A water conservation project in drought-prone Gundar Basin by renovating 250 tanks and their supply channels at a cost of Rs. 15 crore was launched at Nilaiyur near here on Thursday.

The project is funded by Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) and beneficiaries’ contribution and banks. Dhan Foundation would carry out the project through ‘shramdhan’ by farmers and create maintenance fund for each of the tank users’ association.

The project, on implementation, would benefit 20,000 small and marginal farmers of 45,000 hecatres. Addressing a function marked to inaugurate the project, HUL, Chief Financial Officer, Sridhar Ramamurthy, Mumbai, said that his organisation wanted to take up the project with the help of local people and a non-governmental organisation such as Dhan Foundation for better implementation. Based on the success of the project, similar works would be taken up in other parts of the country. HUL wanted to pursue such projects for 10 years and funds would not be constraint, he said.

S. Natarajan, Deputy General Manager, NABARD, said that saving as much water as possible would recharge the groundwater table. “Not all farmers has the wherewithal to sink borewells (for lift irrigation),” he said.

Dhan Foundation Executive Director M.P. Vasimalai said that farmers had forgotten the age-old practice of taking up maintenance work of tanks and supply channels which had led to ruin of the water bodies. Stating that Public Works Department was already doing such project on its (PWD) tanks, he said the present project would be implemented in the tanks maintained by cash-strapped panchayat unions.

He said that farmers should take up maintenance work of tanks and celebrate it at periodical intervals like conducting kumbabhishekams performed to temples after major renovations. “It is the tanks that feed you,” he said.

The project component included tank deepening and strengthening of bunds, jungle clearance, improvement of sluices and weirs, provision of shutters and water gates, and creation of 1,200 farm ponds. Besides, technological training to user groups on agriculture, dry land horticulture and fish rearing and livestock development would be taken up.

Leaders of Vayalagam Movement, Vasavalingam (Ramanathapuram) and A. Duraisamy (Madurai) were among those who were present.

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