Erratic monsoon and defunct bore wells driving farmers to take extreme steps are a downside of Indian agriculture. The success of the Motirayan village of Mandvi taluka, Kachchch district, in reviving the defunct bore wells and giving hope to the farmers sound elixir in the midst of the failing bore wells.
Kachchh is the second largest district in India, covering 25 per cent area of Gujarat. Known for its extreme climatic conditions and erratic monsoon, frequent occurrence of drought is a common feature in this district. With no perennial rivers in Kachchh, farmers depend on groundwater to support agriculture , which is their main source of livelihood.
Due to successive low rainfall in 2016, 2017 and 2018, many farmers in Mandvi started drilling new bore wells as the existing ones had become defunct. A few farmers tried drilling bore wells in the open wells, but those also had dried up as the inconsistent monsoon had pushed down the groundwater table almost at a rate of 20 feet a year.
It was in this background that the seeds of the movement for groundwater recharge were planted under the K-MARC (Kankavati-Manage Aquifer Recharge through Communities) project in Kachchh. One of the meanings of the word kankavati is the ‘golden bowl’, which is used to keep turmeric and kumkum (red turmeric powder). And in the context of Kachchh, kankavati is water, and water is gold.
K-MARC started as a demonstration project of recharging five bore wells in Gundiyali and Bagh villages of Mandvi. The project faced resistance in the beginning as the farmers were not convinced about the possibility of recharging the dried bore wells.
After the monsoon of just 58 mm rain during 2018, two of the farmers who were part of the demonstration project observed an increase in the water table of the bore well. Realising that the K-MARC project has yielded results, the Bhujal Jankars (who understand the groundwater scenario) team of the K-MARC further identified about 65 other farmers based on the following criteria: (1) farmers with less than or equal to five acres of land, with the higher weightage for the lower caste; (2) defunct bore wells with a distance at least 500 m between each other; (3) beneficiary willing to contribute either in cash or kind of at least 10 per cent of the total cost of the project.
As the success of these experiments spread to other villages Vivekanand Research and Training Institute (VRTI), which has been working with the farmers in the region for a long time, and Arid Communities Technologies (ACT) — a reputed civil society organisation which specialises in hydro-geological approach to seek permanent solutions to groundwater issues in the arid Kachchh — came together to revive the defunct bore wells in Mandvi.
The process is as follows. First the catchment area of the rainwater is identified and the slope of the terrain is ascertained to ensure the flow of water to the bore wells. The area is carefully chosen, devoid of impurities and residues like agro chemicals, to avoid groundwater contamination.
At two identified places, two 5x 5 feet cement structures for inflow and outflow of water with filtering chambers are constructed. This is to ensure gravity flow of water from the inflow to the outflow structure. The structures are filled with 45-65 mm size stones up to four feet of the structure, and above which one feet of medium coarse sand is spread. The distance between the two structures is maintained around 50 meters to ensure the recharge is successful.
From the rainwater inflow structure, a pipe made of PVC/iron/ cement with 8-10 inches diameter is connected with the outflow structure. This measurement is specific to areas like Kachchh to maintain the flow of water from the inflow to the outflow chamber. The defunct bore well is connected to the outflow chamber.
During the monsoon, the navigated water flows through the built chambers which rejuvenates the bore well. This technique revives groundwater in about 400-meter radius, according to ACT. Farmers in the Moti Rayan village, say the bore well recharge technique has raised the groundwater level and their electricity charges have also reduced. By judiciously using the improved groundwater through drip irrigation system, these farmers are hopeful of cultivating both in kharif and rabi seasons.
Interestingly, the entire financial resources for the project came from community organisations, religious groups and participating farmers. For instance, in Moti Rayan village, where it benefitted 65 bore wells, contributions came from Patidar Samaj (₹1 lakh); and its leaders (₹5,000); Jain Samaj (₹20,000); bore well owners (₹12,000 -14,000 each) and the 170 farmers in the bore well recharge command area contributed ₹1,000 each.
This project implemented in about 19 villages in Mandvi area of Kachchh has caught the attention of other villages also. Now an initiative is underway to identify the defunct bore wells in each village of Mandvi so that the project could be undertaken under the MNREG scheme.
If this project materialises and is implemented according to the suitability of the places, it would benefit the enterprising farmers of the rain starved Kachchh district and inspire farmers in other rainfed regions of the country to save rainwater and revive the bore wells.
Jadeja is Director of Arid Communities and Technologies, Bhuj, Kachchh; Lalitha and Memon are Professor and Statistical Assistant at Gujarat Institute of Development Research, Ahmedabad, respectively