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A collaborative effort of key stakeholders in water conservation and livelihood enhancement of the rural poor

Newai is a block in Tonk district of Rajasthan with 94% rural population. It is located 80 km away from Jaipur, the state capital. The major communities living in the block are Gujjar (categorized as Other Backward Caste, or OBC), Jat (OBC), Meena (Scheduled Tribe i.e. ST), Raigar, and Bairwa (Scheduled Castes i.e. SC). Out of these, SCs constitute 22.93% of the population while STs make up 19.88%. Newai has a semi-arid agro-climate receiving an average rainfall of 502.67 mm per annum as per data released by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB). The main livelihoods of the region are agriculture and migration based employment (construction work) in cities like Jaipur. The main agricultural commodities include rapeseed (mustard) and wheat in rabi and pearl millets in the kharif season. This region is particularly well known for the quality of mustard produced given that its high oil content. This popularity has led to the government setting up Krishi Mandis (agricultural produce marketing yard) for sale and purchase of the produce. The major sources of irrigation in the district are wells and tube wells and the total net irrigated area in the district is 1.91 lakh hectares, out of which 1.58 lakh hectares is irrigated by wells and tube wells.  However, Newai block comes in the over-exploited zone with stage of ground water development estimated at 103.22%. As a result, while mustard is grown as a main crop in the rabi season, a large portion of the land remains fallow in the kharif season owing to water scarcity. The Socio-Economics Caste Census (SECC) survey conducted by Government of India in 2011 puts Newai in the list of 250 most backward blocks in India.

Integrated Watershed Management Project (IWMP-12):

SRIJAN came into the picture in October 2012 to implement the Integrated Watershed Management Project (IWMP-12) project of the Central Government. Being a livelihood resource agency, the organization started implementing the project in collaboration with the Department of Watershed Development of Government of Rajasthan. While preparing the detailed project report (DPR) for an area measuring 5,310 ha with Rs. 6.37 crores sanctioned for the project, the intervening team, based on analysis and previous experiences, undertook its first soil and moisture conservation initiative by constructing earthen bunds and farm ponds. The goal was to provide at least one life saving irrigation to the mustard crop through the intervention and preserve the moisture content of the soil for rabi crops, by building farm ponds.

But the idea of constructing  farm ponds did not go down so well with the community. They were unhappy that the  area and soil for construction would come out of their cultivable land, and thus, construed it as a wastage of resources. The farmers rejected the idea.

Table 1. How to calculate the water requirement for a mustard crop?

The growth cycle of a mustard crop is 110-120 days and the total water requirement is 31- 40 cm.

Area to be irrigated:
2,500 sq. meters. (Counted as one “bigha” in the local language)
Min volume of water required:
(31/100)*2,500 = 775 cubic meters
Max volume of water required:
(40/100)*2,500 = 1,000 cubic meters


Thus, the volume of water required for irrigating mustard on one bigha is between 775 cubic metres and 1,000 cubic meters.

Kani Bai, the Change Agent:

A proud member of Ganesh SHG and Navjyoti Cluster in Bassi village of Tonk district, Kani bai is a widow who lives with her son, daughter in law and grand-children. She owns land measuring 3,750 sq. m. Building a farm pond would make her self-sufficient but she was hesitant about constructing one in the beginning. However, with exposure visits and cost-benefit analysis done with SRIJAN’s team, she was finally convinced. With the help of SRIJAN’s field executives, a pond with a capacity of 867 cu meters was constructed and the soil 10 feet below the ground was layered with clay to help with natural water retention. Kani Bai could now utilize the water free of charge to irrigate her mustard crop, once before sowing and once after. Through her outstanding efforts and initiative, Kani Bai was able to make 2,500 sq. meters of barren land cultivable. Her bravery and exceptional leadership propelled a change in the mind-set of the people in her village and made them more proactive.

Inspired by the success of Kani Bai and additional grant funds, many farmers agreed to construct farm ponds in their fields. For the construction activity, the SRIJAN team outsourced the labour to the SHG members, which created new employment opportunities for the villagers. This was an important turn of events that helped the village manage their water resources better.

Success of the Watershed Management Project:

Within a span of three years from conception, SRIJAN was able to create storage potential of 58,225 cu meters through farm ponds with 55 farmers, and earthen bunds with total length of 1.54 Lakhs running meters with 407 farmers in all the four gram panchayats across Newai. The projected data helped the team to treat 1,021 ha of land through earthen bunds and farm pond construction. Apart from these activities, the SHG women in the project area used small waste wires to ensure that run off from their fields did not damage the structures. With support from Mahila Kisan Sasktikaran Pariyojna (MKSP) they carried out land levelling to treat 13 Ha of land, crop demonstration activities on 388.75 Ha of land for major crops like wheat and mustard, cattle shed constructions, vaccination and deworming of cattle etc.

The major factor for successful implementation was SRIJAN’s intensive approach  towards building a strong community institution. SRIJAN's involvement and constant engagement  through SHGs and Cluster meetings helped the team members create a good reputation amongst the people and understand the community’s needs and necessities. The other successful strategy was credit linkage through the SHG programme. As of February 2018, the total savings of 53 SHGs formed in the intervention area amounted to Rs 28.49 lakhs. Cumulative loans received by SHGs members i.e. 541 members from different sources like IWMP livelihood funds, State Rural Livelihood Mission (SRLM), Banks, Village Level Organizations etc. stood at 1.84 crores, and the percentage of repayment done till the end of the month was 74.1%, all utilized for the livelihood based interventions.


In December 2014, SRIJAN got approval for a new pilot project by the Government of Rajasthan i.e. MGNREGS-NRLM-CFT project in all 41 gram panchayats of Newai. The project was focussed on the facilitation of MGNREGA work by collaborating with three major stakeholders i.e. the MGNREGA Block Cell, the State Rural Livelihood Mission i.e. SRLM and SRIJAN acting as Cluster Facilitation Team (CFT). SRIJAN’s role was to accelerate the process of intervention by completing the deliverables in a timely manner and selecting beneficiaries from SC/ST families within the block.

SRIJAN had always believed that it was important for the marginal or poor farmers to build individual assets. In the past, SRIJAN promoted the construction of individual assets under MGNREGA by publishing a user manual titled “Building Sustainable Livelihoods of the Poor through MGNREGA” with support from UNDP and the Ministry of Rural Development.

Therefore, the team decided to proceed with absolute focus on constructing individual assets in the whole block under MGNREGA. But roads ahead were anything but smooth. Working with the Government's style was difficult. The intervention area was increased from four gram panchayats to forty-one gram panchayats overnight. Government officials were not very responsive and the formalities were lengthy, right from getting signatures from Sarpanches (elected leaders of the village council) to the District Collector for approval of a work on the land of a single beneficiary. The system resisted the entry of a new stakeholder. Even beneficiaries needed to make multiple rounds to get their work done, and given the sheer number of stakeholders and the processing time at each step, many of the beneficiaries missed deadlines for approvals. Another issue was that the community was reluctant to work as labourers due to low wages offered under MGNREGA as compared to potential wages earned from working in nearby cities.

SRIJAN's Solution:

Luckily for SRIJAN, the same strategy of using community institutions as the base, worked out here as well. SRLM had more than a thousand SHGs in the block and each village had SHGs, Village Organizations (federation of SHGs, also referred to as VOs) and Cluster level federations in a cluster. Team members used these community institutions for intensive participation and spreading awareness among the villagers related to MGNREGA and the strategy worked well. Apart from this, support from the state government officials and Block Development Officer (B.D.O.). Mr. Murari Sharma’s support in particular was phenomenal. The whole project had been pushed with due attention from the Principal Secretaries (Rural Development) of the Government of Rajasthan within three years, helping SRIJAN to cope up with a number of barriers from panchayat representatives, and government functionaries alike. Changes in terms of policies or rules were made from time to time to provide maximum support to civil society organizations (CSOs) like SRIJAN working in 15 districts of Rajasthan during this pilot phase.

Thus, small steps with an effort to bring transparency between the stakeholders including the community were taken; awareness meetings related to schemes benefits, processes etc. were organized and this helped to set up a centralized place where information related to the status of forms, approval of forms, processes, online entries could be accessed free of charge. This was useful during village level meetings when one could provide information related to approval of works like estimates, proof of approval, etc. to instill confidence about any scheme. For SRIJAN, this was a major development as it was now seen as an important stakeholder. Moreover, the satisfaction one derived from being a facilitator was huge; knowing that these small steps helped the rural poor exercise their rights and access information was a big motivating factor. Regular camps on filling of forms, largely focused on SHG members which had been a major initiative of SRIJAN, significantly boosted the number of approvals within a single year.

The fruits of collaborative work:

By the end of the project, the whole block got approval for different works; SRIJAN supported 4,255 beneficiaries while the Cluster Level Federations facilitated by SRLM supported 945 beneficiaries. The total approved cost was more than Rs. 10,000 lakhs, an average of Rs. 2.42 lakhs for each farmer. Major activities for the block ranged from construction of earthen bunds (as required) and cattle sheds to wells and vermi-compost / Nadep Beds.

One of the major benefits was that the program provided employment to the beneficiaries by allowing them to work as labourers on their own farm. Rs. 7.69 crores and Rs. 5.69 lakhs were spent on labour and constructing earthen bunds as part of the soil and moisture conservation programme, for which payments were made directly into the beneficiaries’ bank account.

Kani Bai was one of those who got approval for constructing earthen bunds. She used this opportunity to convert her barren land into an agriculture field. While the success of these two initiatives is noteworthy, it raises some concerns about the functioning of the state machinery, especially in a scenario when material payments are delayed indefinitely. What does someone like Kani Bai do in such a situation?