Oases of their own

2 months ago 26

Rajasthan, a state with 10 per cent of India’s geographical area and 5.2 per cent of its population, has only about 1.16 per cent of its water resources. With 60 per cent of the land classified as desert, the state frequently sees drought years. To address the water scarcity, the then chief minister Vasundhara Raje had in 2016 launched the Mukhyamantri Jal Swavlamban Abhiyan (MJSA), a scheme to improve the harvesting, storage and utilisation efficiency of the state’s water resources. Implemented in three phases between 2016 and 2018, it included the creation of new watersheds by digging ponds and planting of trees to improve rainwater harvesting. A total of 374,292 projects were completed, including the planting of 13.8 million saplings in 12,056 villages across the state.

“Total spending has been Rs 5,059 crore,” says Sushila Yadav, joint director, Rural Development and Panchayati Raj. “We have used technology like remote sensing and geo-tagged monitoring to ensure effective execution.” The government says the scheme has led to an increase of 100,000 hectares of irrigated areas, with a 1-10 metre increase in groundwater levels. This has allowed improvements in agriculture in terms of crop and milk yields, as well as fish farming in some areas. “We are continuing the scheme as the Rajiv Gandhi Jal Sanchay Yojana,” says Rohit K. Singh, additional chief secretary of the rural development and panchayats department, the scheme’s nodal and executing department. “We aim to expand it to more than 40,000 villages.” On this count, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is considering spending Rs 1,000 crore to extend the scheme to districts that have not been included so far.

In Jaipur district’s Tikel Narukan village, MJSA projects include the digging of 250 ponds, which have allowed the irrigation of about 200 hectares of land. This has also led to the water table rising. Mahendra Chaudhry, who works 10 hectares of land in the village, says that he has been able to grow wheat on land that had been declared barren. Similarly, in Kasel village, Lokesh Chaudhary says that the pond dug with the government grant on his land has allowed him to grow peas, potatoes and wheat, boosting his agricultural income from Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 lakh a year.

Some 500 km away, in Maro ka Khera village in the state’s Mewar region, the watershed development projects have led to this area emerging as a picnic spot, with 36,000 saplings and 40,000 aloe vera plants greening a hillock that is now being irrigated thanks to groundwater recharge taking place in the area. S.N. Upadhyay, project manager of Bhilwara, says, “The village has 560 people living here, farming 977 cattle. They have seen milk yields increase because of the fodder they can grow around the hillock. For this, they are spending just Rs 1,000 a year, compared to the Rs 50,000 they had to spend earlier to buy fodder.”

The scheme has made extensive use of technology, such as land surveys using drones and Google Maps to identify land contours, which has allowed for trenches and percolation tanks to be dug in the correct areas for maximum water harvesting. The fruits of these efforts are visible across the state.