The water crisis in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh is at its peak. The gravity of the situation is such that the police have to stand guard at the dam on the Chambal River out of fear of theft by the water mafia. Acute shortage of water recently forced Grasim, Asia’s leading fibre manufacturer, to stop operations in one of its units. Except Nagda, the entire Malwa region is under the grip of a crisis where more than 60 percent of the borewells have dried up.
A similar crisis had struck the Dewas region, 35 km from Indore, a few years ago forcing several factories to shut down. But in 2006-07, Umakant Umrao, arrived in Dewas as the district collector and transformed the place.
Within one-and-a-half years of his tenure, he dealt with the water crises by scripting a fascinating success story, when along with local farmers he launched the Bhagiratha Krishak Abhiyan. Interestingly, the scheme required no funding by the government as the entire plan was put into action by locals under Umrao’s leadership.
Upon his arrival at the district, Umrao saw that water was being supplied to the locals by railway tankers and the situation was such that ground water levels had receded to 500-600 ft. At that time, no birds except crows were to be seen there. Umrao had an idea. He persuaded big farmers in the district to build ponds on 10 percent of their agricultural lands. The farmers agreed and as a result, the region has become so abundant in water that grain production has gone up several times per hectare in the region since. Agricultural prosperity has also brought about social welfare. It has been observed that schools and colleges now have a growing number of girls enrolled in them and even child marriage, which has been a major issue in the region, is on the decline. Furthermore, the situation of Scheduled Tribes in the area has also improved.
Madan Rawat, a member of the Bhilala ethnic community, left his village, Punjapura, 20 years ago and settled in the village of his in-laws, Postipura. He had never dreamt that the chief minister would himself one day bestow his wife Geeta Bai with the highest agricultural award in the state.
He recalls, “When I came here, it was a wilderness. For a quarter of the year, roads used to be a mess. They have built pucca roads now. If someone was ill, they were carried on cots to the hospital. Some would even die on the way. But now there are many vehicles around. A health centre has also come up about 4 km from Palasi village. The construction of ponds in our village has led to prosperity and now we live in harmony.”
Besides the Bhilala community, the village is also home to other communities like the Banjaras and the Korkus.
Postipura village falls under the Bagli block of the Dewas district. It is located nearly 100 km from the district headquarters. There is a 7-km-long valley on the way to Postipura which is known as Jalebi Ghat, on account of its labyrinthine roads. Beautiful ancient teak trees are in abundance here and green fields growing vegetables are spread on both sides of the road. The vegetables grown here are supplied to Bhopal and other parts of the state.
When this correspondent reached Madan Rawat’s house, his wife, Geeta Bai, was drying mustard in the sun. A tractor, a jeep and a motorcycle parked in front of the house, are witness to the prosperity that had come to the household. Geeta acknowledges that the pond they constructed has changed their lives. She looks towards it gratefully and tells us how birds and other animals now frequent the village. Earlier the villagers had to struggle a lot in order to get water, they had to queue up all night long to wait for their turn at the well. Geeta Bai has 20 bighas of land and two ponds now. While at her place, an elderly man standing next to us said, “We are happy. Our children are studying now.”
The village has a government school till the class five. For studying further, children have to go to the high school in Punjipura village situated about 5 km from here.
Madan says that girls of the village were not sent to school until a few years ago. It was almost a crime for a girl to study. But now their families are sending them to school. This has changed since the government school came up in the village. Instead of carrying loads of grass, they carry books on their backs. All three daughters of Madan are enrolled in the village school now. One of his sisters studies in ba second year and lives in the Kasturba Gandhi College hostel in Dewas. The economic condition of the villagers has improved. This is made apparent by the infrastructure and means of transport in each household.