While an interface between tradition and technology often leads to the surfacing of conflict-inducing fault lines, just sometimes the two integrate seamlessly to alter lifestyles of those who experience them.
One such example is German technological assistance changing the lives of Baiga tribals of Dindori. Tribals of the Chhapra village, who still trade through the barter system, have achieved a great degree of self-sufficiency through the installation of the Hydraulic Ram or HydRam, as it is popularly known.
The HydRam works without electricity or any other fuel, making it ideal for the remotely located Chhapra village.
The Baiga, a Primitive Tribal Group (PTG), of the Chhapra village in Dindori district of the State have experienced increased farm yields through better irrigation facilities with the installation of the HydRam, reminiscent of the Hindi film ‘Swadesh’.
Only, instead of the NASA scientist in the film, the villagers of Chhapra were helped by Volker Sixt, a mechanical engineer from Germany.
The installation of the HydRam began in the year 2004, with the collaboration of three organisations- the AWO International (Arbeiterwohlfahrt or Workers' Welfare Association), NIWCYD, an NGO working locally with the Baiga, and Bremen Overseas Research and Development Organization (BORDA), a German organisation that provided technical assistance and skills required to build and operate the machine.
The HydRam has been installed on a three meter waterfall on the river Chhipani in the village. After the completion of the installation in December 2006, the village agriculture has been revived providing the villagers with a great deal of self-sufficiency.
An irrigation system working without fuel or electricity is like a dream come true for the villagers of Chhapra, where electricity or other fuels are virtually non-existent.
“More than 40 families now avail regular irrigation due to the HydRam,” says Naval Singh, Panchayat Secretary, Chhapra.
“Earlier the crops would suffice for a couple of months and then we had to work as labourers in the forest or borrow money from the moneylender. But now our crop yields last for almost a year. We also grow vegetables,” he says.
A Hydraulic Ram (HydRam) is basically a water lifting device that works like a pump. For its operation the HydRam requires a steady stream of water, without which it stops functioning.
The HydRam system consists of a water collecting structure (intake chamber or weir); a feeding pipe with a certain slope, a water pond where the machine is installed; flood protection if necessary; a delivery pipe, storage tanks and distribution systems.
The HydRam installed in Chhapara pumps water to four delivery tanks at the rate of 1.75 lakh litres per 24 hours. Although, the HydRam works automatically, the water level inside the air vessel has to be adjusted from time to time which is necessary when it increases to more than 6 inches.
The total cost of the installation at Chhapra came to Rs.6 lakhs including labour contribution from the villagers worth around Rs.2 lakh. The total area brought under irrigation from the HydRam is 42 acres. The cost of irrigation comes to Rs.14,286/- per acre.
Operated by villagers
While the villagers were earlier apprehensive about the operation of the HydRam, now a team of volunteers from the village are equipped with the technical know how to operate and even fix the machine. The volunteers were imparted training in Maharashtra, where the machine has been installed in some villages of the Ratnagiri district.
“I, along with four other boys from the village are responsible for the maintenance of the HydRam,” says Parvat Singh, a resident of the village. “Each family contributes Rs.100 every year towards the maintenance. There are no major running costs except for a rubber plate which has to be purchased from cross border Nagpur as it is not available in Dindori,” he says.
The villagers practice organic farming and use only vermin-compost as fertilizer. They also maintain a seed-bank to which every family contributes five kg seeds every year.