Wednesday, April 11, 2012

News Article: A persuasive prayer to save tanks

April 10, 2012

DEVELOPMENT: Karnataka has 36,000 tanks with the potential to irrigate an area as large as 6.85 lakh hectares. But these tanks struggle for survival due to massive encroachment, writes S S Mohan Kumar

Backyard ponds, tank bunds, auxiliary channels, tiny streams...there are people who claim the water sources are “their own” before swallowing them all. Fortunately, this is not always the case. In a unique example, the villagers of Shimoga district have come together to clear tank encroachments.

Three taluks of the district have as many as 70 tanks including Gang tank in Umblebailu, Doddakere in Devabalu, Kadammajjikere in Kanagalasara, Chikkakere in Muddinakoppa, Hosakere in Gejjenahalli and Talakattinakere in Madliya village. The farmers here have voluntarily given up a total of 82.03 acres (33.20 hectares) of encroached land to help protect the tanks.

That’s not all. After clearing the tanks of these encroachments, a metre-wide boundary was created around the tank, where the villagers planted trees.

These villagers intend to stay vigilant and prevent further encroachment from taking place in the tank area. While this seems like a baby step, in the larger perspective, since tanks cater to our daily needs and are imperative for our survival, it is a great leap forward.
Tanks are our lifelines. We need them for irrigation, animal husbandry, groundwater and other daily requirements. Karnataka has 36,000 tanks which are large enough to irrigate a vast area of 6.85 lakh hectares. But these tanks struggle for survival because of massive encroachment. Encroachment makes it difficult for water from the feeder canals to enter the tank.

Also, all the tanks are clogged with silt. The outlets and protection for tanks including the pipes, surrounding walls, canals, etc are in a dilapidated condition. In spite of many laws to protect tanks, the government is unable to check encroachment of tank areas. It was for this purpose that the Jala Samvardhane Yojana Sangha (JSYS) was formed. Several Tank Users’ Groups were formed under this umbrella to clear encroachments in their respective areas. The farmers also volunteered to give up encroached land to help protect their tanks. Favourably, the encroachers have also been made members of the Tank Users’ Groups; this helps them give up encroached land with little or no objection. They have also understood the importance of tanks.

Forward-thinking women

In Umblebailu village, 29 km from Shimoga, the Gang tank covers an area of 6.25 acres.It can provide enough water for 43.74 acres of the surrounding area. Two acres of the land had been encroached upon.

The village headmen did not pay much attention to the issue, but the progressive women of the village managed to persuade the encroachers to leave.

Before the tank could be revived, we had to get rid of the encroachment. It was only after we reclaimed tank property that the go-ahead was given to begin improving the tank,” said Shanta, president of the Umblebailu Tank Users’ Groups.

Shimoga’s Abbalagere village faced an unprecedented problem. Fouracres of their Mudhigowda tank had been encroached upon. While the villagers were able to stop the encroachment, the soil in the encroached area couldn’t contain any water. Finally, a win-win solution was reached when the villagers decided to put the land to good use by allowing it to be cultivated by the poorer families of the village. Half the revenue earned from that land is given to the Tank Users’ Group for tank development. “Instead of allowing the land to lie unused, it is better to use it in some manner,” says Mohan Gowda, president of the Tank Users’ Group, Abbalagere.

The Tank Users’ Group was set up so that encroachers could understand the problems caused by their action.

Any information regarding tanks (revenue survey files, topographical survey, tank photographs, etc) can be sought or discussed at this forum. Shimoga’s Yadavalu village was so eager to develop their tank, that on the same day that work began on the tanks, the villagers held a meeting on its progress. The workers were paid right after the meeting. Tank development has begun in right earnest in many villages where Tank Users’ Groups have been set up.

Tank group members have been spreading their message: “Do not stay silent if your tank is encroached upon. Work together and stop encroachment on tank areas. Remember, if there is a problem with the tank, there is a problem with your life.”

To get rid of poverty in rural areas, tanks must be protected as they are directly connected to rural livelihood. It is with this in mind that the World Bank set up the Jalasamvardhane scheme. Tank development work has begun in 17 districts.

Thanks to this project, even those who have migrated to cities, like potters, fisherman, basket makers, etc are returning to their villages.

What a transformation!

Throughout the village, there was not a drop of water to be had for man, animal or bird. The villagers were given a boon in the form of the Srimaradi Siddeshwara Tank Development Association, which was formed three summers back, bringing miracles in its wake.

Thanks to this Association, there’s no problem in Yadavala village. Years ago, three acres of the Haruvinakere had been encroached upon.

When the encroachers were asked to move, they had objected to it, but the villagers had remained unmoved.“When they reap the benefits, they will not be as opposed to it,” says Srimaradi Siddeshwara Lake Development Association President G M Halleshappa.

In the past, although we had discussed encroachments, we had turned a blind eye to it. We let the police and officials take care of tank development. It was only after the Tank Development Association came that we understood the importance of our lakes.”

Prakash Kugwe
(Translated by Maya Girish)

Copyright 2008, The Printers (Mysore) Private Ltd.

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