Chamanpur Village

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 Location Ecosystem Type   Conservation Type   Area(hectare) Legal status 
 Pratapur, Sarguja, Chattisgarh Mixed Ecosystem Conservation 220 Not Available

Case Study (2009)

Background

Chamanpur village lies in the Pratappur taluka of Sarguja district in Bilaspur Division of Chhattisgarh. The total area of the village is 220 hectares. Chamanpur is one of the 29 villages that has been taken up for the implementation of the Rajiv Gandhi Watershed Mission of the government. The Chhattisgarh BGVS (Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti) is an organization which aims at the use of modern science as a mechanism for the development of the disadvantaged. In 1994 the government started the Rajiv Gandhi Watershed Mission in five areas of Bilaspur Division, aiming at improvement of agricultural productivity of some 12,00,000 ha of land, creating employment and recharging ground water levels. The BGVS was entrusted with the implementation of the Mission in five areas, including Chamanpur village. The BGVS decided to use this program for social engineering by involving local people, particularly small farmers, landless labourers and women, as leading implementers. Following a series of bad experiences with government water harvesting programs, people in the area had become accustomed to growing drought-resistant crops like kodon and kutki. Some communities like the Kodaku tribals switched from cultivation to collection of forest produce and daily wage labour for survival. The BVGS thus felt it necessary to initiate dialogues with villagers about water use and management.1 For the organization, watershed management emerged as an entry point for equitable and sustainable village development.

Chamanpur village is situated on the highlands of the Korba-Korea region, an economically backward but resource-rich area in the earlier days. Most of the area is either cultivable wasteland with sandy soil or forest area. The common tree species in forest lands are sal, tendu, harra, behara and amla, and shifting cultivation is a common feature. According to local villagers, soil erosion and run-off of water from the soil surface has had a negative impact on soil fertility. The low productivity of lands has also led to deforestation and unsustainable use of forest resources in the region.

Tribes such as Korba, Gond and Kodaku form the majority of the population in the region. The inhabitants do not own any private land individually, but do own some of it communally. Most of them have stopped their earlier agricultural practices and are now working on other people’s lands as wage labourers. For this they migrate seasonally to the plains. Out-migration (along with food and livelihood security) was one of the biggest challenges at the beginning of the watershed program. 

In 1994–5, community conservation of water in Chamanpur began, based on both indigenous as well as scientific knowledge. The villagers had good knowledge of the land classification as well as the drainage patterns of the area. They also had a clear idea about the problems of the traditional water harvesting systems. The most effective method to ensure that the entire process of planning was participatory was the initiation of participatory resource mapping exercises. A kalajatha (cultural troupe) preceded the mapping exercises and initiated dialogue with the villagers. BGVS volunteers went from plot to plot and mapped the resources of the area in collaboration with the villagers. During this process they gained an understanding of drainage patterns, patterns of production and soil conservation. This was to form the basis of further planning.2

Chamanpur belongs to a watershed comprising a radius of 129 sq km. In the village 235 ha of agriculture land and 25 ha of forest land had been conserved by the year 2000.

According to the local land classification, the watershed region was divided into three land use categories: 1) bahra or lowlands, where rice could grow and which remained moist throughout the year, 2) chawar or the midlands, which had seasonal water shortages and where both rice and wheat could grow seasonally, and 3) darh or the highlands, where only trees and some vegetables could grow. The challenge was to ensure that the water remained inside the chawar throughout the year so that the irrigated area could increase and an attempt could be made to grow two crops a year. A system had therefore to be innovated to channel the excess overflow of water from the bahra into the chawar and darh lands, so that the moisture in the bahra lands was maintained throughout the year. This land classification has played a crucial part in the creation of the system of water harvesting.

Chhattisgarh was earlier known for its traditional water harvesting ponds and check-dams, which were rebuilt by the people every year. The semi-permanent structures were traditionally at regular intervals on the ridge-line where the speed of the water could be broken and slowed down. The conservation of water took place through stop-dams and check-dams and the foothills of the ridge housed traditional ponds and tanks made by the villagers. However, according to the villagers these check dams would get destroyed because of the speed at which the water flowed down the ridge-lines. Under the watershed programme, this system was modified slightly by creating permanent harvesting structures: ponds, checkdams and stop-dams, based on the drainage maps prepared along with the villagers.

In this context, the first year saw the construction of boulder checks on the ridge. The traditional structures were improved slightly to make them more durable in two ways. First, the boulder checks were made of stone and mud instead of just mud; second, they were now made on the intersection of two drainage points in addition to the higher slopes, in order that enough moisture would get accumulated in the soil. Contour trenches were also dug to collect excess water and stop soil erosion. Thereafter the work moved to the transition zone or the zone between the highland and the bahra land. There already existed two old ponds in this zone. These were repaired and stop-dams and earthen dams were built to recharge the groundwater level. These structures were spread over 32–35 hectares and were linked with the natural nala that was used by the villagers to finally drain the excess water from the rice field. This work was completed by the second year and the work on the agricultural fields started by the middle of this period. Transition bunds and checks linked the existing ponds to each other. New structures were also made to link the lowlands with the midlands and highlands. This meant that the excess water could be drained into the chawar and the darh lands. The points of transition between the lowlands and midlands were identified along with village elders, based on their years of experience.3

Institutionally, each of the water harvesting structure has a user group. The group consists of the person on whose land the water harvesting structure stands. It also comprises all those landed and landless people who use the water from a particular water harvesting structure. Each user group is represented in the Watershed Committee of the village and the secretaries of the committee are part of a federation that represents the entire watershed at the district level.

