Watershed projects to revive dying springs in Tribal districts of odisha

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During my field visits to various parts of Gajapati District i find complaints about springs gives less water than earlier ,stories from old tribal people saying that how the flow of water was earlier and how thinner it has become over the year and now during summer it hardly gives water .

We must have an answer to this problem that all the rain water falls in these places directly flows to the river without any obstruction ,Rainwater hardly goes where it should to get the ground water recharged so that those springs in mountains which are the lifeline of tribal people and the only source of water in these districts can provide water continuously on long run . So who will give technical direction to the nature’s protectors of these districts ? I am mentioning district knowing that all most all tribal districts of odisha has hilly terrain ,forest covered and still going through the water crisis in its tribal villages and hamlets .

Gravity flow water supply story:-

Many gravity flow water supply system have been put in to place and with the passage of time ,many of them failed as springs dried up permanently .I think if thoroughly surveyed village wise ,Our government will get enough stories and facts of dried springs in many tribal villages . Now when i visit to villages people say sir we now want to have a gravity flow water supply project in our village from another nearby spring as the current spring is not giving enough water as earlier it used to be . So should we keep on changing the projects to provide water to our tribal villages instead of treating the root cause of the issue .May be our govt has more money and knowledge to tackle the water scarcity issue of these regions or may be our government is trying to find out what really it can do to provide a long term solution to the water scarcity in these thousands of villages of tribal odisha ,Only time can answer to the above questions .

Spring water ? How it tastes ?

Believe me or not it tastes better than what all of us prefer to drink in these places i.e so called purified drinking bottled water .I have a very strong connection with the spring-water of gajapati district ,whenever i go to villages i always prefer to stop my bike somewhere near a spring when i feel thirsty and drink its water to quench my thirst  .I feel cool while my colleagues say ehhhhh how can you rely on this water .You will get infected in many diseases .surprisingly never never fell ill so far .

The spring and tribal connection:-

There has been  a very interesting connection between tribal people and their springs .I heard it before and its true that earlier they used to pray springs in many occasions  and used to treat it as a sacred source and it was resulting in relying the water more than us ,who are considered to be outsider to this people and this land too .But what has changed ? Why their sacred springs are drying up day by day ? Let us explore a bit more .

Tube well story:-

Now when our government thinks and also does in action is that installing lot of tube wells in many tribal villages which is a noble idea though but someone has to come and see how many tube wells are becoming defunct in a few months not in a year .We all know the reason of why it is happening as the water table is going lower day by day,Month by month and year by year and it will go further .so digging such thousands wells perhaps not the solution .

Now time to have some long term solutions:-

I think many people who work in these areas and have seen quite a bit of rural reality can voice with me that going for water conservation through watershed approach ,Taking up lot of watershed related activities .While OTELP Pogram and Orissa watershed development mission done quite a bit of such activities in these districts but not with the it should have been done and why i am saying this because of my recent visit to sikkim and i saw how they are implementing watershed activities in south sikkim district of sikkim which has similar terrains like ours . sikkimsprings is an initiative taken by Government of sikkim under Rural Management & Development Department, Government of Sikkim, India. We visited many villages where actually the pogram resulted in reviving many dying springs of south sikkim district . Sikkim spring /Dhara Vikaash initiative has been implementing it with lot of dedication and the program uses technology to understand the springs and it has spring database,Spring names village wise ,spring atlas ,Geo hydrology report and many research study has also being done over the years after successfully implementing the mission so far .Now that is where we lack behind ,We think we can do wonder with half baked knowledge ,Now if i can see how many such technical staffs who can actually give right direction to people to implement such scheme at ground .What technology we have to assess our springs ? with all the respect towards two major schemes implemented in odisha which has worked very less in reviving springs and with very narrow approach with less resources in hand . Sikkim is doing in convergence   with MGNREGA utilizing existing schemes to its maximum where as odisha is wasting and has been wasting NREGA funds by taking up such projects which has very less potential in tribal areas .I am not at all saying MGNREGA has not brought any good result ,I am saying what result it actually could have brought in these districts ,Solving the yearlong water crisis and the upcoming water crisis of these villages . 

Where will they go now ?

