More than 44% of India was under various degrees of drought conditions in 2019, according to the Drought Early Warning System (DEWS). The situation isn’t different this year. In Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan, there is a severe drought in 653 villages. Small and marginal farmers in drought-hit areas of the district have abandoned their cattle.
The overall decrease of seasonal summer rain in the last few decades has led to an increased propensity for drought over India. In particular, areas over central India, southwest coast, southern peninsula and north-eastern India have experienced more than two droughts per decade, on average.
The Indian government’s Jal Shakti Mission is an effort
at bringing water-stressed districts out of the crisis, through a water conservation Jan Andolan and the Jal Saksharta mission. At the same time, inspiring stories are emerging of how corporates are increasingly building a strategic fit of their CSR projects for drought-proofing India. Chief among them are Adani, Ambuja Cements, Mahindra & Mahindra and Grundfos India. We analyse the two largest and most impactful of CSR water projects for drought-proofing India.
1. Bajaj Water Conservation Project
The total committed amount for this CSR programme is INR 30,522 lakhs with 27,432 lakhs going to interventions in Maharashtra, 2,751 lakhs to Rajasthan and 331 lakhs to Uttarakhand.
Most parts of Central Maharashtra, including Marathwada and Vidharbha face repeated drought. Most of the villages are tanker-fed for 6 to 9 months in a year and the region faced severe drought in 2014-16. The Bajaj Water Conservation Project (BWCP) in Aurangabad plans to cover an area of 21,500 ha in 51 villages of Paithan, Gangapur Taluka of Aurangabad District and in second phase in 110 villages, 2 blocks (Gangapur, Aurangabad), in Aurangabad Districts of Maharashtra.
The BWCP was envisaged with the objective of making 425 villages drought-free by raising community awareness on degradation of natural resources and empowering them to conserve natural resources. Since the aim was to conserve 75% of the available runoffs and ensure 100% domestic water availability throughout the year, the Bajaj team began the project with a demand-supply gap assessment.
All existing water harvesting structures and their current status were mapped to calculate available water harvesting capacity; dysfunctional structures were taken up for repair and maintenance to ensure these regain their designed water harvesting capacities.
The drainage line treatment for run-off water harvesting and ground water recharge were thus major components of the BWCP, a detailed L-SECTION survey was conducted. Using a Station Instrument, the survey covered a drainage length of 400 kms running across 60,000 hectare watershed area.
A hydro-geological study was carried out with the help of expert geo-hydrologists to understand possibilities of vertical as well as lateral movement of water below the ground surface and the technical aspects of groundwater recharge and the depths of excavation. The project villages have experienced an increase of 5M in the water level in wells and a 10% increase in the vegetative cover.
Impact on land and the people
These endeavours have facilitated the achievement of the objective of increasing area under irrigation for Kharif crops to 44% and under Rabi up to 30% of the cultivable area. Alongside these initiatives, the Bajaj team also worked to develop productive and intensive cropping systems by helping farmers imbibe good farming practices and improve farm inputs.
With a holistic project approach, the village found several new livelihood opportunities in agriculture and allied sectors. The farms have clocked in increased productivity of over 20% in the general crops and the areas under vegetable & fruit crops has also increased by about 10%. The outcomes have driven household incomes to double and in some cases even triple from INR 0.5 lakhs to INR 1.5 lakhs.
The largest programme of its kind in terms of funds commitment, the Aurangabad project is impacting a population of 127,343 comprising 25,847 households in 100 plus villages. It is being delivered in phases.
Phase 1: Total outlay of INR 1,900 lakhs
Phase 2: INR 19,879 lakhs
Phase 3: being implemented in Aurangabad, Satara and Yavatmal Districts of Maharashtra, it covers 17,696 Hectares across 30 villages impacting 4,898 households. Bajaj Group has set aside a budget of INR 4,263 lakhs for this phase. These exclude 10% contribution by the community.
Going forward, the Bajaj Group plans to undertake New Watershed projects to cover 25,182 Ha in 22 villages spread across Satara, Ahmednagar and Beed districts of Maharashtra.
Rajasthan: A sum of INR 2,751 lakhs has been committed towards projects being implemented in 210 villages across 13 Districts impacting around 25,866 households comprising 125,879 people.
Uttarakhand: A population of 4,171 comprising 971 households are expected to benefit from INR 339 lakhs committed for projects being implemented in 75 villages of 5 districts.
Internal Project Monitoring against DPR (detailed project report) commitments and a third party evaluation by an independent NGO, a half-yearly community-based evaluation by the Village Development Committee together create a strong monitoring framework to ensure that Bajaj CSR projects stay on course.
2. Standard Chartered Bank CSR project for drought-proofing India
Bringing cutting edge technology into the mix is Standard Chartered Bank’s CSR project for drought-proofing India. CII – Triveni Water Institute has developed WATSCAN, an integrated IT-driven, GIS and Remote Sensing based information system. It generates millions of digital pixels, links satellite and on-ground databases and undertakes analytics with cloud computing.
Successful on-ground implementation of WATSCAN-led interventions, behaviour change and high level of community ownership and participation, are helping villages in Paithantaluk to transit from being drought-prone to drought-resistant. The project was launched in 2017 with support from Standard Chartered Bank under its flagship WASHE programme. It has successfully implemented strategies for stabilizing/ improving water resource scenario in the identified villages.
Engaging with villagers/ community and dovetailing with ongoing Government programmes such as Jalayukt Shivar Abhiyan and Village Social Transformation Mission, the project has been working towards adoption of water management strategies for enabling social transformation by drought-proofing India. Concerted efforts have been made to build ownership, develop a holistic water management strategy and a model for scale and replication.
In 2017, Phase I of the Aurangabad project, WATSCAN was applied to six drought-prone districts of Maharashtra for undertaking water resource assessment at the district’s watershed level. The outcomes guided the selection of 4 drought-prone villages in Aurangabad, that aligned well with the ongoing Government initiatives. An exercise to identify critical gaps was undertaken to create maximum impact with optimal investment.
Phase II of the project involved village-level assessment and implementation to scientifically enable siting of appropriate water management strategies – a combination of demand and supply-side measures.
Before the intervention
In the pre-project scenario, the selected villages were experiencing a negative demand-supply water balance. With high vulnerability and low resilience, water was becoming increasingly scarce. Erratic rainfall meant that village wells would go dry by February- March each year, leading to high dependence on tanker water supply. Several farmers were giving up agriculture and their selling land to adopt another vocation to earn their livelihood. Subsequently, the initiative/project led interventions, both supply-side and demand-side measures, were planned and implemented.
Making a sustainable impact
Given that the supply-side interventions were based on scientific analysis, 40% infrastructure slippages were avoided, making investments credible and transparent. The check dams, nalabunds, trenches and recharge shafts were constructed in the appropriate water accumulation zones, thus leading to enhanced storage capacities. Post monsoon (2019) rise in the water level in the observation wells were witnessed.
Improved agriculture water use through promotion of demand-side measures such as sericulture, other inputs and practices is helping reduce water demand in the area. Sericulture–when adopted by farmers under proper training and supervision–will not only save water but also can increase their income by approximately 3 times against their traditional cropping practice – cotton.
Overall the groundwater level in the village is stabilizing and water tables are showing signs of improvement, taking the village towards becoming Water Secure. The indication of potential availability of water has increased interest in farming and has prevented distress selling of farmland in these villages.