Since most of the area was earlier forested and inhabited by the Kodaku, Korba and Gond tribals, the committees also have a majority tribal representation. It was decided when the programme began that the villagers would contribute 10 per cent of the labour as a local contribution into the watershed works.4

The members of the committee are elected by all households of the village through the user groups that represent all households. Each user group elects their own representatives in the committee. This committee represents the entire village in the district-level watershed committee meetings. It determines how much water is to be allocated to each household and solves inter- and intra-village disputes.

The members of the watershed committees, all villagers and the BGVS activists initially prepared a water use map of the entire village. Accordingly they decided how much water each family would be allocated for their nistari (customary) and agricultural use. If some people are found to be using excess water or disturbing other people’s water supply, they are penalised by the watershed committee and the matter may even be brought before the gram panchayat.

There were dramatic changes in Chamanpur as a result of water conservation, where only 35 acres of irrigated land in the pre-Mission era increased to 40 acres in the first year of the watershed, 100 acres by the third year and 235 acres in the fourth year (the end of 2000). The highest increase in productivity was for wheat grown on chawar lands, increasing from 120 to 1500 quintals in four years. It was now possible to grow paddy for 4–5 months longer than earlier. Rates of migration were reduced drastically as a high number of person days of employment were generated by BGVS activities in four years.5

These developments would not have been possible without successful recharging of groundwater levels and sustainable water conservation practices. In the Chamanpur watershed, the natural nala of the village has been regenerated and the village was not much affected by the drought of 2001. The watershed has resulted in the re-invention of some traditions. Kodaku farmers have begun to practice collective farming. They work on each other’s land and also lend money and grain to each other during lean periods. Together, they also conserve resources and decide on the ways in which agricultural inputs would be used. For example they decide how much forest should be closed for regeneration, how much water should be released in the fields, etc.

Outside Chamanpur village, 25 hectares of sal forest have been regenerated. Locally useful and traditional species like tendu, amla, behara and harra have also been planted as a part of the watershed mission.

Among the main problems faced while implementing the programme were the timely transfers of funds, as is the case with all government programmes. In the Chamanpur watershed more than Rs 14 lakhs that were to be transferred as the last instalment were long overdue at the end of the project period. Despite this limitation, work progressed because the community was mobilised and oriented towards the project. This is in sharp contrast to government-run watershed programs where work stops when funds do.

Conflicts arose between watershed committees and gram panchayats, especially where the sarpanch represented a dominant caste and Dalit and tribal people were left out of decisionmaking processes. Chamanpur initially faced this situation, but once the majority of people started supporting the project, the panchayats themselves became sensitized and more supportive of the programme.6

The downside of the story is the fact that the cropping pattern has undergone a change since the increase in availability of water. High-yielding varieties of crop are being promoted because of the agricultural policy of the government that offers higher rates for hybrid varieties as compared to indigenous varieties. The biggest challenge for the villagers lies in the use of water conservation for regeneration of local wild species and crops. Instead of getting swayed by high-yielding varieties, BGVS needs to realise this and facilitate the preservation and regeneration of indigenous varieties of rice as well as minor millets like kodon, kutki and other millets.

This case study reflects on the effective combination of the scientific method and the traditional method of water conservation. Despite its constraints, the methods have been applied to a certain extent for the benefit of the tribal people. The key attribute that has led to effective project implementation is the high spirit and focus of the tribal people, coupled with government legislation towards the watershed programme. The consequence of the programme has been the protection of the forests on the watershed.

  This case study has been contributed by Archana Prasad, who is a Reader at the Centre for Jawaharlal Nehru Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

Archana Prasad
TRSA 58, NPL colony,
New Rajendra Nagar,
New Delhi-110 060
Ph: 011-3017378 (0) 011-5773212 (R)
[email protected]

1 Interview with Tribhuvan Singh, President Gyan Vigyan Samiti, Sarguja District, 28 December 2000.

2 BGVS, A Handbook for Land Literacy, Participatory Resource Mapping for Self Reliant Panchayats (New Delhi, BGVS, 1994), pp. 9-12.

3 (As above)

4 Description of the watershed is based on field work in Chamanpur village, Pratappur block, Sarguja district, conducted on 28–29 December 2000.

5 Village meeting in Jagdalli (26 December 2000) and interview with Tribhuvan Singh (28 December 2000).

6 BGVS, Dagar. A newsletter of the Pratappur Milli Watershed, May 2000. (Ambikapur: BGVS), p. 3.

This case study was part of the Directory on Community Conserved Areas (2009), published by Kalpavriksh. The directory can be downloaded here.

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