to Surendranagar, and on through Rajkot and Junagadh districts down to the coast, and back via Bhavnagar to Ahmedabad, we witnessed a kaleidoscope of approaches and techniques to manage water. Different conditions and needs had brought into play local initiatives and adaptations. We visited a dozen villages; each day brought a new picture.

The issues people were dealing with and the approaches changed as we moved deeper into Saurashtra. In some places it was a local NGO that worked to create awareness, helped in building up village institutions and contributed funds; in others the villagers themselves had undertaken massive works to revive and manage their water sources.
  • In Dahod we saw local lift-irrigation societies managing the use of water from a river revived and checked by small dams, wastelands turned into fruit-bearing orchards and drip-irrigated floriculture.
  • In caste-ridden drought-prone Surendranagar district women talked to us about how they now had enough drinking water after installing roof-top rainwater harvesting systems. We learnt about watershed development through community institutions, and the need for decentralised drinking water supply schemes.
  • In Rajkot we saw with our own eyes how an ex-Sarpanch had used satellite imagery to increase the recharge of water and subsequent filling of wells in his village. Shamjibhai Antala, the tireless crusader for water showed us his unique method of well-recharging.
  • In the Meghal river basin, Junagadh the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) despairing of ever solving the problem of dipping water tables through isolated interventions undertook a river basin approach to revive a system of rivers and streams, spreading awareness and knowledge through basin-wide teams of villagers. Down by the coast we encountered the problems of salinity ingress due to over-exploitation of groundwater. Pani samiti (water committees) were involved in the management and prevention of salinity ingress through such techniques as well sealing, farm bunding and rooftop rainwater harvesting.
  • In Bhavnagar we visited Khopala where a community initiative to harvest rainwater was led by a diamond merchant who had migrated from that very village to Surat years before. We witnessed their pioneering work in building checkdams, practically creating their own water bearing streams by digging canals around the village.
  • The last day we spent in Ahmedabad, talking to Sanjay Joshi of Centre for Environment Education (CEE), a Ahmedabad based NGO who had been working on drinking water supply schemes in Bhavnagar that was a government- NGO collaboration. He shed some light on the various problems and pleasures that are part of working in villages, with the attendant issues of caste, gender, corruption on one side, and the enthusiasm and sense of unity that water created on the other. We ended our day in Ahmedabad with a visit to the revived Vastrapur lake, a part of the initiative by local land-owning municipal bodies to revive urban water bodies.
The Pani Yatra ended with a train ride to Delhi, animated by discussions on the social issues that are tied to "project work", with yatris taking turns to play the roles of the various actors involved - government, NGO, contractor, farmer etc. Back at the CSE office, the yatris shared their experiences and a few photographs with the staff.

For more details:
Sumita Dasgupta & Ruksan Bose
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