The availability of water due to a conservation project has transformed life in Bitkuli, a small village in Bilaspur district of Chhattisgarh, and turned it into a ‘model village’.

The village with a total population of around 250 people, belonging to marginal sections (SC and ST), was going through a sustainable livelihood crisis.

For four generations, Ashok Bhaskar’s family grew paddy here, but only in the last four years, have they managed to benefit from farming.

In 2008, Bhaskar and other villagers had a water conservation project initiated by Shikhar Yuva Manch (SYM), an NGO, which changed their fate.

Bhaskar is now all smiles as he points at a farm pond in his field.

“Earlier farmers of Bitkuli were struggling to yield crop in only one season due to scarcity of water. They could grow just one crop in 130 acre out of the total 255 acre of the cultivable land during monsoon,” Bhaskar said, adding that now there is water even in April.

For the rest of the year, people migrated to other places in search of work. “Now, I am making more than I used to as there is water throughout the year,” Bhaskar told PTI.

“Earlier, the only source of irrigation in the village was Dharamsagar pond (small dam), which was in a worthless state. No canal system was constructed to supply water to the fields from the pond and even the depth of it was low,” Gulabi Sarathi, another villager, who has now become head of water user committee in the village, said.

“Somehow, we managed to bring water from the dam to the fields but that could barely irrigate 60 acres of land while no additional facilities were there for bathing, washing clothes and other routine activities except the dam,” he said.

In 2008, SYM, in association with a few other organisations, decided to help the villagers.

“The mission was to help villagers become green and self-sufficient. We identified suitable spots for construction of small ponds to conserve water,” Dhananjay Anupam, the coordinator of Shikhar Yuva Manch, said.

Bitkuli was selected on a priority basis as majority of people of the village, who were from marginal sections, were poor and lacked resources and knowledge. Being the last village of the Bilha block of the district, the socio-economic status of the community was miserable, Anupam said.

Initially, the people took charge to deepen the dam and ensured smooth supply of water to fields through constructing various drainage channels.

“We also turned the flow of rainwater from hill top towards the dam so that maximum amount of water could be conserved,” he said.

The villagers were involved in deepening the dam and very soon their efforts bore fruit and amount of water in dam increased, which automatically started supporting irrigation while soil erosion was also greatly reduced in the village.

Over the last five years, another big pond and nine farm ponds have been dug in Bitkuli. Besides these, a community tube well was also installed here. As a result, the moisture holding capacity of the soil rose, increasing its fertility and helping recharge ground water.

Now that water is easily available, farmers in the region enjoy two harvests in a year.

They grow rain-fed crops such as paddy during the monsoon, and gram, pulses and vegetables during the other months. In addition, the self-help groups and village development has also started fish rearing.

Besides, several farmers have started organic farming as productivity of land has been increased. “The farmers now have more money in their pockets, thanks to the second harvest,” Gulabi Sarathi said.

Now, the crop yield per acre has increased by 4-6 quintal, money lending decreased, migration completely stopped and it has turned Bitkuli into a ‘model village’, Anupam said.

SYM has also established a demo-cum-learning agricultural centre (Kisan Pathshala) for regular demonstration for the community and sustainability of the project.

(This article was published on February 3, 2013)
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