New lease of life
Temple tanks used to have a central role in village life once. Can they be rejuvenated?
a comeback: Villagers managing their water properly. Photo: Goutam Ghosh
LUSH green fields. Menthol-fresh air. But Pattikadu's real pride lies in the village centre. Situated there is the temple oorani (tank), which brims with water. The oorani has been desilted and the sides paved with stone. A wire mesh keeps cattle and bathers out. The water is clean. There is no odour of iron salts. And it tastes very good.
The oorani in Pattikadu, in Tamil Nadu's Kanchipuram district, is part of a pilot project aimed at exploring the possibility of rejuvenating temple tanks and using them as a source of drinking water for the State's water-starved villages. Ten temple tanks five in Kanchipuram and five in Ramanathapuram district were selected for the experiment that got under way last year.
Conducted by the Rural Development Department (RDD) in association with Anna University's Centre for Water Resources and Centre for Environmental Studies and the Dhan Foundation (an NGO), the pilot project is the basis for an ambitious plan to rejuvenate the ooranis in all 12,618 village panchayats of Tamil Nadu.
At Pattikadu, the water tapping system is simple. A pipe from the oorani bed filtration chamber feeds two linked wells. A hand pump drains water into a filter chamber with a tap. The catchment area is 10 times the surface area of the oorani and the feeder channels work effectively. "Even if it drizzles, water flows in," say the women in the village.
The quality of the water and its suitability for cooking and drinking is vouched for by Dr. R. Damodharan, Professor of chemistry, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras and Mr. Vijaykumar of the Madurai office of Dhan Foundation (DF). The feeder channel has traps that allows only fine sand in. "Even after two decades, there will only be a small amount of fine sand in the oorani, " says Dirk Walther, a German scientist on deputation to the Centre for Environmental Studies, AnnaUniversity.
Not every pilot project is complete. The one in Salur for instance, funded by expatriate IIT alumni and the DF, remains unfinished. It is full of water and the villagers must wait for the dry season before resuming work. As for the one in Edaiyur, the first pilot conducted, the oorani serves only 85 villagers.
The project is being undertaken at a time when traditional water bodies are neglected. There was a time when the country's villages usually had a drinking water tank and a water body for irrigation. These the oorani and eri in Tamil Nadu, and the pukur and jhil in West Bengal have all but disappeared. Piped water supply, irregular and available in inadequate quantities, guaranteed their extinction. Fortunately, despite the Kumbhakarnaesque slumber of the governance system, the Government has been moved to action.
Reclaiming ponds is nothing new. NGOs were doing it even two decades ago. What sets this project apart is the systematic manner in which it has been planned and devised. Says a senior official of the RDD: "Reclamation work on ooranis has been going on for some time. But the strategy here is to motivate the stakeholders, the villagers, because in the end it is only they who can manage their water properly. Then, we have roped in experts from Anna University to monitor it. Finally, we have the Dhan Foundation, which acts as a facilitator to motive the villagers to manage their water resources. All the partners work together."
Motivating the people was not easy. But the fact that a Government department worked along with other organisations has seemed to help. "People must be convinced about keeping the catchment area clean. No defecation, no pesticides, no fertilizers on the oorani catchments," says the RDD official, who played a significant role in making rain water harvesting compulsory in Tamil Nadu.
Storage losses have been a problem in some ooranis and an effort is on to understand the cause. Weather stations set up in Edaiyur and Pattikadu, with German funding that was channelled to Anna University, are being used for this purpose. "These weather stations are worthwhile as the data will be used to help perfect the quality of construction," said Heinz Kopp, the Chennai-based Consul-General for Germany during his visit to Edaiyur. The ooranis covered by the project are designed to last two decades. "Once people learn to manage the resource and their standard of living improves, they may decide how to handle the additional demands for water," say Walther and M. Ravichandran, project scientists, Centre for Water Resources, Anna University.
The Government aim to rejuvenate ooranis in all the village panchayats in the State is an ambitious one. But such plans are a long way off. The challenge now is more immediate. First, to ensure that the pilot project is successful and then to find both the funds, the technical resources and the trained manpower to replicate the experiment in other parts of the State.
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