By Kavita Kanan Chandra
Y! Editor’s note: Anil Joshi, an Ayurveda doctor in Fatehgarh village in Madhya Pradesh- collected one rupee each from one lakh people and constructed a check dam across a local seasonal river called Somli. Going on to repeat it across eleven locations, he is now a full-time water conservationist. With a dream to build 100 such check dams in nearby villages, constantly experiencing drought conditions.One premise of the green economy (World Environment Day 2012 theme) is social inclusion and here is an economically inventive version of that possibility, where the initiative remains human.
The story of Re 1 and a dam ‘doctor’
In Fatehgarh, a check dam, constructed in 2010, permanently altered the face of this village – from a drought stricken - a well-irrigated one. And in that little dash sits this unsung story.
Anil Joshi had a clinic here since 1994 and knew most of the gaonwallahs. “Some of my patients were farmers who obtained 100-200 quintals of food grain during harvesting season but after eight years of meager rains, they were in a very bad situation and had to buy food grain to feed their family,” says 39-year-old Joshi. The situation was so bad that patients couldn’t pay his fee either.
As a resident of Mandsaur, (the district HQ) Joshi has seen better days when rains were sufficient and farmers harvested enough to sustain their families. Things had taken a turn for the worse after 1999 as rainfall began to decrease.In 2008, the village faced its worst drought and water scarcity.
Joshi felt building a check dam across the river Somli would help the villagers, as it would raise the ground water table in the area. However, when he shared the idea with his farmer friends they just laughed it off. But Joshi borrowed about a thousand empty cement sacks from a friend and filled them with sand. He himself stood in the middle of the Somli river with a rope tied around his waist and his friends held the rope on either ends. “Though the river was dry, there was always a stretch where water flowed with a strong current. As I stood in the running water, I could gauge its force and realized what a challenging task I had in my hand. The barrier that we planned to put up across the river had to withstand the force of the water,” he recalls. With the help of a few friends, Joshi put all the sand filled sacks across the river in a row. Within fifteen days, it rained and there was water in the check dam. Meanwhile the hand pumps sputtered a memorable gurgle.
“There was a good crop that year after years of drought,” remembers Joshi.
Recharged at many levels, what does Joshi do next? Remember the earlier photo. He sells his wife’s jewels and borrows some money to construct another check dam on the Somli river. “Even today when I get involved in the house we are constructing, she motivates me to go and build check dams instead and not worry about our house,” Joshi’s voice beaming with pride.
In 2010 Joshi hits upon the idea of taking one rupee from each villager for constructing a permanent check dam across the Somli river. He felt such a dam would permanently end the drought situation of the village. Joshi was able to collect Rs 36 in just three hours on day 1. The next day’s collection was Rs 120. However, some people began to question him on his motive - collecting money, why? But positive press coverage played a role here. “After the media wrote about the check dams I had built, more people started to support me,” says Joshi. Two teachers, Sundarlal Prajapat and Omprakash Mehta, extended their support in a big way.
Joshi and his dedicated team collected 1 lakh in three months flat and a permanent check dam was built at a cost of Rs 92000. The villagers voluntarily provided their labor.Following the success at Fatehgarh, Joshi has helped to build eleven more check dams on rivers and ‘nullahs’ (smaller channels of water) in eleven villages within a 10 km radius of Fatehgarh.He now aims to plant trees along the 120 km road to Sawaliya Dham to provide shade for the barefoot pilgrims visiting the Krishna temple there.
And build 100 check dams within a few years. “Constructing check dams by collecting one rupee from each person in a drought stricken village has now become my mission and I will make this effort a continuous process,” says Joshi, who is now becoming known more as a water conservationist and less as a medical practitioner.
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By Kavita Kanan Chandra