Other States

Ponds go bone-dry in Bundelkhand villages

BUNDELKHAND,UTTAR PRADESH, 29/04/2016: (to go with Omar Rashid's article on Dried Ponds) BUNDELKHAND DROUGHT:: Scene of a dried pond of a village in district Banda of drought-hit Bundelkhand area in Uttar Pradesh . Due to the acute water crisis and extreme heat condition, farmers did not dare to grow crops in the region. Hundreds of animals died because of lack of natural lakes and wells. Photo Rajeev Bhatt   | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt

A stroll through the dusty tracks of Gorai-Mughli village in Banda, Uttar Pradesh, takes you past two large, low-lying grounds, measuring 32 and 16 bighas. Wild grass has run over parts of them and stray cattle can be seen moving about or resting there. There is not a drop of water in sight; the two talabs (ponds) are bone-dry.

With May yet to arrive, the village faces acute scarcity of drinking and irrigation water, as out of 142 hand pumps, 36 are damaged. Not a single government tube well, canal or pipeline is close to the village. Water-boring has also proved difficult due to the rough terrain.

“The last time the ponds went dry like this was in 1989. Since they are located within the village, people could have gone there for bathing, washing animals or even drinking water. Under the circumstances, ponds are our lifeline,” said Zubair Ahmed, a panchayat member.

Mr. Ahmed’s concern holds true for much of Bundelkhand, where rainfall has been traditionally deficit and for centuries residents have relied on ponds for sustenance in times of scarcity. “As early as 1970, Bundelkhand was meeting its domestic and irrigation water demands through traditional methods of water harvesting despite being drought prone,” according to a report by Water Aid India. “The vast network of tanks and ponds captured water for use during leaner period. The ponds and tanks also worked as recharge pits.”

However, the condition of water bodies in the region, once known for its ‘pond culture,’ is pitiable today. Village after village, you are confronted with barren patches of land, where once stood live ponds. You will also come across settlements that were once large ponds but were illegally occupied or encroached upon. The ponds, traditional or new, that remain, are fast drying up, robbing villages of time-tested mitigating methods. The indiscriminate use of ground water through hand pumps and submersible pumps has pushed it to critical levels.

Sanjay Singh of the Jal Jan Jodo Campaign says out of the 12,000 odd Chandeli and Bundeli era traditional ponds — known for their engineering brilliance — which dotted the Bundelkhand landscape, only 2,000 remain. He blames rampant encroachment, settlements and dismantling of the ponds’ outlet system for their demise. In addition, in the last decade, 4,020 ponds have “vanished” in Bundelkhand, primarily due to encroachments by land sharks, environment activist Ashish Sagar found through an RTI. Of these, 151 were in Chitrakoot, 869 in Banda, 541 in Hamirpur and 2,459 in Jhansi.

“Bundelkhand has been popular as the region of ponds. It faced droughts every 16 years but our ancestors devised mechanisms to beat drought through rain-water harvesting and preservation of ponds,” Mr. Sagar said.

Experts believe that reviving the lost ponds are cheaper and smarter means to counter Bundelkhand’s water problem in the long term. “Unfortunately, ponds are considered nothing more than pits and officials who did the chakbandi (land consolidation) didn’t realise their importance and converted them into pattas,” said Prem Singh, a farmer. In 2013 itself, U.P. admitted to losing more than 1 lakh water bodies (ponds, tanks, lakes and wells) to illegal encroachment.

While it may be too late for this summer, the Akhilesh Yadav government has come up with what it feels is a game-changer, the Khet-Talab or Farm-Pond scheme, under which 2000 ponds would be dug across Bundelkhand in the coming month. However, activists feel that the government needs to provide long-term solutions.

The Khet-Talab model, adopted in the past, has not been successful in the region, said Sanjay Singh. The BSP government had come up with a similar project of building ‘adarsh ponds’ in villages. However, it was restricted to building boundary walls, he said. “This is a high-soil erosion area and these ponds won’t last more than three years. They need to ensure the inter-linking of ponds.”

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2020 12:36:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/ponds-go-bonedry-in-bundelkhand-villages/article8537963.ece

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