Behind Pankaja’s ‘Oasis’, An Initiative To Revive River




Behind Pankaja’s ‘Oasis’, An Initiative To Revive River

That “oasis”, at Sai village in Latur district, however has little to do with the government, its men or machinery.

In a selfie soup, Maharashtra Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde on Monday claimed that she took the picture since was “really happy to see water in such dry area”. It appeared, according to Munde, “like an oasis in desert”.

That “oasis” at Sai village in Latur district however has got little to do with her government or any government, for that matter it’s men, machinery or any ‘drought-related work’, as officialese puts it.

The oasis, Latur residents say, was created entirely a through a citizens’ initiative, “Jalyukt Abhiyan”, launched on April 12 by people from the district.

The work sounds simple, although on ground backbreaking and challenging: increasing the storing capacity of Manjara river, the lifeline of Latur. The river has run completely dry. Fed up of the government’s apathy, water-starved people led by the Art of Living Foundation joined hands to desilt the Manjara on a staggering 18-km stretch: from Sai village barrage to Nagzari village to Karsapohre village.

Once shorn of the choking silt, the river, 30 metres wide at present with its bed shrunk over the years, will back to its original width — about 80 metres.

Working with a May 31 deadline, people involved in the effort say a 3-km stretch has been desilted till date. Once completed, it is expected to provide Latur drinking water throughout the year, and the maths has been worked out. “We expect 18,500 MLD (million liters per day) water to be stored in the two barrages during monsoon,” Mahadev Gomare of the Art of Living Foundation said. “Latur has a population of 5 lakh-plus, and needs 50 million litres every day, or 18,250 MLD annually. It means we might even have more water than required.”

“Before the Manjara dam went dry, Latur city used to get water every eight or 10 days. Once the two barrages are filled this monsoon with 18,500 MLD water, we expect supply every other day at the least, keeping in mind distribution and other losses,” said P N Todkar, a retired state Irrigation Department official who is monitoring the work voluntarily. Like him, many private and government engineers are chipping in with their knowledge and technical expertise all voluntary.

Gomare said 30 machines have been employed to excavate black soil from the river, 29 from private parties, and one provided by the Latur district collectorate. “We are paying approximately Rs 1,400 per hour for each machine and have so far paid Rs 32 lakh to private contractors,” he said. The government is not charging for the lone machine it has provided.

The project cost is estimated at Rs 7 crore, and the funding is entirely from public money, with people from all walks of life chipping in. Dr Kalyan Barmade, secretary of the Indian Medical Association’s Latur chapter, said, “We have no option. We can’t leave it to the government any longer.” He added that this “Latur pattern” should be replicated in other drought areas, too.

Municipal Commissioner Sudhakar Telang conceded that the Latur Municipal Corporation has no role to play in this initiative. “But, yes, the project will help augment our water supply. I can’t say how much, but it will certainly help…” he said.

Mayor Akhtar also praised the initiative but said its efficacy will be known only after the monsoon arrives this season.

Courtesy: The Indian Express


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