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The Participatory Groundwater Management initiative in Randullabad, India

By Uma Aslekar [1], Dhaval Joshi [2] and Rucha Deshmukh [3]

Randullabad is one of the villages in the western part of Maharashtra, India, that has included embedded elements of groundwater sustainability in day-to-day governance of the resource. Randullabad stands out as an example for embedding hydrogeology in a watershed development programme coupled with local level decisions that have shaped the way resource is understood, developed and accessed by the local community.

As many other villages in the drought prone rain shadow area of Western Ghat region of Maharashtra, Randullabad is completely dependent on groundwater for fulfilling the drinking water, domestic and agriculture needs. The village has an area of around 850 Ha. The population of the village is 1895 with 395 families residing in the village. It largely has a homogenous community with more than 85% families belonging to the same caste, Maratha that is considered as an upper caste in the caste hierarchy. Marathas are the major land-owing community in Maharashtra and in Randullabad too, a majority of the land belongs to this community. The majority of farmers own less than three Ha of land. There is no perennial river or canal passing through the village and hence groundwater serves as the only source of irrigation in Randullabad. There are around 190 dug wells in the village tapping three aquifer systems[4], fulfilling the water requirement of the community. Most of these wells were dug more than 50 years ago. Sixty percent of the wells in Randullabad are group wells and on an average, 2 to 8 farmers share such wells. This system has evolved as a positive mechanism to provide groundwater access to small farmers, thereby contributing to efficient application of water to many lands through a community managed groundwater resource system.

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Along with this prevailing system of community management of groundwater in the form of their local self-collectives around irrigation wells, Randullabad has put a ban on drilling of bore wells in the year 2000, realizing the importance of water conservation. A study by ACWADAM found out that community in Randullabad uses only the shallow unconfined aquifer system[5], which has annual recharge cycles (Deolankar, 1980, Kulkarni et al, 2000, Aslekar et al, 2013). Experiences of drilling bore-wells from nearby villages prompted the governing council in Randullabad village to put a ban on bore-wells in the village. The community faced several challenges in implementing the ban on bore well drilling as drilling bore-wells was cheaper and the booming agricultural economy demanded sustained water availability. However, the local governing body (Gram panchayat) successfully mediated during such conflicting situations. Dr. Prajakta narrates one such experience.

“Mr. Prahlad Bhosale owns a poultry farm in our village for which he takes water from the Panchayat (at cost) through village water supply scheme. In 2012, during summer, he decided to expand his poultry and for that wanted to drill a bore well. We all tried to persuade him against drilling. However, he was quite adamant and called the drilling rig. By then, the whole Panchayat had assembled to resist this move. At that time, I decided to call the BDO (Block Development Officer from the government) and requested her to intervene in the matter. The officer intervened and stopped the drilling as it was against the resolution passed by our Gram panchayat. We organised a meeting at 11 pm at the Gram panchayat office and amicably decided to give Mr. Bhosale extra water, through water supply scheme at extra cost. Mr. Bhosale too, dropped the idea of drilling a bore well in the larger interest of the village.”

Since farmers have to manage with whatever water is available in the unconfined aquifer system, they plan their agriculture season according to the water availability in their wells. The village has a well-developed practice of commercial agriculture. According to a rough estimate, the village annually produces around 50 trucks of potato, mostly sold to PepsiCo under a long-term agreement with the company. Other than potato, sorghum, peas, beans, wheat, gram are other major crops grown in the village. Villagers do not grow water intensive crops like sugarcane or banana. Potato requires relatively more water and hence the community started growing potatoes during monsoon season (between June and September). The cereals and vegetables that require relatively less water are grown during winter using well irrigation.

With all these management practices in place, the village still faced water scarcity during summer months for drinking as well as for agriculture. Therefore, in early 2009 the village decided to implement a watershed development program with the help of BAIF, a leading voluntary support organization in Maharashtra. BAIF knowing the importance of hydrogeology decided to involve ACWADAM in the planning process. Thus, the combined Participatory Groundwater Management and watershed development program was implemented in the village between 2011 and 2013 for sustainable use of groundwater.

The then woman Sarpanch (Head of the local governing body), Dr. Prajakta Jagtap, a medical doctor by profession, recognized the importance of science and community participation in groundwater management. She mobilized the community, especially women from the village, formed women self-help groups and involved them in the watershed development activities. The Village Watershed Committee (VWC) actively participated in the program. ACWADAM, with the help of VWC members conducted a hydrogeological study in the village. The community/VWC members regularly monitored well water levels, weather parameters and water quality parameters. ACWADAM studied the aquifers in the village and using the data collected by the community, prepared a groundwater management plan.

