How my little village transformed the hills

I ’m sure many of you may not have heard of the village of Majale. It’s a small village near Kolhapur in Maharashtra. That’s my home and we are a small community of around 3,500 people who live there and are predominantly engaged in farming. Our village is located in the rain shadow region, with an average annual rainfall of around 300 to 400 mm. Sadly, this isn’t enough and it never takes us all the way till the next monsoon. By January, our village starts to suffer a lot of hardship as the lakes and bore-wells, as deep as 350 to 400 meter go dry. The scarcity of water persists despite the presence of three lakes in the area and the mountains are barren and dry with only a little shrubbery in a few places. This had become a problem that was affecting the livelihood of my people. We longed for a solution, but there seemed to be none. 

An idea takes seed 

It all started in February 2018, when an old friend visited my village to attend a function. The Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation had recently honoured him by bestowing the title of ‘Nature’s Friend’ upon him. As such, he was well-known and revered in our community. During his visit, he made an observation that made a big impact on me. He simply said, “You have beautiful mountains in this area, but they are all barren”. For me, this was a wake-up call. I started thinking about what we could do to change this. I called upon some of my friends in the village and coincidentally, they too were planning on finding a solution. So, we joined hands and formed a group with a firm resolution to do something about this problem. 

The need of the hour for our group was to connect with experts who had successfully implemented such projects in other villages. So, we started to collect information and arranged visits to villages like Velu and Hivre Bazaar to witness the results of their projects first-hand. We also managed to get some renowned speakers to come in and motivate people to join our work. 

The winds of change start blowing 

We started out by creating continuous counter trenches (CCT) and deep continuous counter trenches (DCCT) on the slopes of the hills, but our greatest challenge turned out to be the lack of participation by villagers. Some people came forward, but it wasn’t enough. Demoralised, our team members started talking about abandoning the project. But, we didn’t give up. We came up with the idea of using social media to send out messages and images of the good work that we were doing. We desperately needed more hands to dig the trenches with us. Slowly, more people came forward, including a few NGOs. Our project gained momentum and we managed to get funding to bring in machines from the NAM foundation and JCB India. The machine operators were hosted by families in our village, who joyously served all the meals of the day, including mid-day tea. Lodging was also arranged by the Gram Panchayat. Now, the work started progressing furiously and this created a lot of interest amongst the How my little village transformed the hills 25 residents of our village. Many came forward and donated funds that had been kept aside for marriage anniversaries, children’s birthdays and other family occasions. 

With a little help from our friends 

A huge breakthrough was achieved on 1st May – Maharashtra Day. We visited a few industries and institutes in the area and appealed for ‘Shramdan’ – voluntary labour. To our surprise, one of the companies deployed around 400 workers and an institute sent 800 students. As you can imagine, the work was now progressing speedily. Within the next four months, we achieved rehabilitation of two lakes and dug out 7 km of DCCT and CCT. The water holding capacity of the lakes had gone up to 4.5 and 3.9 crore litre, respectively. On the other hand, the trenches were capable of holding 7 crore litre of water. 

Success at last 

Excitement was in the air as we waited for the premonsoon rains and once the monsoon set in, our area received approximately 350 mm of rain from June to August. The reservoirs we created were now full of water and we had enough agriculture and drinking water all the way till June 2019. The rain gods smiled on us once again in 2019, as we received 550 mm of rain. At last, our village had become self-sufficient. 

Our pride and joy 

It gives me great joy to share this wonderful story with all of you. We did all this by spending a few lakhs, within 4 to 5 months. Every person in my village today is proud of what we have done. But we haven’t stopped at just that. We are now focusing on growing grass all over the mountain and have completely stopped the felling of trees and cattle grazing on the slopes. Once the grass has grown fully, it will stop land erosion and create an entire ecosystem of insects and birds. We also expect more plants to take root through pollination and the growth of several diverse species of shrubbery. We even had celebrities like Nana Patekar, Makarand Anaspure and Satyajit Bhatakale spent their valuable time championing our cause. Our mountains are green again and I am proud that it’s all the fruit of our own labour!

Shanitinath Patil (TBWES)

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