I have seen villages where saura tribal people shifted their villages due to water scarcity and it will not be a surprise for us to see them further shifting their houses with family to a completely new place which is perhaps an alarming situation for all of us ..Hope odisha government will do lot of convergence with its existing schemes with a great effort in bringing quality professionals with technology which can actually save millions lives which we loosely call sometimes LIFE . Water is life or life is water .Whatever may it be but for my tribal people it is the most important issue perhaps today .

Planning :- 

While nothing so visible been done under MGNREGA to takeup watershed activities so far but Intensive Participatory planning exercise under Mgnrega gives a very good opportunity to states like Odisha to adopt this planning exercise and implement the planning exercise with letter and spirit by involving tribal communities of these villages and making them aware about the kind of works that can be taken up under MGNREGA for watershed activities which may not give some immediate result in reviving springs but in long run it will definitely yield some visible results in the tribal regions of odisha .

Providing water to the toilet room :- 

Swach Bharat Mission is aiming at making India open defecation free without actually considering water problems at village level or may be they think they have provided water to each villages of our country at door step .Water is a major problem why tribal people do not use the toilet .We can understand it might be a psychological issue of not able to carry a bucket of water to the toilet room but in hilly areas where toilets are situated need water connection directly to the toilet room and for that we have to ensure water supply to toilet which is again connected to the spring based water supply system .

Many Problems relating to the tribal villages are directly or indirectly connected to their dying springs .Not only government ,NGOs but also for all of us who work in these regions need to ponder on this while working in tribal districts of odisha and make our little effort to highlight this issue both at state level and district level too .

How difficult to make one panchayat “Open defecation free” -A case study of Luhangara panchayat ,Gajapati District

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Interacting with a masson cum volunteer of Kudinda vilage who is constructing his own toilet

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Mapping the size of the toilet as it is very necessary to have enough space inside the toilet room which is one of the reason why people dont use toilet.

Kudinda Village

A Google earth view of Kudinda village ,An isolated as well as situated in a difficult terrain of Luhangara Panchayat

As Moonsoon was approaching and i was given one tribal panchayat to make the panchayat Open defication free under swachha Bharat mission i had to constantly visit Luhangara panchayat of Nuagada Block to see the Toilet construction work progress and to give inputs to volunteers wherever necessary. My interest to work more proactively started when i first made a visit to monitor Toilet work .It was scorching hot although you feel less hit in this panchayat as it is situated in a hilly terrain but for me to drive in my bike from parlakhemundi to nuagada in that hot was really difficult but the field visit really made me surprise when i saw villagers of Luhangara village were working in that some in constructing toilets with attached bathrooms and connecting pipe water supply to their toilet from their own pocket .Under swachh bharat mission government  is giving an amount of 12,000 per toilet to each benificiary who construct a toilet but these people were adding more money and labor to make a complete and usable toilet which pushed me to work more proactively for this panchayat .

Process Involved to make the Luhangara Panchayat Open deification Free 

  • Updating all the beneficiary names in the baseline survey http://sbm.gov.in/TSC/NBA/NBAHome.aspx
  • Conducting CLTS activities (Community let total sanitation ) in Luhangara panchayat to spread awarness about sanitation and motivating people to construct toilets followed by Children rally in luhaganara panchayat .
  • Creating BRT(Block resource Team Consisting  Village level worker,Gram rojgar sevak and Junior engineers ) who should cordinate with DRT (District resource team ) member ,Incase of Luhangara panchayat i was the DRT member .
  • Assigning one village out of 17 villages/ hamlets to each BRT member
  • Monitoring the progress of toilet construction and followup report with each BRT member
  • Creating a cadre of volunteers from each village of Luhangara panchayat who would work selflessly in making their own people understand about the importance of toilet and help them in building their toilet .
  • Capturing GPS Photographs of constructed Latrines  by BC(Block Coordinator) and CC(Cluster Coordinator) who work under DWSM (District water and sanitation mission ,Gajapati) and processing case records for payment .
  • Conducting evening meetings in each village by BRT members to push those beneficiaries who are slow in constructing toilets especially old age people ,women headed households ,disable people etc .
  • Involving religious leaders in the process as all villagers are Tribal Christians so church fathers motivates people regarding sanitation .
  • And Finally selecting a day on which the panchayat will be declared as Open defecation free in presence of District Collector,BDO,Sarpanch,ward members,BRT members,Volunteers

It took three long months to make the lunhangara panchayat Open defecation free ,Total household target was 540 Households ,Challenge before us was 4 cutoff villages i.e Kudinda,muri,kijanga,s.antarada but as we believe that once the community is convinced about the importance of toilet nobody can stop them to build a toilet which saves thousands of rupees they spend on medicines due to different diseases that occurs by practicing open defecation . They understood that due to defecating  in open that mixes with spring water which is mostly consumed by tribal people and fell sick . They understood about the how tribal women feel ashamed going out side and defecating in open and with fear that animals and snakes may attack as these places are largely forest covered .

