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Rainwater harvesting spreads a green carpet in Madurai district

L. Srikrishna
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Farmers hopes soar seeing the success of watershed projects in arid areas

: The arid tracts of Madurai district are gradually turning fertile.

The district has 1 lakh hectares of cultivable land spread over 13 blocks – from Kottampatti (near Melur) to Kalligudi (near Tirumangalam). These areas were earlier witnessing lopsided distribution of water for irrigation.

Today, the Watershed Development Agency (WDA), with its focus on improving the water table in barren pockets, is able to showcase success stories. By preserving rainwater, wherever possible, the authorities have been able to help the ryots.

Small farmer Baluchami of Boothamangalam village, says, the watershed project has given him the confidence to recover the previous season’s losses. When the rains arrive, there will be water for irrigation in his village. “The check-dams will benefit us even if there is low rainfall. The rainwater will not go waste,” he says.

Sufficient water

At Karungalakudi, in Kottampatti block, C. Ramasamy, who planted 300 mango seedlings, is a beneficiary of the project. The small pond he has filled up provides sufficient water for the plants. In 15 months, he expects to reap the benefits. Similarly, another farmer, Kaveri, is satisfied with the availability of water in her fruit garden.

Sikkandar, a farmer from Boothamangalam village, who has first-hand experience with the watershed project, says not only the barren lands are getting water, but the ponds too are quenching the thirst of cattle and milch animals. He admits that initially he never believed the project could raise the water level. The WDA Deputy Director, Madurai district, S. Kanagaraj, says a basic criterion for taking up the integrated watershed management programme is that the hamlet should be a dry belt but surrounded by hillocks with sloping areas and reserve forest. “A lot of ravines, ridges and streams help to collect and preserve water,” he explains.

Once the water is stored, it helps recharge the water-table in the region. In two blocks — Kottampatti and Sedapatti — the work of de-silting, constructing check-dams, building baby ponds and deep ponds is under way.

“When the rains come, the benefits will be there for all to see,” adds Mr. Kanagaraj.

“Not an easy task”

But he is quick to add working in the hinterland is not an easy task. “Entering such remote pockets and convincing and involving the local villagers in the project is time consuming because they do not understand the benefits of such a project,” he says.

Dharmapuri, Dindigul and Virudhunagar districts top in watershed development in Tamil Nadu. As part of the project, the villagers are taken on an “exposure visit” and shown how a watershed project works.

The Centre contributes 90 per cent of the funds, while the State bears the remaining cost. With help from a sociologist, civil engineer and an agronomist, the project takes shape over a period of seven years. For instance, the Kottampatti project, which started two years ago, is now set to see the benefits coming in this crop season because the check-dams have been built, ponds are ready and de-silting would be over in a month. At least 50 acres of land around the village is expected to enjoy results.

The three-member team, comprising sociologist Mallika, engineer Shanmugasundaram and agronomist Vigneshwaran, who worked with the Boothamangalam villagers, says the watershed development project can be implemented with the support of the ayacutdars and general public.

Gaining confidence

The needs of the people ought to be studied door-to-door. The economic criterion and the social patterns in the village are also linked to this implementation. For instance, when the locals pointed to the absence of a compound wall for the local school, it was built with the Central government funds sanctioned under the project. In another case, the farmers wanted a thrashing floor, they got it. Such gestures help to gain the confidence of the locals and also ensure that some of their basic needs are fulfilled.

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