Organisation Name: District Administration, Rajanna Sircilla, Government Of Telangana
Project: Ground Water Rejuvenation (6 Metres Rise) In A Drought District
Rajanna Sircilla is an extremely drought-prone district in the northern part of the state of Telangana. In 2017, all the mandals in the region have been listed as either semi or fully drought-prone.
In comparison to the state, the Rajanna Sircilla suffers from a 22% deficit in rainfall. This has severely affected the agricultural sector in the region and created several hardships for the local community. The district was plagued by farmer suicides and rising distress migration rates in Telangana. It was found that only 33% of total agricultural land was cultivable against a complete paucity of water resources. This created unimaginable strife for the agriculture-dependent population of 1 Lakh seasonal labourers and 60,000 farmers. And so, the authorities realised the need for an efficient water-management scheme.
As a result, an intensive water management and conservation project was launched in District Rajanna Sircilla. The District Administration assesses that it may be the most intensive conservation effort of its kind in the country. A key marker of the project has been robust community engagement and the local public representatives co-opting the cause. The project has seen NRM works being launched on an impressive scale under MGNREGA, with the use of effective techniques like canal desilting, farm ponds, soak pits, staggered trenches and water absorption trenches. One of the key developments in the project is that the Sri Raja Rajeswara Reservoir, which had been laying unused for a decade, was finally brought to life. The District Administration of Rajanna Sircilla is now focused on filling up the largest reservoir in Telangana in 35 years.
As a result of the conservation and management efforts, the ground water table in District Rajanna Sircilla has increased significantly. Two years of conservation efforts under the programme have directly boosted the water levels by 6 metres.
The efforts of District Administration Rajanna Sircilla and their success in raising the groundwater levels have won them the admiration of many across the country. The Ministry of Rural Development has bestowed a National Award for Excellence in MGNREGA to the project. The efforts of the local administration in tackling a crippling crisis have been so impressive that they have been incorporated into a training module as part of the curriculum for the 2018, 2019 and 2020 batches at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy of Administration for civil services training.
The rise in the water table has spelt a change in fortunes for the district. People have started looking at the district as a viable option for agricultural activities and, by extension, settlement. A spike in inward migration has been noted with people coming back to the district. As noted by the local administration, the people’s perception of the district has transformed. It has gone from being known as a drought-prone place with difficulties to a Water Front District with abundant water resources.
The number of functioning tanks has risen from 12 to 290. Conservation-related construction projects include large reservoirs, with 1 major and 2 medium-sized assets being built. 24 check dams have been operationalised and 84kms of streams have been rejuvenated. The MulaVagu and Manair Vagu streams, which have a stretch length of more than 40kms each, have been brought to life.The increasing availability of water resources have allowed for largescale plantation drives and close to 2 Crore saplings have been planted in these 4 years. They boast some of the highest survival rates registered – 94.39%. Land Acquisition has been instrumental in the operationalisation of new urban tanks. The Bhagiratha mission is driving an enthusiastic effort to bring drink water to all 466 habitations in the region. Water & Sanitation have been formalised as critical administrative metrics which are now used to evaluate the performance of the Gram Panchayats. Sanitation has been adopted as a critical village administration function and compost sheds have been set up in all 255 villages.
Land Acquisition is a difficult goal to accomplish, and so Gram Sabhas were organised in all the villages before the project began. Local representatives identified pockets of resistance, such as hesitance about concepts like magic soak pits, and in order to address these concerns, public representatives interacted with the people in mandal-level meetings. The village residents voiced worries about submergence, to which the authorities responded by introducing pre-emptive measures like two R&R colonies, professionally-designed settlement options akin to gated communities etc., to be able to reassure the people. Awareness-building has been instrumental to gathering public support along with energetic political representation.
District Rajanna Sircilla was the first in the state to be granted Open Defecation Free District status in January 2017. This helped cement the district’s reputation as a progressive, people-oriented place and put it on the map. The enthusiasm shown by district authorities for adopting technologies like geo-tagging in Swachchta projects like Darpan has helped inspire the people’s confidence. Other projects like awareness-building schemes about the importance of adequate sanitation standards have been instrumental in cultivating people’s participation. The rise in water tourism as a result of the conservation projects has helped create awareness about and interest in good water practices and preserving and promoting natural runoff systems. As a result of these efforts, the district’s residents are essentially seeing first-hand the benefits of taking ownership of shared interests.
Notable efforts include boosting an existing tank at Gudi Cheruvu through Land Acquisition to service the temple, setting up a Fecal Sludge Treatment Plant and Dry Resource Collection Centre at the headquarters, and promoting Urban Water Tourism options in Kothacheruvu by beautifying the place with mini gardens and gazebos.
Mass sensitisation is being buffered by proactive public engagement by the political representatives as well as keen grievance redressal, especially at the municipalities level.
The experiences from Rajanna Sircilla are an argument in favour of sustainable development and conservation projects that are driven by community participation, local ownership and energetic political representation. These values can be encouraged and inculcated anywhere in the country to inspire local populations to actively participate in solving local problems. Water conservation methods and structures can be replicated anywhere in the country where droughts and shortages are a concern. Identifying supplementary niches like Water Tourism, Ecotourism and adventure ports, both as an incentive and a support mechanism to the primary project allow for holistic development.
The staggering success of the water conservation project has made news all over the country. Better India as well as DD National have covered the story.