A Hero who Rejuvenates Dried Wells to Life
   24-Jul-2019

 

 

Prabhakar Deshpande (man in red circle) and his team at Jeerigiwad
 
A Hero who Rejuvenates Dried Wells to Life
Depletion of groundwater is a reality and unless we take drastic steps, we will face a crisis of unimaginable proportions. The catastrophe that awaits us can be mitigated if people and government come together and individual and organisational efforts are made in tandem to tide over the crisis. Among several such noble examples, an inspired person from a village in Dharwad shows how rejuvenation of wells can solve water problems in our villages

 

Imagine a condition where you live in a house which does not have a water tap or piped water from the corporation. The wells near your house have dried up. No lakes, ponds or rivers nearby. The nearest water source is several kilometres away. The only option is to trek for those several kilometres and get a pot of water for your drinking and other daily needs. This is a real circumstance under which lakhs of our villagers are still living.
 

 
First Well that was cleaned by the team in Jeerigiwad 
 
 
But Bharatiyas have lived under similar circumstances for ages. When lakes, ponds and rivers dry up, they turn to underground water resources and that is how wells were a major source in our villages and houses. Any traditional village or homes used to have wells which catered to their water needs. Temples, community halls used to have their wells. However, with the increase in dependence of piped water, depletion of underground water and lack of maintenance and upkeep, these lifesaving wells are drying all over the country. Increase in population, pollution, climate change have contributed to drying up of our water sources and traditional wells are the worst affected.
 
Drastic Fall in Groundwater Levels
 
A 2016-17 survey by Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) on the levels of groundwater in Karnataka has revealed that the water levels in 69% of dug-wells have decreased drastically. While most states have seen a decline in groundwater levels, the rate of decline in Karnataka is worse than the arid state of Rajasthan. While the national average of the decline of water in wells is 61%, Rajasthan saw a decline in 50 per cent of its wells.
 
Southern Indian states have shown the worst decline in water levels in the wells. Eighty-seven per cent of wells in Tamil Nadu have shown a decline, Andhra had a 75 per cent decline and Kerala saw a decline by nearly 70 per cent.
 
The exponential increase in population especially in urban areas, spurt in construction activity, faulty crop patterns in the rural areas, over-exploitation of groundwater both in urban and rural areas are seen as the reason for this decline. The rate of increase of population in southern Indian cities are the highest in the country with cities like Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad witnessing a growth of nearly 40% in the last decade (ref Census of 2011 vs 2001). Use of groundwater for construction activity too is depleting the resource at an alarming rate.
 
In Karnataka, groundwater meets nearly half of the demand for irrigation, industrial production and municipal water needs of both rural and urban areas. As per the Govt of Karnataka report released in 2018, the total replenishable groundwater potential for the state is estimated at 17.03 Billion Cubic Meters (BCM) received from both monsoon and non-monsoon seasons (rainfall constitutes 9.48 BCM and recharge of 7.55 BCM from other sources). It is estimated that 2.2 BCM of water is naturally discharged during the non-monsoon period and net availability of groundwater is 14.81 BCM. The total annual groundwater draft (9.41 BCM) for irrigation and Domestic and Industrial use is estimated at 8.59 and 0.28 BCM respectively and the balance 5.4 BCM is available for economic use.
 
The state has already over-drafted groundwater by 64 per cent and 6.53 BCM is available for future use (GoI, 2014). Government of India assessed groundwater status in 270 blocks of 26 districts and among them 34 blocks identified as semi-critical, 21 as critical and 63 as overexploited.
 
 
 

Consequently, even the wells in our villages have dried up and people are forced to walk several kilometres to fetch water. The worst affected are the womenfolk and the conditions get worse during summer where villagers are dependent on the government for water. Not everything is lost, though. There are individuals and teams of people working to mitigate the situation and one such hero is Prabhakar Deshpande of Jeerigiwad village of Dharwad Taluk.

 
 Another well that is in the process of being cleaned by Prabhakar and his team
 

Death of Wells and Will too!

