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TVS group’s Trust is sowing seeds of growth in rural India

Akshaya Chandrasekaran | Updated on: Jun 29, 2022
Watershed initiatives by TVS group’s Srinivasan Services Trust (SST) have helped farmers in Padavedu village grow more than one crop in a year

Watershed initiatives by TVS group’s Srinivasan Services Trust (SST) have helped farmers in Padavedu village grow more than one crop in a year

The leading two- and three-wheeler maker is transforming villages in five states and inspiring local communities to be partners in change

In most ways, Padavedu in Tiruvannamalai district is a typical village in Tamil Nadu. Matchbox houses with colourful walls, broad muddy roads lined by green fields, provision stores few and far between, and the occasional two-wheelers chugging through. It also has a dense presence of temples, large and small ones, at the end of every street almost, which has a familiar air about it too. Until one gets closer.

The small-holder farmers are reaping bountiful harvests. The women of these villages are part of self-help groups (SHGs) and run micro-enterprises. The  anganwadis here are a well-oiled machine, the low-lying hills of the Eastern Ghats are bursting with greenery, the schools are well-maintained, and so are the temples. Despite hurdles, people are still optimistic and unyielding.

Padavedu is known as the nucleus of Srinivasan Services Trust (SST), the social service arm of TVS Motor Company Ltd and Sundaram Clayton Ltd, as it all started from here in 1996. TVS is a household name in Padavedu; every family is engaged with an SST-related activity, and the villagers here are ever-ready to share the mystical story of how Venu Srinivasan, Chairman Emeritus, TVS Motor Company, made a flying visit to the Sri Rama temple, 26 years ago, and was shocked to see the appalling condition of the temples and the surrounding villages. He decided to set up SST to help with the renovation of the temples, and the lives of villagers alike.

With the 2,000 villages in Tamil Nadu, it also carries out development activities in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Maharashtra. The company has spent ₹17.01 crore on the Trust, more than two per cent of its average net profits, in FY 2021-22.

Water conservation

Tiruvannamalai is considered to be one of Tamil Nadu’s hottest and water-stressed districts. Water scarcity in Padavedu panchayat, consisting of 28 hamlets and seven villages, means people grow only one crop a year. In visits to five villages, the size of the challenge was clear — the sinking levels of groundwater, the lack of proper supply channels to irrigate the fields, and the drying ponds and lakes. Water conservation inevitably forms the core of progress and prosperity.

Swaran Singh, Chairman, Srinivasan Services Trust (SST), says: “The focus is society building. There are four important pillars to that — empowerment of children and women, water conservation, agriculture and livestock management, and afforestation. Some pilot projects in education and health were also kickstarted post-Covid.”

Communities identify their needs and raise the issue with us, says M Theagarajan, Field Director, Padavedu cluster, SST. “We form a committee to supervise and help facilitate implementation. We don’t give freebies. We get them involved in the activity. There is a monetary contribution from the community as well to encourage participation and ownership.” 

Take the case of Pudhur lake which irrigates the paddy fields in five villages —Valiyur, Andipalayam, Thuvaranthangal, Vannankulam and Pudhur. It was filled with massive quantities of silt and sediments that erode from the hills with each rain. This made the lake lose its rainwater retention capacity and the region more flood-prone. In 2017, to tackle this issue, SST built a de-silting tank at the cost of ₹4.4 lakh, including a community contribution of ₹1.76 lakh. Now, the lake is a source of irrigation for farmlands around the year. SST has de-silted 28 water bodies in the Padavedu cluster so far.

T Subramani, a rice farmer in Pudhur, says, “Despite rice being a water-intensive crop, we are now able to cultivate it all through the year. The extracted silt even becomes soil fertiliser.”

Community development

Groundwater is the chief source of irrigation for farmers here. Each year farmers bore at an unthinkable depth of 500 feet down looking for groundwater. So, a similar de-silting tank was set up for Tamarai lake as well, which had been dry for over three decades. But it did not work. Tamarai lake remained dry.

Farmers once again approached SST. The volunteers inspected the curious case of drying Tamarai lake and found that some of the villagers had engaged in obstructive construction blocking the three inlet channels to the lake. The solution was simple. SST volunteers, with the help of panchayat leaders, explained the magnitude of the problem to the villagers and received their consent to clear the encroachments and rebuild the supply channels to the lake and the nearby wells.

SST spent ₹7.75 lakh, laid pipes and walk-over slabs, to streamline the rainwater straight to the lake. After three decades, the Tamarai lake holds rainwater again and groundwater gurgles up at 8 feet, declares Santhanamurthy, one of those instrumental in convincing villagers. “Tamarai is flowing again. After 30 years. Now, we have no worries about drinking water and farming. It has changed our lives for once and for all.”

What’s unique about SST’s projects are that they are all small-scale, nature-based, and require community involvement in execution.

Similar water conservation efforts are scattered across Padavedu such as check dams, percolation ponds, and watershed projects. N Duraisamy, a farmer in Ananthapuram village is one such beneficiary. Till about 2006, the two acres of land owned by him was a dry patch. Today, he welcomes you into lush green orchards and sustainable horticulture farms filled with gooseberries, mangoes, and  chikoo. It has not only become the talking point in the district but also a model example of cultivation showcased to agriculturists and visitors.

The watershed project was funded by a grant from Ford Foundation in 2004, and SST chipped in to complete the rest. The land filled with an assortment of fruits and vegetables yields an annual income of ₹2 lakh from local sales, says Duraisamy.

The accent is also on preventing forest fires — 60-70 small fires every year. In the Inthiranagar village just outside Vellore, we visited the once-barren but now a verdant hill — Murugan Kundru, SST’s most recent successful afforestation programme. In 2020, it was brought back to life after 50,000 saplings of indigenous trees such as custard apple, gooseberries, and  neem were planted over 50 hectares of degraded forest land. This project was fully funded by EY. 

(Videography by Akshaya Chandrasekaran. Produced by Darshan Sanghvi.)

Published on June 29, 2022
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