It could not have been more poignant than this when a sea of humanity in the heart of the rain-starved Saurashtra region in Gujarat took a pledge here on Sunday to conserve water by adopting drip irrigation on a massive scale and check the mining of groundwater.

A staggering 1.25 lakh people from across 4,800 villages of the State’s largest region that often falls prey to drought-like situations gathered on the bone-dry catchment of the Bhadar dam to decide to conserve water and appeal to the State and Central governments to speed up solutions to their water woes.

The event, which was termed a maha yagna of sorts, was organised by the Saurashtra Jaldhara Trust set up by a group of philanthropic industrialists that believes in working with the government rather than as an agitation-driven body.

Initiated by Surat’s diamond industrialist Mathur Sawani, who belongs to Saurashtra’s Bhavnagar district, the Trust came into being in 1998-99 when with his and several other industrialists’ efforts, it supported the construction of 100 dams in Mr. Sawani’s Khopala village in Bhavnagar district. Villagers contributed around Rs. 60 lakh and Mr. Sawani and other industrialists bore the rest of the Rs. 2 crore-cost.

Thousands of people from Saurashtra have settled in India’s diamond capital Surat for decades now, but have continued their philanthropic help to their native region that has been suffering the vagaries of nature for years.

It was Mr. Sawani’s efforts that inspired the BJP’s Keshubhai Patel government in 2000 to come up with a check dam scheme, in which the State would bear 60 per cent of the cost and the villagers would share 40 per cent. The Narendra Modi government has continued to encourage the construction of check dams. Under this scheme, the Saurashtra Jaldhara Trust was instrumental in getting 300 big check dams, above Rs. 50 lakh, built. This is besides 9,000 smaller dams and the revival of more than 22,000 check dams.

Additional Director of Information Abhay Rawal told The Hindu that because of this joint effort, the State’s agricultural production has jumped to an estimated Rs. 39,000 crore for the past few years from Rs. 9,000 crore earlier. “We were able to tap the scarce rainfall effectively by these check dams,” he added.

Speaking on the occasion, Chief Minister Narendra Modi said work on the government’s ambitious scheme to fill up 115 dams and rivers of Saurashtra by water from the Sardar Sarovar Project was on in full swing.

He said the government had also taken up desilting work in all dams in the State along with the deepening of wells. “With this, the holding capacity of the dams and wells would be doubled,” Mr. Modi added. The Chief Minister hoped to complete this by June, saying the work was being done on a war-footing.

Mr. Modi said the government was also in the process of launching a campaign for desalination of sea water taking advantage of Gujarat’s 1,600-km coastline. Simultaneously, there was an ambitious plan to recycle waste water generated in 50 towns of the State and this would also help farmers on the outskirts of these cities.

The Chief Minister said the government was laying huge stress on drip irrigation and a scheme under which a farmer would spend only Rs. 5,000 on a plant worth Rs. one lakh and the government would chip in with the rest was on the anvil. “One drop, more crop — this is the government’s motto,” Mr. Modi said.