Prabhakar is an expert in upkeep and maintenance of wells today but when he started to find a local solution to the water woes of the village, he found not much support. “When I first came to the village, I noticed that people had to fetch water from a water source several kilometres away. But I also saw that there were seven wells in the village and all had no water in them and were left redundant. This was the condition of these well for several years and when I saw them they had turned into garbage dumps”, says Prabhakar while speaking to Organiser. Prabhakar resolved to solve the water woes of his village by rejuvenating the wells before looking for other solutions or seek government help.

The condition of the wells of Jeerigiwad village point to one other issue; the issue of educating the rural folk on rejuvenating local water sources rather depend on government help. Prabhakar says that the toughest part of his endeavour to rejuvenate the village wells was educating the villagers themselves. “I was ridiculed and made fun of when I first started to clean the wells. The elders and the menfolk were accustomed to the closing up of the wells and women had to bear the brunt as fetching water from far off places had become part of their household routine. Even young girls spent a lot of time and effort in helping their mothers fetch water. Despite the wells being in their village, the villagers took no interest in rejuvenating the wells only because they thought that the dry wells are a thing of the past and fetching water had become a daily practice”, informs Prabhakar.

Groundwater depletion has rendered hundreds of wells, stepped tanks and hand pumps useless in the region. Arid areas of Central and North Karnataka are the worst affected. In 2016, Dharwad saw a deficit of -46% in rainfall during the North-East monsoon period. This has gotten worse over the years. But as per Central Ground Water Board report for Karnataka, Dharwad has a stable groundwater level. However, due to poor maintenance of water sources and pollution 20% of the samples collected from several districts of central Karnataka, including Dharwad, showed a pH above 8.5 rendering them unsuitable for drinking purpose. Samples from these districts have also shown nitrate concentration more 35 than 45 mg/l, rendering them unsuitable for drinking.

 

 
Growth of weeds and shrubs block the natural flow of water. The group of youngsters is now clearing the path for natural water flow, which will replenish the groundwater and wells 

To the Rescue of Neglected Wells

The key to overcome the scenario is will and education of common people in towns and villages, especially the current and next-generation who will be the most affected in the coming years when water becomes a scarce commodity. Prabhakar agrees to this and says that he consciously involved the younger folk in the village in his rejuvenation efforts.

“When I first started to clean up the wells, none of the men or elderly folk joined hands. It was the teenagers and young men who lent me a helping hand. What started as an individual effort, became a small team which later grew to a 10-member team. Today it is the effort of these young which is turning the condition of the village, making it almost self-sufficient. I am only the means to the larger cause”, tells Prabhakar in a gratifying voice.

Today 3 out of the seven wells in the Jeerigiwad village have been rejuvenated by the efforts of Prabhakar and his team. Getting work done on the first well was the most difficult as none of them had much expertise in the rejuvenation of water bodies. Prabhakar too did not want to make it an exclusive affair by bringing experts from outside. As an RSS Swayamsevak, he believed in getting the work done by involving himself and the affected people rather than outsourcing the tasks. “Isn’t that what we are taught in Sangh? First, we have to put our ideas into practice and only then involve others. This is how Doctor Ji started Sangh and this is what we have learned in shakhas”, says Prabhakar.

True to his ethos as a Swayamsevak, Prabhakar before soiling his hands to clean a village well, got down to business by cleaning up the well which had dried out in his own house. This effort taught him several valuable lessons in cleaning up and maintenance of wells. Cleaning up the well is no easy task and Prabhakar did it almost alone as the villagers were not yet convinced that such well can indeed be brought back to life. After several weeks of effort, litres of sweat, quintals of mud and soil, Prabhakar saw water being slowly collected in his well. The first few litres of water brought tears in his eyes, the tears of joy!

“By showcasing my success, it was easy to explain the need and result to the villagers. But even this was not enough to convince everyone. So I got a small team of youngsters and motivated them by explaining the importance of rejuvenation of wells. The team which grew to 10 members had very worked hard to clean the first well. The results were there for all to see. Later more people joined us in cleaning the other two wells.”, says Prabhakar.

