‘A bucket of water meant walking for miles’
This was the state of water in my father’s village where he was born but, now this is the unfortunate state of the entire town of Karaikal, Puducherry.
Due to the uneven distribution of rainfall, overuse of groundwater levels, the lack of Cauvery river water for usage, and the problem of the polluted water bodies and encroachments, the Karaikal Administration declared Karaikal as a drought-affected region. For District Collector, Vikranth Raja, this was a real test in leadership.
Instead of empty sympathies and blame-games, he brought his ‘A’ game and brought a series of changes to quench the thirst of the parched land. And interestingly, his inspiration came from the ideas implemented by the 9th Century Chola Dynasty!
He launched The ‘Nam Neer’ (Our Water) project under which 450 polluted, damaged, and dried up water bodies, 178 were desilted and revived in three months.
True to its name, this project was carried out with the collective efforts of the locals, educational institutes, temple authorities, corporates, and government officials.
The Chola inspiration
The rich history of Karaikal flourished with over 400 water reservoirs under the Chola Dynasty. The Chola Dynasty was known for its extensive knowledge of flood management which kept the Cauvery water from overflowing into agriculture fields. Their engineers created an excellent network of channels and bunds that preserved rainwater, thus ensuring abundant water when needed
“Karaikal was called ‘The Rice Bowl’ for its agricultural activities and meticulous and rational planning of water resources in the delta region of river Cauvery. We turned towards ancient practices to solve modern places,” says Raja, the 29-year-old DC
Raja and his team began with the pond attached to Karaikal’s famous temple, Thirunallaru. In less than three weeks, they had the pond desilted. This created a ripple effect, where close to 35 ponds were worked on by Forest and government officials.
Along with desilting water bodies, Raja introduced a concept called Employee Social Responsibility (ESR) to rope in government officials in pond revival. He also launched a massive one-month awareness drive requesting people and corporations to volunteer for the program.
Several dried ponds were attached to temples hence the temple authorities were requested to clean the ponds. The efforts translated into the revival of around 30 more ponds.
Also, through CSR support, as many as 20 ponds and 80.91 km stretch of major canals were desilted.
The collected sand was repurposed to either fill up low lying areas or to create bunds to retain water in ponds. Meanwhile, the waste was transported to the local landfill.
Raja credits the success to the combined efforts of various stakeholders who believed the project to be their own. A sense of ownership and willingness to bring about a change proved to be a huge booster for Karaikal and water reservoirs.
One of their most impactful drives was in a small village called Poovam where farmers resumed agricultural activities after a gap of 15 years!
Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) reported the groundwater levels have increased by 10 feet in Karaikal between 2018 and 2019.