Is it possible to desilt water bodies, mostly tanks and ponds — and 43,000 of them — without spending a paisa of your own? It is, as the Tamil Nadu government has shown.

By crowd-sourcing funds from corporates, local communities and farmers, the State government has saved nearly ₹800 crore for the public exchequer in the first phase of a project to desilt nearly 6 crore cubic metre of sand ( vandal in Tamil).

The Government Order issued in April 2017 was a game-changer, says K Satyagopal, TN Commissioner of Revenue Administration, and State Relief Commissioner, Revenue Administration, Disaster Management and Mitigation Department.

Leveraging the 2 per cent corporate social responsibility (CSR) spending target, the government roped in companies to fund the exercise. The silt excavated in the process was given away gratis to local farmers. All they had to do was to transport the silt at their own cost.

“Our role was just that of a coordinator,” Satyagopal told BusinessLine .

While the desilting helped create a water storage of 2 tmc ft per tank, the fertile silt, when used by farmers in their fields, reduced the use of chemicals and fertilisers in their fields.

“The cost of cultivation dropped by nearly a third and the yield was better due to the high nutrition in the silt,” the official said.

The farmers concur. “The vandal rejuvenated the field,” said AKP Chinraj, a farmer in Rasipuram in north-western Tamil Nadu.

The project was catalysed by the drought of 2016, the worst since 1876, in which the North-East Monsoon was 63 per cent deficient. The South-West monsoon had also come a cropper.

Companies such as Danfoss Industries, Grundfos Pumps India, Borg Warner and Gmmco are involved in the project through the Confederation of Indian Industry.

Being an infrastructure company, “we took the opportunity to participate in the project,” said H Jayaram, Managing Director and CEO, Gmmco, a CK Birla Group company. “We have committed nearly ₹50 lakh for the project to desilt six lakes,” he said.

“This is a very important initiative,” said NK Ranganath, CEO and Managing Director of Grundfos Pumps, which spent nearly ₹20 lakh to desilt the 2.76-acre Gangai Amman Koil tank in Injambakkam.

It was a clear win-win-win outcome for all stakeholders involved: the government significantly increased the storage capacity of the tanks at zero cost to itself; corporates found a way to deploy CSR funds and earned goodwill; and farmers boosted the productivity of their fields.

The government is now gearing up for the second phase of desilting, this time involving 23,000 tanks.