cover story

Gushing good

A diversion-based irrigation scheme in Odisha’s Kalahandi district is bringing succour to tribal communities united in their quest for water to meet their farming and household needs

Dabriguda, a village in the tribal heartland of Odisha’s Kalahandi district, was once a place with loads of barren land around. Being located on the top of a hill was part of the reason why, and the problem had all to do with water or, rather, the lack of it. 

For Dabriguda’s residents — more than 100 people from about 30 families — water even for drinking and household consumption was never enough. The village had a borewell but this would not suffice to meet everyday needs in the sumer months, when severe water scarcity forced residents to fetch the precious elixir from a nearby stream.      

Farming, in the circumstances, was difficult and that explained the widespread desolateness of Dabriguda and its neighbouring areas. Things started to change when, in late 2020, a diversion-based irrigation (DBI) scheme began to take shape.

The organisation driving this change — the Livolink Foundation, an associate organisation of the Tata Trusts — may have been from the outside, but it had inside knowledge on how to tap, store and distribute water through the gravity method. That would prove to be of immense benefit to Dabriguda and its beleaguered villagers.

The stream that the village depended on was, naturally, the designated source. Then followed a process that would, ultimately, deliver what the village was seeking so desperately. This process began with rallying the community around the idea, followed by a technical survey, feasibility report and cost estimates, getting the villagers to contribute with labour towards construction work, procuring building material, digging trenches and laying pipelines, fixing outlets and testing the water. 

A water-user group (WUG), with members drawn from among the villagers, was formed to operate and maintain the DBI structure. Water reached the village through the DBI way in a period of three months, remarkably quick time for a project of this nature.

There were additional touches: a water filter to ensure Dabriguda was receiving clean and safe water, a corpus fund for current and future use, and rain pipes — a flexible pipe with a pattern of drip holes — to cover irrigation needs.

Impressing visitors

The DBI project in Dabriguda has been implemented so well the village gets visitors wanting to know how the process unfolded. The crux was community participation, contribution and ownership, with steadfast support from the Livolink team in matters technical and otherwise.

This is the blueprint Livolink has played by while developing DBI systems in more than 40 villages in Kalahandi and Kandhamal districts. Livolink’s initiatives, which began in 2017, have helped nearly 1,750 villagers get their share of water, mostly round the clock, and has resulted in a boost for farming.

Sundarmati Majhi of Puiguda village has a not uncommon story of what the programme has wrought. “Agriculture is our mainstay and we were totally dependent on rainwater. It was never enough. My son, Rudra, used to migrate to Kerala in search of employment during the lean farming period. But now, with the DBI system in place, we are able to undertake year-round vegetable cultivation. Rudra didn’t have to go to Kerala this time out; he worked in our field and we grew cauliflower. We earned 62,000 from it.”

With the DBI systems in place, Livolink encourages the community to take up year-round cultivation. Inputs like seeds, irrigation technology and a package of practices are also provided. The sustainability of these systems depends mainly on WUGs, which explains the criticality of getting villagers committed to the DBI concept and its execution.

“Water is the most precious of resources for tribal and rural communities,” says Ganesh Neelam, the Tata Trusts’ zonal head, central and east, programme implementation. “The crucial challenge is conserving water and enabling its utilisation to meet drinking water needs and enhance livelihood options.”

Many tribal communities, a core constituency for the DBI programme, live in undulating terrain and, therefore, face considerable difficulties with water availability and quality. “That creates problems of poverty,” says Mr Neelam. “The DBI programme has a unique approach. It uses gravity-based mechanisms to bring water from the hills to the lowlands. Furthermore, this does not need energy. All of which points to the huge opportunity available to ensure water for small and marginal communities.”