A morning CLTS activity meeting headed by district colletor ,BRT members and DRT member

A morning CLTS activity meeting headed by district colletor ,BRT members and DRT member

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Meeting inside a church of Muri village of Luhangara panchayat ,discussing with the community members about leftout beneficiaries and how to include them in baseline survey

Finally luhangara panchayat achieved 100% toilet coverage and become open defecation free panchayat and on 11th of july 2015 it will be officially declared as ODF panchayat in presence of MLA,Collector,gajapati,sarpanch,BDO,nuagada,BRTs,DRT ,Volunteers and most importantly beneficiaries of luhangara panchayat . Another success story of gajapati district .As of now only two districts i.e gajapati and Anugul are in the race to make their district open defecation free under swachh bharat mission in our state . Gajapati district collector ,Mansi Nimbhal has an ambitious target to make the district ODF by 2016,March and other districts are slowly gearing up by replicating gajapati district’s model in the state . Many lessons are learnt while working with different communities of the district and still we have a long way to go .Till now five panchayats of gajapati district are declaired as ODF and within two months Kashingar block will be declaired as ODF .  Like our District Collector says “it is difficult to make people understand about the importance of having a toilet but looking at the success rate it is not impossible ”

With one beneficiary of "Mo swachha sauchalaya " of kijanga village,Luhangara panchayat

With one beneficiary of “Mo swachha sauchalaya ” of kijanga village,Luhangara panchayat

One beneficiary of kijanga village starting the toilet construction

One beneficiary of kijanga village starting the toilet construction

Garadama Gram Panchayat – Conflict,Development,Hope and me

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This piece of wrtiting is perhaps after a long time i am writing because of many excuses i have ,to start with i would say that i was just never pushed to write about my experiences but this time few of my close friends are really want me to put all the bitter sweet experiences in my blog .so here i am writing about the most touchy experience in this district .

Way back in 2012 when i joined in this district as a pmrd fellow i heard many stories about naxalism and their activities in various parts of gajapati district but i was very curious to visit THE most left wing extremism affected panchayat ,although it was not just because i am adventurous but because of the very fact that i wanted to see and work with people who are leaving in extreme poverty and i personally believe that where there is presence of extremism there is very existence of poverty and health issues and many more which can only be experienced if you go there with your mind open without any previous notion and biasness for the community .

So I started from scratch ,first i met the newly elected sarpanch ,she was so happy knowing that i am the only district level officer which is showing interest to visit her panchayat from his side .I didnt discuss anything about naxals movement in her panchayat or something related to past events where many encounters did happen in that panchayat between naxals and CRPFs in that panchayat blah blah blah . I was clear in my mind that i will visit garadama panchayat and will understand issues that are affecting villagers and without giving them hope that i will do everything for your panchayat (although i can as closest to collector ) and will suggest solutions to those problems to my collector and will try my best to do something good for this panchayat .

2nd FEB,2014 

So i decided a day and started my journey from parlakhemundi district Headquarter in my Honda shine Bike as i was told that you really cannot go to this panchayat in four wheeler both for naxalism related issues and Hilly terrain and dense forest related issue . So once i crossed 100 KM i reached the Mohana Block headquarter and met the sarpanch and her husband who came a day before from their panchayat to block headquarter to receive me and take me to their panchayat .i had some formalities in block office with Block development officer and concerned junior engineer who was incharge of garadama panchayat ,i had to inform both BDO and JE that i am visiting to this panchayat and told them about the purpose of my visit .BDO was never expecting me to go to that panchayat due to security reasons and most appropriately he himself never visted this panchayat ,anyway i assured him that Nothing will happen as we are not CRPFs ,i am here as a social worker inside the government system and we are here for people and we have nothing to deal with Naxals and finally BDO wished me happy journey sir and i left the Block Headquarter with sarpanch and her husband in a bike , i am with Gram Rojgar sevak ,Anand in my Bike and two ward members in another bike .

