Hitherto an unskilled labourer in local agricultural fields, 55-year-old O. Ammini is quite proud of her new role as a trained well-digger. Since October last year, she along with 279 women workers have dug 190 wells in the drought-hit Pookkottukavu grama panchayat under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). With 20 newly trained women joining Ammini’s team next week, the panchayat boasts the country’s largest pool of women well-diggers.
“Except for half a dozen wells in rocky terrains, all the wells now provide water in the panchayat where tanker lorries used to meet drinking water needs every alternate day. Buoyed by the success, we are prompting the women to construct 310 wells in three years. As the expenses are being met under MGNREGS, the families are getting the wells for free,” said panchayat president K. Jayadevan, who conceptualized the initiative.
“Our aim is to achieve water self-sufficiency by digging wells for free to families in need. A sub-team comprising half a dozen women can dig a well in 25 days. Each digger would get a daily payment of ₹240 from MGNREGS,’’ said Mr Jayadevan.
“We have no previous experience in digging wells. But our collective spirit helped us learn the basics of the work easily,” said Prema Odattil, a member of the collective.
The initiative was launched just ahead of the onset of the northeast monsoon. All the 13 wards of the panchayat are now recovering slowly from water scarcity. A water festival was organised in the panchayat when the collective completed the construction of the 100th well in the compound of local resident K. Akki.
The permission for each well was granted by the panchayat after securing an affidavit on stamp paper from the landowner stating that he or she will allow the public to draw water from the well. People belonging to economically backward communities were given preference.
Inspired by the model set by Pookkottukavu, a number of other grama panchayats in the region have started entrusting women beneficiaries of MGNREGS with the task of digging wells. “The panchayat is now undertaking large-scale rainwater harvesting initiatives. Once drinking water scarcity is solved, we can achieve better living standards,” said Mr. Jayadevan.