By: Vikram Singh Rawat
The introduction of NREGA has brought a lot of fortune to rural India, giving employment opportunity to millions of people. But whereas the government should be patted for having brought in such a scheme, officials implementing it need to do some practical thinking on how best to implement the scheme to get the best desired results. So while there is no doubt that a lot of good is being done through NREGA, a close monitoring and understanding of local issues would reveal that there is still scope for improvement.
The Karsog Valley Farmers Group in Mandi district has taken up a cause to make the administration realise just this by seeking better utilisation of money being spent on NREGA-sponsored schemes. The group came into existence in 2006 with a motive to work for the welfare of farming community and has since been working on multiple problems being faced by farmers in the area. One major problem they have been dealing with is water scarcity, and that is how the NREGA scheme to construct cemented water ponds came under their scrutiny.
What they noticed was that old traditional johars (kufers) were being converted into concrete tanks, which was serving no purpose except for panchayat representative making money out of it. The group members have been trying to convince the officials that traditional johars have the ability for water recharge, which the concrete tanks lack and therefore effort should be made to revive the traditional water systems and use the NREGA money on some other projects.
Recounting his experience, Bikam Ram (62), a resident of Morothi village said: “I have witnessed three kufars being converted into concrete tanks. I was fascinated by a big water-filled kufer at village Balaso in Sapnote panchayat when I visited that place two years back in peak summer. I happened to visit the place again in May this year and was shocked to see that the kufer had been converted into a concrete tank, that too without water. Another villager claimed that he saw the kufer without water for the first time in his life and that happened after it was concretised. The village used its water for cattle and vegetable production, but now they have been hiring a vehicle to carry water for cattle and other domestic needs.
In a letter written to Mandi DC, villagers wrote: “The water harvesting structures, we call them kufars, others call it Johads, have been used for decades not only for harvesting but also for recharging of water into earth by slow seepage. The use of concrete in these kufars will forfeit the purpose of kufars. Through this letter we register our protest for the use of concrete in traditional kufars.”
The villagers have requested the administration to allocate a budget to every panchayat for water recharging, kufers, check dams, etc. “This budget should be target oriented and must cover 20% cost of the work done by the pantheist under NREGA. It will give better opportunity to create employment to villagers,” the letter further states.
The success stories in other parts of the country show a silver lining in the otherwise bleak scenario of droughts, floods and failing monsoons. The simple village folk, relying on traditional wisdom have shown us the value of ancient systems. They have also proved that God helps those who help themselves. Perhaps the time has come for communities to take up a more active role in nation building without waiting for the government to do everything, and that is what villagers here have started realising, and the government should now support them.
(The author runs Kalasan nursery in Karsog)