Cleaning the well is just the first part. Maintaining it well so that no weeds grow, and waste is not thrown and ensuring good groundwater for the well is easier said than done. When asked how he plans to ensure the above, Prabhakar says, “After the first well became operational and people reaped the benefits, they joined hands. Our team also educated people on the importance of maintaining these wells and ensuring that rainwater and water from nearby ponds and lakes make way into the ground. So far, it has worked well and with sufficient rains this year, I hope the well will be adequately fed and people of the village can use it for most of the year.”

On the Path towards an Adarsh Gram

Now that the three wells in his village are operational, Prabhakar and his team have set upon the task of ensuring that the wells remain useful for a long time. This does not happen unless there is a change in the attitude of the residents over water usage and feeling responsible for the condition of the water resources in the village. To effect this, the team have started a ‘Seva Dina’ (day for service) in the village. During the Seva Dina, which is every Sunday, people of the village volunteer to be part of the cleaning up activity.

 
 Some of the waste collected from a neglected well. The villagers had given up on the well until Prabhakar and his team rejuvenated it 
 
“Though this was how my team and I worked every week to clean the well, we formalised it into a Seva Dina so that more people are encouraged to join and participate in the process of cleaning and upkeep of the wells. Further, since more and more people are joining us, we have started to use their services in planting trees and cleaning pathways to ensure the free flow of rainwater. Trees will ensure a good environment and rains, while free pathways for water will ensure that groundwater is replenished adequately”, informs Prabhakar. This aspect of thinking for the long term while working to mitigate immediate problems is what makes Prabhakar and team win the minds and hearts of the people. All those who were initially sceptical of his efforts are not only applauding him but are also joining him in his efforts to make the village an Adarsh gram (ideal village).
 

 
The youth of Jeerigiwad lend a helping hand in the process of cleaning the well 
 
The villagers who are now aware of both the water crisis looming large as also the local solutions, understand the problems created by pollution, open defecation, use of plastics and rainwater harvesting. “It is with this in mind, we have started to use Seva Dina to this effect. We get together and plant trees, clean water pathways, remove strewn garbage, plastics and also educate people on each of the aspects. We have also begun environment safe celebrations of our festivals and have minimised the use of plastics and harmful chemical. For examples, for Ganesha Celebrations, we reuse the buntings of previous years and nothing except the degradable waste is discarded. The response of the villagers have been positive this year and their involvement is increasing each year”, says Prabhakar.
 
Cleaning up the well is no easy task and Prabhakar did it almost alone as the villagers were not yet convinced that such well can indeed be brought back to life 

Conclusion

The water crisis is a harsh reality the world over and with the huge population India supports, it is bound to get worse. Unless urgent and long term measures are taken, we are staring at a catastrophic situation. But this is a task that both the citizens and the governments have to do in tandem. People like Prabhakar and the youth of Jeerigiwad have shown that this is possible. They are the ideal examples of what aware citizens can do to mitigate the water crisis with local solutions.

It is also true that dependence on piped water, uncontrolled use and wastage of water is worsening the crisis. Traditional Bharateeya lifestyle had intrinsic methods designed to tackle such situations as most of the solutions were learned over centuries. Ponds, lakes, stepped wells, household dug-wells were all designed to make the best of the naturally available water closest to the place of our residence. Instead of rejuvenating these water bodies, we became increasingly dependent on piped water is drawn from hundreds of kilometres. Hundreds of lakes and ponds that were within our towns, cities and villages have dried due to neglect, unmitigated use of groundwater or general apathy.

The situation can get out of hand unless both the government and citizens wake up to the crisis and work towards a lasting solution. Efforts of people like Prabhakar have shown us what each of us can do when we have the right intention with intelligence. People will join hands when they see the results of our efforts. As Prabhakar and his team move on to rejuvenate the next well or pond, let his efforts be both an inspiration and a lesson to the rest of us in towns and cities. What one man can do, another can surely do. n