Often referred to as the ‘Land of kings and colours’, Rajasthan is not only known for its forts and festivals, but also for its sweltering weather and barren terrain. In 2019, only 14 of the 33 districts in the state received normal rains.
However, Laporia, a small village located 90 kilometres from Jaipur stands out from the rest of the region. Its lakes, wells and groundwater tables are topped up with water even during the driest of months and provide for the entire community.
This was made possible by 64-year-old Laxman Singh who laid the foundation for water conversation. From reconstructing water bodies to building embankments to recharge ground water levels, he has done it all.
In the year 1977, when Laporia was struck by drought, farmers were left languishing due to crop losses. Many youngsters began migrating to other urban centres and children stopped attending school regularly. And, Laxman was one of them.
With a view to bring about a transformation, Laxman decided to repair a broken bund that had been arid for several years. While most of the villagers mocked him, a few of them stood by his endeavour. Laxman’s efforts bore fruit when the bund brimmed with rainwater and turned over 1,800 acres of farmland fertile. Today, the water body is called ‘Anna Sagar’, and its water continues to serve as a source of water for irrigation.
Encouraged by this little triumph, Laxman continued to work towards rejuvenating many more water bodies in Laporiya.It was only a matter of time before he started garnering a great deal of support. In 1986, he established Gram Vikas Navyuvak Mandal, a non-governmental organisation to carry out all the activities in a systematic manner.
In the early 1990’s, Jagveer Singh got involved in the operations of the NGO and later became its CEO.
“I was in my early 20’s when I joined Laxman and picked up a spade and some bricks for the cause. Actually, along with me, there were a bunch of young minds who wanted to make a difference. We were involved both in manual labour as well as research with regard to the weather, groundwater levels, topography, landscape, etc,” points out Jagveer.
An innovation to remember
Another matter of concern that was troubling the village was the steep decline of groundwater levels. So, Laxman and his team took it upon themselves to look for a solution to revitalize it.
After a lot of research, the Gram Vikas Navyuvak Mandal built a ‘Chauka’ which is the Hindi word for square. Chaukas are deep channels constructed in the form of a sequence of square pits and bordered with two-feet high bunds. They serve a dual purpose - that of rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharging.
“We designed the chaukas in such a way that they collect rainwater until they are full and then flow into the adjacent one. Since the small mud walls slow down the flow of rainwater, there is sufficient time for it to percolate into the ground and recharge the water tables. We also lined the chaukas with trees so that cattle could graze around,” explains Jagveer.
Over the years, the chaukas are known to have enabled groundwater recharge in around 625 acres of land, thereby benefiting a slew of farmers in Laporia. With ample water for the crops and better soil health, the harvest of the agricultural community shot up. 50-year-old Laxman Doe, a farmer who resides in Laporia emphasises this.
“We mostly grow wheat, bajra, moong dal and chana dal. Earlier, during dry spells, we used to earn Rs 10,000 to 20,000 for the harvest of every crop. After the chaukas were built, we started to obtain close to Rs 1 lakh for the same,” notes Doe.
In addition to this, the chaukas have a positive impact on local dairy farmers. Since they are lined with trees and greenery, the cattle tend to feed on them to become strong and healthy. This is reflected in the superior quality of milk they produce, which is of high demand in the market.
The Gram Vikas Navyuvak Mandal along with volunteers in Laporia have started helping other nearby villages to manage and conserve water through these successful techniques.
“We have already worked with 54 villages in our neighbourhood. In all these places, we have been involving the community members themselves to do the work. The funds for the rejuvenation are generally provided by the government or by corporates as part of CSR,” says Jagveer.
Laxman, Jagveer and the entire team of the NGO, faced multiple challenges in their journey, including illegal encroachments and periodic transfer of government officials. Nevertheless, they did not give up and went on to work towards the welfare of people.
Some resources to help you learn more about water conservation in Rajasthan: