Shimla: To tackle acute water shortage in Hamirpur district, Himachal Pradesh hit upon a novel initiative -- using the rural jobs scheme to engage villagers to restore traditional sources of drinking water.
The district administration managed to restore most of the traditional water sources with the help of local people, who in turn got dual benefits -- potable water for themselves and money under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) of the central government.
"By rejuvenating 666 traditional water sources in the district, we have managed to check the acute water problem in 229 gram panchayats. All this was done with the active participation of the local people in less than a year," Deputy Commissioner Abhishek Jain told reporters.
"Now, almost all traditional water sources have been renovated by spending Rs.2.57crore. These have been handed over to panchayats for their day-to-day maintenance," he said.
The revived water bodies have directly benefited 38,145 families in the district.
"Most of the water bodies were lying unused and their condition was pretty bad. We reconstructed them and channelised them with sources of water. Some of them were even de-silted," Jain said.
"Now, a separate provision of water for animals and for cleaning clothes and utensils has also been made near the water bodies to protect these from getting polluted," he added.
Bhrigu Devi of Bamson village said: "The village had been facing an acute shortage of water, especially in summers, for the past many years. We had to walk for hours to nearby areas to fetch water. With the de-silting of the old well in the village, much of our problems have been solved. The local panchayat has also been educated by government officials regarding its maintenance."
Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister Jairam Thakur said: "Such a project would also be replicated in other districts of the state as most traditional water channels have either dried up or are lying unused.
"This would greatly help in solving drinking water problems, especially in areas on low hills."
He said recharging the water bodies would also help in checking groundwater depletion.
Under MGNREGA, 125,515 man-days of employment were provided to local people to revive water bodies.
Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal in his budget speech on March 12 said: "With a view to increasing the scope of permissible works under MGNREGA, small and marginal farmers will also be allowed to take up irrigation, land development and horticulture development works.
"In 2010-11, such works on private lands will be taken up on a large scale to increase farm productivity and to promote water conservation activities."