Despite having the largest number of dams in the country, Maharashtra reels under the worst ever drought. About 1/5 of its area with over 30 million people are severely affected. About one decade back the condition of Gujarat’s Saurashtra region was no better than it. The ground water level in some of the areas had receded to 120-210 metres in 1998. But thanks to the efforts of Mansukhbhai Suvagiya, the water level has now revived to 40-50 feet. By devising the cheapest model of building check dams and lakes, he built more than 3,000 check dams and lakes in 300 villages and recharged ground water by manoeuvring rivulets to fill 3,000 abandoned mines in 10 villages.
Saurashtra and Vidarbha regions are in two different states, but have one similarity—acute shortage of water. But difference in both the regions is that following water scarcity millions of people from Vidarbha are migrating to other areas, but none from Saurashtra. Despite drought, the people in Saurashtra are taking both rabi and kharif crops. Naturally, the efforts of Gujarat government have been commendable in this regard but the contribution of local people too is no less. A 12th standard pass villager, Mansukhbhai Laljibhai Suvagiya did a miracle here by devising the cheapest model of building check dams and successfully implementing it. During the last one decade he has constructed over 3,000 check dam and lakes in 300 villages and has recharged ground water by manoeuvring rivulets to fill 3,000 abandoned mines in more than 10 villages.
When we look at the huge amount spent by Maharashtra Government on construction of dams (the State has largest number of dams with 3,712 major, minor and medium projects, which are almost 30 per cent of the total dams the country has), we find that in spite of spending Rs 70,000 crore, there is not even 0.1 per cent increase in irrigation area. This is the crux of the infamous irrigation scam in the State. But in Saurashtra, the construction of one check dam, increased the irrigation area in the village helping the farmers to take both rabi and kharif crops.
This positive change began from Jamka village under Mendarda taluka of Junagarh district 13 years ago. Under the leadership of Mansukhbhai, the villagers there constructed 55 check dams without seeking any help from the government. Today, they are functioning without any snag. Even as water crisis looms large in Saurashtra region, the farmers of this village are busy cultivating millet, pulses, sesame and sugarcane over one lakh hectares. The village has recorded 100 per cent cultivation this season. This is because water is available in bore wells to irrigate fields. “Water is available at just 40-50 feet depth in bore wells. Most of the bore wells in the village are active and there is no water shortage,” said Shri Suvagiya while talking to Organiser. He is credited with giving three foundational programmes to the country—cheapest model of building check dam and lakes, preservation of Gir and Kankrej breeds of cow, and promotion of cow based farming.
Narrating the story behind his revolution, the Check Dam Wado Bhai, as Shri Suvagiya is popularly known among villagers, points out that after the terrible draught that hit Gujarat from 1985 to 1998, a thought occurred to his mind that each village should have five to fifty check dams built on streams and dig lakes on the outskirts. Depressed over the government response, he worked out a five point programme. He held public meetings for creating awareness about water harvesting and creating water reserves. Then he selected more than 2,000 places in 500 villages to build check dams. In those days the government check dams’ schemes cost from Rs 2 to 10 lakh, and making 5 to 50 check dams in a village was unaffordable. But Shri Suvagiya created a new sustainable design from RCC. He held community gatherings and also initiated community fund by putting a substantial amount as starting fund. This motivated farmers, cattle breeders, teachers and even workers to gave their share in the village community fund. He himself went to 30 villages and worked on the dam sites digging from a day to even 90 days, in spare time at night also. This is how in five years 10 lakh man days were spent in water harvesting through check dams and lakes.
At Jamka village the people created history by spending 20,000 man days through self-help to build 51 check dams and two large lakes. Without governmental help and in a marginal amount only Jamka eradicated water scarcity. Shri Suvagiya then replicated this in many villages including Mota Kotda, Chanaka, Vichhavad, Nana Kotda, KhaMansukhbhaihaliya, Shirvania in Junagadh district and Rafala, Babra, Mota Devalia, Nani Sanathli, Mota Bhandaria, Khijadia (Khari), Khadkhad in Amreli district and Rajpara in Bhavanagar district, Songadh, Chadrelia in Surendranagar district and Pransala, Vadekhan, Dhank, Mervadar in Rajkot District and Moti Nagjar in Jamnagar district.
In order to create public awareness, a Water Revolution Day was celebrated in Jamka village in 1999. More than 50,000 people gathered at this nation’s first and largest public gathering to revolutionise water conservation effort. Mansukhbhai motivated the people to take an oath to eradicate water scarcity and conserve water in their villages. The Chief Minister along with the Cabinet of ministers attended that historical event. Motivated by the model, the State Government initiated Sardar Patel Cooperative Water sharing scheme.
The result of all these efforts is that the water table which used to be between 300 to 700 feet has revived between 40 to 80 feet only. Dried rivulets have come back to life after many years. Wherever check dam schemes were implemented there is an increase of 40 to 100 per cent in irrigation. Agricultural produce, rural employment and fodder production has doubled. The electricity consumption, earlier used for irrigation through ground water, decreased by 50 per cent.
In Khijadia village under Amreli district, a novel scheme was implemented. The villagers there desilted a river carrying lot of silt and 35 wells were recharged. In Songadh, a village in Surendranagar district, surface water was altered and 3,000 abandoned mines were filled to create a 30 lakh cubic meter of water reservoir, completely eliminating water scarcity in the region. Mansukhbhai also worked on five alternative designs of RCC check dams in Pransla Vadekhan under district Rajkot and in just Rs nine lakh created a dam reservoir storing 10 lakh litres of water. By and large Mansukhbhai created the most economical, simple and eco-friendly designs, which have been recognised as a sustainable solution to water problems in the third world.
In coming years, Mansukhbhai aims to spread his mission to all over the nation. He also wants to have 10 lakh Gir and 10 lakh Kankrej breed cows. He is committed to implement cow based farming in the country. Plantation and conservation of indigenous plants and trees is also on top of his agenda. Surely, Mansukhbhai is the new messiah for crores of villagers in water-scarcity-hit regions of the country.