Banda: Uma Shankar Singh, a resident of drought-hit Banda district in Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh is desperately waiting for rains — not just for irrigation of his fields, but also for conserving water for hard times.
Uma Shankar, who hails from the Naraini village in Banda, and his neighbours have tried to restore the ponds and wells in their area in an attempt to start groundwater recharging and end the water woes during summers.
Shankar says he wakes up between 4-4.30am every morning — along with his friends, neighbours and children — to trench the ponds and wells in the area.
People working with spades and other farming equipment in nearly all villages of Banda have become a common sight during the morning and evening hours, as they all have been mobilised by a movement, ‘Kuan Talab Jiyao Abhiyan’, launched by the district administration.
The movement aims to revive the water bodies of the area by trenching, cleaning and other efforts, and now even the government has joined this movement along with a few non-governmental organisations (NGOs). But villagers of all the 471 gram panchayats are playing a rather pivotal role by working day and night for this movement.
Banda district under Bundelkhand region has been one of the worst-affected districts, and has been witnessing drought or drought-like conditions and increase of temperatures at serious levels over the past many decades.
The district, however, has been receiving several crores of rupees as part of the special Bundelkhand package, which was passed by the then cabinet in 2009, but hardly anything has been done to give respite to the natives of this dry region.
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In the present fiscal, the Banda has received a package of Rs 130.20 crore from the Bundelkhand package and Rs 21.73 crore have been released to construct 313 check dams. The district has also received Rs 100.55 crore from the state funds, out of which 22.42 crore have been spent on various works by the district administration.
Rajendra Singh, a water conservation activist who is famously known as the “waterman of India”, says, “Water conservation is the need of the hour and revival of old water bodies is the best thing that can be done on a primary level. It should have been started years ago but it is never too late. Such steps by the villagers will help in recharging the ground water and also help in bringing back the lost glory of Bundelkhand.”
Ashish Sagar, a Bundelkhand-based activist, says, “It is good to see a large number of people participating in this movement but more things are needed like a check on the illegal sand mining, reckless use of groundwater by the industries and others. The administration should also work on getting the hold back on those ponds that have been acquired by the construction mafias.”
As per estimation by the district administration, Banda will be able to save at least 3.9 kilolitres of water, while 11,001 litres of water seepage is also expected in the ground, which will help in the recharging of aquifers under the earth’s crust and also help in maintaining the moisture of the soil.
Data gleaned from various sources in Banda says that the rocky fertile plains were once very rich in wells and ponds, and it has 7,508 of wells out of which 3,223 are still there while the rest have either dried up or are being used as dust bins. There were also 2,292 ponds, but now only 1,193 are left, as most of them have been acquired by the construction mafias.
The average rainfall in Banda in 2016 was 1,236 mm while the groundwater level climbed down to an average of 7.45 to 8.85 mm in the districts, as per the figures from groundwater resources department of Banda.
Banda district magistrate Heera Lal, one of the leading forces of this movement, says a target to reach all the 471 gram panchayat for the revival of water bodies has been set for July 15 and that this target is very much achievable.
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“The only thing I have done is igniting the fire to work for future generations. The condition of drought could or could not increase in the days to come, and we should be ready with resources to face the harshest conditions. The work that the villagers are doing will help them in the longer run. To help them more, I have ordered for digging of at least one pond in each village and funds from the NREGA are being utilised for it. It will be a win-win situation for both villagers and the administration,” the district magistrate said.