A tale unfolds in 2023, not in the pages of fiction, but in the heartlands of rural reality. The JalTara project is not a story of flashy headlines, but one rooted in the earth that resonates with farming communities. It is a success story of groundwater crisis management leading to long-term sustainability within the farming communities. There was a time when farmers were crippled by the unpredictability of the monsoons, their crops limited to a single season. But today, the narrative has evolved. Recharge structures have made water available during sweltering summers and harsh winters, the same farmers now cultivate throughout the year. Farmers’ incomes have doubled, they are able to offer their families better standards of living, their children enjoy the benefits of education and most importantly, farmers find comfort in a sense of security.
The JalTara journey embarked with a modest 1,400 recharge structures dotting the landscape of just 4 villages in 2021. Fast forward to 2023, and that number has increased to more than 45,500 recharge structures – benefitting 115 villages with their transformative presence. 90,000 trees have been planted and 1,70,000 acres benefitted. What started as a strong breeze in Maharashtra and Karnataka has grown into a wind of change touching states like Haryana, Punjab, and Andhra Pradesh.
The secret behind JalTara’s success lies in its simplicity and the dedication of its architects. Recharge structures, unpretentious in design, help in replenishing and storing water in the ground.
Here’s how the JalTara story pans out:
The first step is identification of villages in dire need. Next comes the selection of JalTara sevaks which is crucial to the success of the project. Capable young men are singled out and trained under the Youth Leadership Training Program (YLTP) with the necessary knowledge and skills to become pillars of the project. Once trained, these Yuvacharyas work alongside the JalTara team. Each Yuvacharyas is assigned 4 to 5 villages, ensuring a systematic approach to reach a larger number of communities.
The Yuvacharyas walk for miles, from door to door, to create awareness about the project. For effective mobilisation, the entire JalTara team adopts a multi-pronged approach which generally spans a period of 6 to 7 months. The team engages in direct communication with farmers and convenes with members of the Panchayat. This allows them to explain what JalTara is, why it is being implemented, and the positive impact it can have on the community. To maximise understanding and involvement, videos in regional languages are aired. These demonstrate the process of building the recharge structures and the subsequent increase in groundwater levels.
The capacity building and awareness programme culminates in the actual building of recharge structures. Each recharge structure which is 6 to 7 feet deep and 4 feet across is built at the lowest point within an arable acre-plot of land. Two fruit bearing trees are planted on two sides of the recharge structure enabling rainwater to bypass the dense, impervious topsoil and recharge underground aquifers. It is important to note that the entire JalTara project is timed to perfection. By working day and night from start to finish, the team is able to finish constructing recharge structures before the onset of the rains which is crucial to the success of the initiative.
JalTara has enabled an upsurge in overall crop production and multiple crops every year due to availability of groundwater and zero spoilage due to waterlogging. As a result, labour requirements have increased by 19% in the Kharif season and by 88% in the Rabi season. The average increase in land usage in the Rabi season has also increased by 58% due to availability of water. Eliminating waterlogging has led to fertile lands with higher productivity and has also contributed to increased labour requirements.
The success of Phase 1 of the pilot project was celebrated in an event attended by more than 30,000 farmers, the Hon. Chief Minister of Maharashtra Mr. Eknath Shinde and Gurudev Sri Ravi Shankar, along with many government officials.
The JalTara story is all about farmers taking charge of their own destiny and about communities fostering sustainability. The story continues, quietly transforming the lives of those it touches, one recharge structure at a time.