Watershed schemes paying rich dividends

THE HINDU, [22 June, 2002]
By M.Raghuram

MANGALORE JUNE 21. Dakshina Kannada District will witness a new kind of activity this monsoon. Farmers, people, and various student organisations and school and college clubs have taken up water harvesting as a serious occupation. This is the first time that the environmental movement has been given a practical touch.

Thanks to the awareness created by the water harvest specialists such as writer and farmer, Sripadre, water conservation has as a serious occupation in the district.

The recent entrant to the field is the Youth Congress. Its president, Jagannath Shetty Bondala, says the Youth Congress joined this movement with a singular objective of conserving water. He told The Hindu that water shortage had been Dakshina Kannada's problem. Although the district is endowed with an annual rainfall of 4,000 mm, major parts of the district experienced shortage during summer. Creating natural watersheds was the need of the hour.

The NSS unit of St. Agnes College here has already shown in parched land patches in Buntwal and Mangalore taluks that by adopting water-harvesting techniques, it is possible to turn the arid land into a watershed. Due to the rapid run of the storm water, Dakshina Kannada is losing its topsoil rapidly. This is an impending environmental disaster, if steps are not taken immediately to check this. Programmes have already started in the twin districts of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi and have shown good results.

Although a nation-wide watershed development programme was taken up in 1987, the need for people's participation was realised by the Government only recently. The experiment has taken off in Dakshina Kananda on a promising note, if the statistics released by the District Watershed Development Office are any indication. The two districts, which have a unique combination of coastal and hilly terrain, should have had 66 per cent forest cover as per the international norms. This level was determined keeping in view the run of the rainwater into the sea and the topsoil erosion. But Dakshina Kananda and Udupi, which have less than 66 per cent forest cover, are now facing topsoil erosion. According to an estimate, the two districts are losing 30 to 40 tonnes of topsoil per hectare per year. In the Bayaluseema area, the topsoil erosion has been estimated at 3 to 4 tonnes per hectare per year.

That is not all. Dakshina Kannada is fast losing its river basins as the silt formation due to soil erosion has reached dangerous levels. Efforts are on to conserve the river basins, watershed bowls, and water bodies through satellite mapping.

So far, with the help of the Regional Research Service Centre of the ISRO, 1,137 minor watershed areas in the two districts have been identified. They have been divided into five categories for "watershed treatment process". The process starts with the constitution of sanghas at the village level, which will take up the work of soil conservation and afforestation on the watershed bowl areas. Each minor watershed area will get a financial help of Rs. 20 lakh, which would be ploughed back into the areas through wages, incentives, and expenses.

At present, nine watershed development projects have been taken up in Dakshina Kannada alone, namely in Ujire, Kanyadi, and Charmady in Belthangady taluk. Bettampadi, Kodimbadi, and Nidpalli in Puttur taluk and Ivernadu, Bellary and Kodiala in Sullia taluk. These projects will be over in 2004, according to government estimation.

Vishakanta, former director of the Abdul Nazeer Saab Rural Development Institute, Mysore, who is training the Watershed Development Sanghas in Dakshina Kananda, said the watershed development was the only hope to perk up agriculture and food production in a country like India.

In comparison with China, India's condition in food production as well as land utilisation appear to be grave as its density of population was 273 persons per sq. km. If the food production did not reach the expected grades under the international norms, the country could plunge into a perennial drought-like .