context: Rajasthan is a semi-arid and drought-prone state situated on the edge of the Thar desert in western India. Historically, communities in this state controlled their resources independently and the land was reasonably well managed. After independence, India's land was distributed among the people according to the tenets of socialism. Pastures and uncultivated land were designated as village common lands, but were soon invaded illegally. As land was freed up, many villagers sold their cattle and switched to cultivation. Local control and management of water and forests was lost and passed into the hands of central government bureaucrats.
Water resources were brought under the control of a public water supply system managed by central government. Traditional community structures broke down and conflict over water and other resources occurred along caste lines. Wells fell into disrepair and villagers were hard-pressed to get enough water for their day-to-day domestic needs, let alone for the growing amount of land under cultivation. Urban migration became a growing trend.
what: development in Northern India was aided by the introduction of new canals and irrigation networks plus high-yielding seeds and technology-aided methods of farming. Rajasthan also benefited from a network of irrigation canals originating with what became known as the Indira Gandhi Canal.
In Laporiya, a village in India's northwestern state of Rajasthan, Laxman Singh and his Water Warriors, youth volunteers in the Gramin Vikas Navyuvak Mandal (GVNM), have ensured that villagers view water as a sacred and precious commodity worthy of conservation and worship. Laxman has used the village's rich religious and cultural values and its traditional customs to help him. Over decades, hard work has turned his village into a lush arable land, supporting both livestock and agricultural production in an otherwise parched and barren landscape.
why: for Laxman, the solution to reviving the area lay not in calling in technical experts but in reviving traditional rainwater harvesting systems and, moreover, involving young people in this project. The main mission was to raise the land around a pond by two meters. In less than a year, the entire village had begun to volunteer and take part in planning a comprehensive model of water management that went much beyond the repair and construction of its ponds to include irrigation of the 300 hectares of land that the villagers owned collectively. As irrigation improved, so did the harvests.
how: Laxman, assisted by a friend and the village priest, began to repair the embankment around Ann Sagar, which had remained broken for 25 years. Realising that they were going to need more help to complete the task, they convened a village meeting. They asked people to co-operate with them.
A few days later, 30 villagers volunteered for the work. After a week another meeting was convened. Laxman estimated that 60 people were needed to work every day on rebuilding the embankments of the pond and he succeeded in making this a reality: "We worked and we told others they should co-operate with us, and they told others, and this is how we created the whole atmosphere".
results: an immediate goal of the government is to consolidate the natural resource management work begun in Laporiya. About 200 surrounding villages have expressed interest in adopting the Laporiya model. Government members have begun preparing blueprints of the agricultural and pasture lands in these villages.