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Water that greens lives

Jamshedpur, Jan. 13: Even though the rain god played foul, 30-year-old farmer Devilal Mardi is in a good mood.

Five years ago, this youth of Chhotakunabera village under Rajnagar block of Seraikela-Kharsawan district, would have pondered on migrating to a city to eke out a living as a labourer. Today, as a farmer, he not only earns more than Rs 3,000 a month but he saves a part even after meeting the needs of his four-member family.

Devilal is not alone. Around 2,100 families in 35 villages of Rajnagar block thank the Centre’s integrated wasteland management programme, implemented through Tata Steel Rural Development Society (TSRDS), which has enhanced irrigation in villages and taught farmers to grow cash crops.

As the very name suggests, the programme aims to turn drought-prone wastelands into farms by developing micro watershed plans, drafted after taking into account soil characteristics and people’s needs. Though the programme is spread across 5,000 hectares in 35 villages of Rajnagar block, farming is on across 1,300 hectares. The rest will be developed as funds flow in.

The total project cost is Rs 3 crore. For now, villages have ponds, check dams and tanks. The corporate NGO also chips in when funds get delayed.

Despite constraints, there is visible change. “Even five years ago, there was no irrigation. We depended entirely on the vagaries of monsoon. Thanks to the programme, we got two ponds. These saved us this year when we had no rain at all. And yes, we are growing a variety of crops,” said Devilal.

Devilal, with other farmers, grows onion, bitter gourd, chillies, beans, brinjal and other seasonal crops.

“Initially, we farmed to feed our families. We could not produce surplus as we lacked water. But now, that’s changed. With my savings, I’ll buy a pump and an auto to take my fresh produce to the market myself. Things have improved, but we still need better irrigation facilities from the government,” said Baburam Besra, a Chhotakunabera farmer.

“Though we got funds for two financial years, TSRDS ensures that water is available wherever the programme is on. Though we are primarily an implementing agency, we disburse funds to keep the project going. The Centre has approved four pump sets but is not enough for 35 villages. We will try to help,” said TSRDS co-ordinator Vishal Kujur.

What does Gen-Ex say? “With check dams,we don’t depend entirely on the capricious rain god,” said 70-year-old farmer Keshav Mahto of Kunabera village.

And Gen Y? “If I get the right resources and technology, I can show the world what we can do,” said Devilal.

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