Meet The Woman Who Rescued 2 Lakh Villagers From Poverty And Tripled Their Revenue In 10 Years

Pavan Manikanta Kumar

May 1st, 2017

“The Future Of India Lies In Its Villages.” – Mahatma Gandhi

The economy in Indian villages is agro-based. However, the situation in villages has been deteriorating day by day due to bad governance, illiteracy, bad market and water scarcity. Four years ago, Devkaran migrated from Rajasthan to work as a labourer in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to feed his family as he was not able to do farming in his village due to the acute shortage of water. Now he is back in the village, thanks to check dams. He is now reaping three crops a year and he bought ten buffaloes, two motorcycles and a tractor.

During summer, many villages in Rajasthan, a state known for its scorching heat and parched soil, struggle to get drinking water, let alone water for agricultural purposes. There are many villages that are not able to get water even for a single crop a year due to which many farmers are facing poverty.

In 1999-2000, Rajasthan had been reeling under severe drought. Amla Ruia couldn’t ignore the situation of villages in Rajasthan when she read about the poor conditions of the farmers there. She immediately started for Rajasthan from Mumbai. She visited many villages affected by acute water shortage and tried to understand the situation and ways to solve the problem.

While on tour in the villages, she saw many hills surrounding the villages. During the rainy season, farmers used the water drifting from the hills to cultivate their lands. There were no arrangements or any structure in place to hold the excess water from going waste. Amla Ruia wanted to root out the water crisis from the village. The only way this could be done was by adopting sustainable water harvesting procedures.

Amla decided to construct check dams to stop the wastage and flow of excess water. These check dams stored the water which flowed from the higher grounds from hills to lower ground during the rainy season.  Amla started “Aakar Charitable Trust” and begann working on her plan.

Amla Ruia, speaking to The Logical Indian, said “Rajasthan was reeling under severe drought. I saw the pictures of famine-stricken villages on the TV screen and I felt that I should do something for them. My father-in-law used to send water tankers and food to the villages. I thought that was not a permanent solution to the problem. I visited those Rajasthan villages and started working to solve the water scarcity.”

How do check dams work?

Check dams involve small masonry works and extensive earthen bunds. They are most effective in hilly areas where the whole hilly terrain will act as the catchment area for the reservoir. The rainwater coming from the hills are stopped and stored by the check dam. They are cost-effective and bestow tremendous bounty on the land and the people.

Bhuda-Budhi check dam during construction and during monsoon

Rs 500 crore in revenue

Aakar Charitable Trust visited all the villages in the vicinity and explained to the villagers that the only viable solution to water shortage is building check dams. Seeing the enthusiasm of the trust to help them villagers came forward and extended their support for the cause. In the first phase, the villagers built two check dams in Mandawara village in Dausa district. The result: up-to-the-brim reservoirs filled with water. The farmers near the reservoirs were able to reap a revenue of Rs 12 crore that year.

The word spread like wildfire in the surrounding villages which helped the cause. The trust and villagers started building more check dams in different districts like Dausa, Alwar, Sikar etc. In total, the trust built 250 check dams in 156 villages impacting over 2 lakh people every year. The farmers who were once not able to grow one crop a year are now able to grow three crops a year. The revenue in total from 156 villages is about Rs 500 crore.

Involving villagers in building check dams.

“The people were not willing to believe that somebody had a clear agenda of helping the villagers. They thought that we have an ulterior motive behind the idea. It took some time to convince the villagers. Few of them believed in us. We do not want any work where villagers themselves do not contribute. Because, if they contribute, that means they really need the work to be done,” said Amla

Villagers are involved in every decision from site selection to supervising the check dam construction. Amla made sure that the villagers are also involved in the construction of the check dams which ensured and increased the sense of ownership in the villagers. The farmers bear 40% of the cost in the form of labour, stone, gravel and water required for the masonry work and rest 60% is borne by the donors. Farmers take care of the maintenance of the check dam.

Gunda-bera check dam during construction and during monsoon

Impact of check dams on villages

“There are massive changes in the villages. All villages are earning a total sum of Rs 500 crores The incomes in the villages had tripled. The villages along had started animal husbandry along with farming, growing three crops a year; few of villagers had begun small-scale industries too. All the children are going to school, all the abled-bodied people who migrated are back in the village. It is only the water that has done all these transformations in these villages,” said Amla Ruia speaking to The Logical Indian.

Calculation of revenue generation:

The local supervisors visit each and every farmer in the villages and ask them how much land they have cultivated and how much profit they have earned after deleting their expenses. Now, Aakar Trust also started working in Odisha, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhatisgarh. The villagers call Amla “Water Mother” for turning their barren land into lush green fields.

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