By Vivek M and Abraham Daniel Raj
Covid lockdown brought many people working in the cities back to their native towns or villages. Some have returned but many are working remotely from their native homes. This reverse migration has resulted in an influx of educated youth back to rural areas. This has revitalised local initiatives on livelihoods and water in these areas.
As part of the field visit, for the “Pathways towards sustainable Cauvery Delta”, we visited Jeeva nagar Vettukulam (Anavayal Panchayat) and Mangadu Vettukulam (Mangadu Panchayat). These panchayats have a total population of 740 and 990 and are located in Pudukkottai district in Tamil Nadu.
There are two noteworthy community initiatives in the area undertaken by KAIFA.
Kadaimadai (tail-end) Area Integrated Farmers Association (KAIFA) has supported the villages by providing them with machinery for lake (tank) rejuvenation. As canal water flows have declined, groundwater abstraction has increased in the Cauvery delta. Post the devastation of Gaja cyclone in 2018, KAIFA was created to unite and guide the farmers in the tail end of the Cauvery delta command areas. KAIFA has been working on tank renovation work, ground water level improvement, tree planting, creating mini forests and rain water harvesting. In the next five years, their ambitious aim is to restore and rejuvenate water bodies in Tamil Nadu and ending the tragedy of purchasing water and water scarcity and making agriculture more productive.Youth Groups in Jeeva nagar and Mangadu – Jeevanagar and Mangadu.
Youth groups comprise of youths, who have been from the village hamlets of Jeevanagar (Anavayal Panchayath) and Mangadu.(Mangadu Panchayath). These are two separate groups formed within their villages, mainly for the purpose of renovation of the lakes within their respective villages. During the havoc created by Gaja cyclone, these groups had undertaken voluntary work in their villages. But post the Gaja cyclone, they became dormant. The Covid lockdown once again gave them opportunity to regroup together for lake rejuvenation work.
What prompted this change?
“The previous generation had desilted the tank regularly, since they had used tanks and lakes for irrigation. Now all the people have started using bore wells. As the days went by, people have forgotten about the tanks and they stopped desilting them. But now groundwater levels have been falling over the past 4 years. We felt that whether we are using it or not, we need to conserve groundwater”, said Mr.Pratheesh and Mr.Yogaraj, who were part of the youth group from Jeeva nagar Vettukulam (Fig.1).
The lakes had not been rehabilitated in the recent past and are in a state of disrepair. The youth were inspired by the works done by KAIFA in Peravurani. Since both the hamlets are nearby, they have approached KAIFA for mentorship.
Evolution of the youth group
Initially, the Jeeva Nagar youth group invited and gathered people together as a part of the temple event. As trust built, they suggested this initiative in the month of October 2020. To maintain the spirit of community efforts and volunteerism, they made sure that they should not have any leader ; rather would be called thozhar (friend/buddy). The next decision they made was transparency of finances involving every penny.
Fig.2 – Jeevanagar Vettukulam (Anavayal Panchayat), lake before and after renovation (Photo Credits – Mr. Arjun, Mangadu)
Using these funds, the youth group planted some tree saplings along the banks of the lake, to prevent soil erosion and encroachment in the future(Fig.3).
The Mangadu youth group mentioned that the residents of hamlet had contributed voluntarily to community efforts, even though most of them are daily labourers. The youth group had decided that they should not depend on the Government for everything. Even after the Gaja cyclone relief was complete, they organised as a group to revamp the electric supply and drinking water connections. They also mentioned that the transparency/community spirit was created by sharing the expenditure.
Disasters like Gaja cyclone and Covid-19 pandemic have exposed our insecurity. “90% of the youngsters are ready for such works, we just have to create a spark to motivate them. There is someone needed to kickstart. If we set fire to the lamp wick, it will burn on its own”, said Mr.Yogaraj, who is from Jeeva nagar Vettukulam youth group.
In their opinion, Government schemes like the Kudimaramathu scheme, have a lot of formalities and procedures to get the funding for tank rehabilitation. The youth groups also feel that they should be self-reliant in initiating and continuing with the activities like tank rehabilitation etc. as far as possible.
They also feel that the ““இயற்கைக்கு மாறாக எப்போதெல்லாம் செயல்படுகிறோமோ அது பின்னாடி நமக்கு பேராபத்து. அது ரொம்ப வருஷம் கழிச்சி வருகிறதால நம்ம யாரும் உணர்கிறது இல்ல “இயற்கைக்கு மாறாக எப்போதெல்லாம் செயல்படுகிறோமோ அது பின்னாடி நமக்கு பேராபத்து. அது ரொம்ப வருஷம் கழிச்சி வருகிறதால நம்ம யாரும் உணர்கிறது இல்ல” (Whenever we do things against the nature, that will rebound back to us as a disaster. Since it will rebound many years later, we never consider that)”.
About the authors Vivek and Abraham Daniel Raj are Research assistants in ‘Pathways towards a sustainable and inclusive Cauvery Delta’ project and coordinators for Citizen Science Engagement initiative of the project in the Cauvery Delta(http://cseincauverydelta.org.in/ ). The field study has been conducted on part of the research project ‘Pathways towards a sustainable and inclusive Cauvery Delta’ (https://www.atree.org/projects/pathways-towards-sustainable-and-inclusive-cauvery-delta)