A google earth image of garadama panchayat

A google earth image of garadama panchayat

after crossing around 50 KMs we reached at Gajapati -Kandhamaal Border and there was a CRPF check post where we were asked to stop for a while .One CRPF jawan knew the sarpanch as this route was his daily route and the jawan asked to the sarpanch who is this new person with you people and sarpanch was unable to reply  in hindi properly but what i can understand staying little far from both sarpanch and the jawan was that the sarpanch wanted to say that he is prakash sir came from collector’s office to visit our panchayat and he is an officer . I thought for a moment that sarpanch told enough about me to the CRPF jawan that they will let all of us go but no it didnt happen so . Their commander called us inside and asked me about my designation and also they checked my bag(Jhola,which generally contains two packets of biscuits,a water bottle,my sony camera and my audio recorder and one or two tshirts whenever i have to stay in villages .) anyway i felt bad that my bag was checked ,ego per thes pahuncha .so finally we were allowed to cross that checkgate and travelled another 50 KMs through the mountains and dense forest to reach a panchayat of kandhamaal district’s Daringibadi block i.e Saramuli gram panchayat . From there it was think roads where we had to enter to garadama panchayat and evening was approaching and finally we reached in that panchayat . Lot of villagers were coming to me to see me and to share their pains and difficulties .I was told to take food and take rest in gram rojgar sevak’s house (Anand ) and i took rest .

Next day morning i visited the panchayat office where all ward members were called to discuss about the issues ,Most of them told me that sir first of all we need a road ,Many of them were so angry on Governement that it was reflecting from their discussion . many of their questions were that 1- why our panchayat is deprived of basic facilities ,2- why we do not have a road yet  to our panchayat ,aren’t we deserving a road to the nearest main road 3- Why district administration and block office kept us isolated from so many years . Finally i had to make them understand that past was past ,i can only imagine what problems you all might have gone through ,i am just here to learn and understand why is your panchayat deprived from basic minimum facilities then only i can discuss with my collector to provide basic facilities .I can understand that many pregnant mothers have died in your panchayat as there is no medical facilities and taking to nearest medical centre is a huge task ,by carrying the mother in a stretcher for 20 KMs through the forest is extremely difficult ,I can understand that why teachers are not coming to schools of this panchayat just because the panchayat is 100 KMs from the block office as well as there is no road to the panchayat but lets find out the solution .

Many ward members said that sir we want a road to our panchayat for that it requires more money as there are two mountains through which the ghat road will be created . So all the issues were ending up with the road and finally all ward members including The sarpanch wrote an application , after the meeting i visited schools which were in horrible condition , lot of children has stopped coming schools as teachers are coming once in a month ,Lot of people are suffering from one or other deaseases ,I had heart full of pain seeing all these , in the evening sat with few SHG groups ,they shared their issues ,the nearest bank was 20 KMs away but it was not coming under gajapati district ,The bank was coming under daringbadi block of kandhamaal district and SHGs of garadama panchayat were facing difficulties to come to their ow bank which was 70-80 KMs away ,To deposit  500 rupees as saving in their group account they used to spend 300-400 rupees . In fact there were many such problems people shared with me for which there was no such ready made solution that the district administration can do and sometimes i think lot of problems doesn’t have any place in various government guidelines which makes people like me hopeless as we work with such community with a different approach . In fact i have met young people like me who work inside the system and trying to help such people who live in conflict areas feel the same .Let me share you another learning working inside the government system that the district adiminstration looks the district from a larger perspective .Hundreds of crores comes under hundreds of government schemes but due to that Macro look towards district such conflict and difficult panchayat left without focus and there are political reasons too But to make the system work for such panchayats many of us are trying day in and day out to bring the sense of hope for people of such difficult areas .

So finally i came back to district headqurter with lot of learnings ,My first priority was to influence my collector to constuct the road and after constant persuasion of six months 30 lakhs rupees sanctioned from Integrated action plan fund which now a days called as additional central assistance to Naxal affected districts .With constant persuasion with Block office to suggest that road project and district admin to approve the project ,finally it happened . It was a great pleasure when i went next time to see how road project was taking shape and was overwhelmed by villagers of garadama gram panchayat . One old man said

”  Sir Finally Garadama Panchayat tasted the real democracy ,For you sir it was 60 years before but for us ,all the people of this panchayat it is today ”

I was speechless ……….