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The hydrogeological data proved to be a ‘game changer’. Dr. Prajakta narrates another experience. She said: 

 

“The government had drilled three hand pumps (180 feet) in our village. The community used water from two of these three hand pumps for drinking and domestic use. We, with the help of ACWADAM conducted water quality testing of the water from the hand pumps. One sample from the hand-pump used by the Primary school of the village, showed high amount of fluoride (more than 2 ppm) in water. Realizing the potential threat of dental fluorosis amongst small children, I immediately advised the school to not to use this water for drinking and only use it for hand washing and other purposes. The Gram panchayat made separate arrangement for drinking water for the small children.” She further stated that, “When we talk to the community using our own data/ information, they are more likely to get convinced about the issue. The moment I shared the findings of water quality sampling, the community themselves said that good that we are not using bore wells or water from deeper aquifer. It helped in strengthening our gram sabha (local governing body) resolution of banning the drilling of bore wells in the village”.  

The hydrogeological study of the village helped in taking critical decisions about construction of artificial recharge structures like check dams, water absorption trenches and percolation tanks. The selection of location for new drinking water well was done based on aquifer understanding. Mr. Anna Jagtap, active member of village watershed committee said: 

 

“The village faced acute drinking water problems during summer months. However, after implementation of watershed activities, the groundwater levels have risen. Unlike the neighboring villages, our village is able to provide drinking water to all households on every alternate days even during peak summer. The village has also come up with drinking water management system and developed drinking water protocols for the whole village so that we don’t face water scarcity even during summer season.”

 

The village constructed another drinking water well with the technical guidance of ACWADAM to create a buffer and to meet the additional needs during the scarcity period.

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As the village falls in drought prone area, efficient use of water becomes crucial. More than 60% villagers use drips and sprinklers for irrigation. All the horticulture plants like figs, pomegranate, and custard apple are irrigated by drip. Recharge areas of the aquifers are protected by putting a ban on grazing of domestic animals in the groundwater recharge area. VWC and the Gram panchayat regularly undertake activities for maintenance of the recharge structures. The community perceives the importance of demand management along with supply side interventions.

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Agrawal (2001) identifies small size of the group, overlap between user group and resource, past successful experience, locally devised access and management rules as some of the factors influencing sustainability of common pool resources like groundwater. We see these in case of Randullabad, including the small size of community, its homogenous nature in terms of caste composition, land holdings and entitlements. Past experience of collective decision for banning bore-wells, effective functioning of local management institution (the Watershed Committee) even during the post project period proves crucial to sustain the long-term impacts of such a programme.

 

References:

Agrawal, Arun. "Common property institutions and sustainable governance of resources." World Development 29.10 (2001): 1649-1672.

Aslekar U, Kulkarni H and Upmanyu A (2013) Participatory Groundwater Management in Randullabad. Report on ACWADAM’s Action Research Initiative under PGWM program with support from Arghyam Trust, Bengaluru (Technical report: ACWA/Hydro/ 2013/ H28)

Bagheri M., Kholghi M., Hosseini S.M., Amiraslani F., Hoofar A (2020) Participatory approach in Aquifer Storage and Recovery management in Arid zones, does it work? Elsevier- Volume 10 April 2020, 100368 Groundwater for Sustainable Development

Deolankar, S. B. (1980) Deccan basalts of Maharashtra- their potential as aquifers:Ground Water, 18 (5): 434-437.

Kulkarni, H., Deolankar, S. B., Lalwani, A., Joseph, B., and Pawar, S. (2000)Hydrogeological framework for the Deccan basalt groundwater systems, westcentral India. Hydrogeology Journal, 8(4): 368-378.

[1] Senior Scientist, ACWADAM (Advanced Centre for Water resources Development and Management)

[2] Social Scientist at ACWADAM

[3] Hydrogeologist at ACWADAM

[4] Aquifer system: It is a water-saturated rock or rock-material (sand, silt, gravel) formation that has capacity to store groundwater and transmit it to wells and springs.

[5] Shallow unconfined aquifer system: In Deccan basalt, it is the top 20 m aquifer system exposed to the atmosphere and tapped by large diameter dug wells. This aquifer system is annually replenished by monsoon rain.