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Swaraj Tractors’ ‘Project Pani’ initiative, which revives traditional community ponds, has ensured yearlong availability of drinking water to over 15,000 people and 16,000 livestock at Masuda and Bhinai, in Rajasthan
The traditional community ponds of Rajasthan have numerous stories to tell – of valorous kings, feisty queens, court intrigues, love and deceit. A long time ago, these water bodies served as the hub of Rajputana’s culture, politics and civil society. On their shorelines have the minstrels written some of those soulful ballads that are sung even today.
But as the era of kings, warriors and soothsayers passed by, these mud ponds fell into neglect and decay. The poor villagers, who lived around, did not have the means to preserve these water bodies, which are of great value in this Desert State. Years of silting and illegal land encroachments diminished the ‘water catchment prospects’ (or storage) of these ponds. Even in years of above-average rainfall, these villages in Rajasthan began experiencing acute water shortages at the start of the summer season. Villagers had to survive on salty water with high fluoride levels.
High rate of ground water extraction only exacerbated the situation. Masuda and Bhinai in Ajmer District were among the worst-affected regions, which faced severe water shortage despite receiving adequate rainfall every year.
“We had no water here two years ago; not even for our livestock. Life was very difficult,” says Suva Devi, a resident of Kumhariya village, Bhinai.
Swaraj Tractors, a division of Mahindra & Mahindra, started its "Project Pani" initiative in response to the appalling living conditions of the surrounding communities. ‘Project Pani’ – launched in 2020, in association with Sarv Mangal Gramin Vikas Sansthan, an NGO - intends to address the critical water needs of communities by renovating and conserving traditional mud ponds.
Over the past two years, ‘Project Pani’ has renovated nearly a dozen traditional ponds (in Masuda & Bhinai), recharged over 75 old wells and increased the water table in 245-odd open wells in water catchment zones.
“Project Pani has bettered our lives… Now we’ve enough water for our needs,” says Suva Devi.
The project included widening feeder canals, desilting and deepening ponds, erecting bund walls, installing sluice gates, digging of smaller ponds and building bathing ghats. The pond renovation project alone has doubled the ‘water holding capacity’, leading to the creation of 36 lakh cubic metre (CUM) ‘water potential.’
In terms of social impact, ‘Project Pani’ has put out a stellar report card. The water / irrigation needs of ten villages have been sated by the renovation of just ten ponds. The project has increased farming acreage to over 3350 hectares. It has ensured yearlong availability of drinking water to over 15,000 people and 16,000 livestock. Sixty ‘women water groups’ have been formed to address issues such as water-use and governance. Climate smart initiatives such planting of fruit-bearing trees have also been taken up along the pond bunds and adjoining farmlands.
“Swaraj Tractors renovated our pond last year… Now we have enough water to irrigate 800 – 1000 bighas of agriculture land; about 200 families take bath in the pond bathing ghats and 500 livestock drink from it,” says Raghunath Gurjar, a resident of Surajpura in Bhinai tehsil.
Beyond Rajasthan, Swaraj Tractors has expanded ‘Project Pani’ to water-stressed regions of Punjab as well. Aside from restoration work, the project places a strong emphasis on raising awareness around maintenance and governance of community ponds.
As the saying goes: Water is the driving force of all nature. At Swaraj Tractors, we believe that providing clean water to all is the first step toward achieving a more equitable world. Therefore, RISE for ‘water for all’!