Lapodiya, a village of 200 households in Rajasthan, is a shining example of how environment governance at the grassroots level can save a village from natural disasters. Here, people have adopted innovative water conservation practices and a culture which they have improvised and perfected over three decades.
As a result, residents of this village around 80 km from state capital Jaipur have managed to protect themselves and adapt to drought instead of being forced to migrate like their neighbours.
They call it magic
The villagers rely on the innovative practice of creating ‘Chauka Magic’. These are the square dykes that the villagers have dug in the fields that trap just enough water for soil productivity and allow excess water to flow through.
Chaukas form a series of interconnected water dyke with a gap left on one side, so that there is a sustained flow of water from one Chauka to another. Rows of Chaukas have been dug five feet apart.
Utilizing each drop of rainwater, Chaukas replenish aquifers and also serve as drinking troughs for the village livestock.
With adequate water, different varieties of grasses have been sown along Chaukas, keeping in mind the different preferences of cows, buffaloes, goats, sheep, and camels. Dhaman, Dob, Kanteeli, Roond, Jaaal, Kair, Desi Babool, and a score of other varieties are grown.
Sheokaran, a villager, says one can find about 30 types of grass here. “The plants grown through seeds require much less water and protection. The forest department always promotes saplings, but nature has shown them a better way. Villagers have found seeds much more reliable. They don’t need fencing either.”
The residents have seen for themselves the results of water conservation. Adjoining villages suffered seriously from drought in 2003 and again in 2007. In both years, the 100-odd wells in Lapodiya remained full. There was green fodder too.
Residents of Lapodiya have also got together and cleaned out three ponds that had been dug some two decade ago but had been allowed to fall into disrepair. The cleaning out has helped improve the water table and there are more grasses growing on the banks.
The resurrected ponds have now been reserved for specific purposes. Phool Sagar (flower pond) is used only to water plants. Dev Sagar (pond for the gods) is used only for religious rituals. Anna Sagar (food pond) is used for irrigation. In an annual celebration, residents pay homage to these ponds.
Tracking climate change
For the last four years, the residents have also been tracking climate change. They have obtained a small weather station, and keep regular measurements of rainfall, humidity and wind velocity. They also track the water table, biodiversity, and other environmental parameters.
There are clear indications of a changed mindset. Driving into Lapodiya, the first board you notice thanks residents for their voluntary labour that has helped the village common pasture to flourish. The board requests you not to pester the wild animals that share the pasture and notifies you of the ban on cutting trees or bushes or on any encroachment in the pasture. It also tells you that anybody breaking these rules will be punished.
Conservation is a part of religion in the village. At an open temple, there are clear instructions that water bodies belong to Indra Devta (the rain god) – if anyone spoils the ponds or spills garbage, Indra would get angry and the entire village would suffer from famine as a result.
Lakshman Singh – who has been working for the NGO Gram Vikas Navyuvak Mandal (GVNML) for three decades – says villagers have been inspired by slogans like “Shradha Karm” efforts with humility: “This adds a sense of pride to men and women alike to serve their habitats in their own capacities.” The NGO works on conservation in Lapodiya and a cluster of 50 villages around it.
“This is active volunteering by the local people. Otherwise people will not understand and feel from their hearts. They spend their time and sweat for the sake of village development work and take collective decisions for all community initiatives,” says Singh. Whether it is digging pits for water harvesting, cleaning drinking water bodies routinely, planting trees in appropriate season or toiling for maintenance of protected areas, they participate and care for each work and appreciate ecosystems by sharing views. In return they get regular orientation about right methods and approaches.
The village has started a seed bank and also has some special places – a Khula Chidiyaghar (open aviary) and even a Chuha Ghar, a home for mice, because residents are aware of the importance of mice in the food web. Mice trapped in village homes are brought to the Chuha Ghar and fed there, so they have no reason to invade homes.
The Khula Chidiyaghar is actually a barricaded 80-hectare plot within the pasture. Grazing, digging or any other human activity is prohibited within this plot. Over 135 varieties of birds throng the plot. Rainwater harvesting structures built in the pasture help attract fauna.
There are other conservation spots too, each reserved for a god or an ancestor.
Scientists have repeatedly said one effect of climate change is an increase in the frequency and severity of droughts, floods and storms. In this drought-prone region, residents of Lapodiya may not use the same terminology as scientists or policymakers, but they clearly understand the nature of the change, its implications. And they are successfully taking steps to adapt