AJMER, RAJASTHAR: Under the scorching Rajasthani sun of Mehru Kalan village in Ajmer district, 300 volunteers are working hard to try to bring water to a settlement that did not have enough groundwater over the past 5 years.
Almost entirely dependent on tankers, Mehru Kalan is one of 13,500 villages in the state where groundwater levels are depleting at an alarming rate.
According to government data, the state’s water extraction from soil is 150% more than what is dumped each year, and over the past three decades, the number of blocks subjected to a water crisis. water in Rajasthan has increased seven-fold.
In a state with only 1.1% surface water and where 91% of demand is met by groundwater, statistics have already sounded the alarm.
In some districts like Ajmer, Jaipur, Sikar, Alwar and Nagaur, groundwater is being depleted at the rate of two to three meters per year. The more you dig, the worse it gets. 55% of Rajasthan’s groundwater is saline or non-potable, according to the state government.
The older generation of the village remembers a time a few decades ago when this village actually had sufficient water. âThis baori is very old. When we were young, we drank water from it. Now it is neglected and overgrown with thorns and thistles, âsaid Om Prakash Jain, 75, pointing to a stepped well that is now overgrown with brambles.
But strangely inspired even in the face of a desperate situation, the village volunteers clean the old stepped well and deepen the village pond.
The pace of their work is derived from a new government program called Mukhyamantri Jal Swavlamban Abhiyan. In three years, this water conservation project hopes to cover 20,000 of the 44,000 villages in Rajasthan.
The plan is to make the villages sufficiently hydrated by recharging their wells, lakes, ponds, stepped wells and dams.
âIf we restore this lake, at least it will be a source of water for people and livestock to bathe,â said Mitthi Bai, a villager who volunteers to deepen and repair the village’s pond.
Led by Sriram Vedire, a 44-year-old technocrat, adviser to the state government and the Center for Water Conservation, the projects are led by the River Basin Authority of Rajasthan.
The government claims that for the first time, water conservation structures are being built on watershed systems based on scientific analysis of the natural flow of water.
âWe want to ensure the autonomy of a village in water. We are covering 3,500 villages this year by building 1.1 lakh structures. In the future, over the next three to four years, we will cover 20,000 villages, âsaid Vedire, who reports directly to Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and holds the rank of Minister of State.
Structures such as bunds, mini percolation tanks, contour trenches and anicuts or miniature dams will slow the flow of rainwater and cause it to seep into the ground.
The government is funding a large part of the project through donations. He says he has raised Rs 25 crore for the program from individual donors and organizations. And those who can’t donate cash do so in-kind – helping out with this long and tedious process.
Aware of the pitfalls and corruption involved in government programs, Vedire said he has geolocated every water conservancy structure built under this project.
With this data and the help of satellite imagery, he can remotely monitor the progress of the work. âIt leads to accountability,â he said.