Hill farmers in troubled waters
Government control is choking traditional irrigation systems in Uttarakhand
Anmol Jain

Mussoorie, January 27
Farmers of Uttarakhand are feeling the pinch with hill agriculture being hit by inadequate irrigation and winter rains. Increased governmental control over water resources and change in the mindset of rural communities are responsible for the breakdown of traditional irrigation systems.

Rural communities in Uttarakhand have since generations opted for traditional irrigation channels. These are locally referred to as guhls.

“Guhls are the only source of irrigation in the mountains,” says Dr. Anil Joshi, founder of HESCO, a Dehradun-based NGO.

Guhls are gravity contour channels that are used to transport water from hill torrents and perennial streams to agricultural fields. These are generally 10-12 inches wide and 8-10 inches deep. The size of the guhl depends on factors such as the land area required to be irrigated, availability of water in the stream and the local resources available.

Traditionally, guhls were made of mud and brick with hollow logs of wood or bamboo poles. But over the year, particularly since the state control of water resources, these have been cemented.

In order to channelise water from the streams to the fields, the villagers would make a small dam across a stream by which the water was diverted into the guhl and, thus, transported to the fields.

A traditional irrigation system in Uttarakhand comprised the main guhl, with a number of offshoots depending on the area to be irrigated. The water flow in the offshoots was regulated by opening or blocking the mouth of the offshoot, generally with stones.

The management of guhls was done by the entire village community. According to research studies, a number of management systems were devised by locals for sharing of water and for the upkeep of the guhls.

In Garhwal region the villagers would appoint a person for the upkeep of the guhls, who was called “kuhlwala.” While in parts of Kumaon, a contract system (called hara) was in place wherein the upkeep of guhls was entrusted with a contractor for specified number of years through a legal agreement between the gram sabha and the contractor.

In both systems, the entire village contributed towards the salary of these persons.

Categorised as “minor irrigation systems”, a majority of these systems irrigated land between 50 to 150 hectares. Some systems, like that in Maleetha village near Srinagar, irrigated even up to 1,000 hectares.

However, in recent times a large number of these irrigation systems have ceased to be useful to the communities. This has led to severe problems for the hill farmers.

“The guhl system in our village is not functioning effectively since many years and this has created problems for us,” says Laxman Singh from Vidon village in Tehri district.

There has been an adverse impact on crop yield in places where the guhl network has ceased to operate due to lack of maintenance. Reports suggest that many farmers have changed the cropping patterns due to the absence of irrigation water.

Experts believe that increased government control over these traditional irrigation systems is responsible for the poor condition of guhls today.

Dr Ravi Chopra, director of People’s Science Institute, an NGO,says the guhls were earlier managed by the community but in recent times the minor irrigation department has taken over their management.

“The guhls have now become a departmental affair,” he complains.

Dr Chopra, who has done substantial research on the guhls, believes that time lags and delays in repair and maintenance of guhls caused by cumbersome and slow departmental procedures have badly affected the guhls.

“Today, the management of the guhls is entirely at the discretion of the department and is subject to delays in repairs, leading to losses in production for the farmers,” he says.

Tarun Joshi, cordinator of Van Panchayat Sanghursh Morcha, an Almora-based people’s organisation, says near Someshwar (Bageshwar district) a single network of guhls irrigates fields of seven villages.

A change in the attitude of the local people following the state takeover of the guhls is also cited as one of the factors behind the decline of the guhls.

Tarun Joshi says that earlier maintenance and repair of the guhls was carried out without any external support “through shramdaan by the entire village but today people’s mindset has changed.

“Earlier, the entire village was engaged in the repair of guhls but ever since department has assumed this responsibility, people wait for the officials to undertake repairs,” explains Tarun.

Experts also believe that cementing of guhls by the irrigation department has rendered the locals helpless. Kuccha guhls were easily repaired by the villagers themselves while concrete ones require more resources for repair and cannot be repaired by poor farmers.

Dr Anil Joshi suggests creation of a network of canals in the hills on the same lines as the guhls.

“The creation of a Himalaya canal network on the same principle as these guhls can not only increase the irrigated area, but also generate useful hydro-power,” he maintains.



Coca Cola offers help
Jotirmay Thapliyal
Tribune News Service

Dehradun, January 27
Soft drink giant Coca Cola last summer had offered to extend its assistance to the state in reviving its fast-vanishing traditional water sources.

Praveen Aggarwal, Coca Cola India Limited's General Manager, who attended a "Colloquium on Water Conservation" organised by the CII at part of its water conservation efforts in Dehradun in May, has offered all assistance to Uttarakhand in revival of its traditional water sources.

“Cola is ready to assist if its willingness is reciprocated by the state”, he said adding that Coca Cola had been instrumental in reviving Bawaris of Rajasthan. It was willing to work for the revival of redundant Naulas, Ghadharas, Khals, the traditional water sources of Uttarakhand on similar lines.

“We are open to such conservation efforts and any initiative on part of the people of the state is welcome", GM Coca Cola had said adding that the initiatives should come from the community.

Referring to Cola efforts in reviving traditional Bavarias in Rajasthan, Agarwal said the initiative by the locals has only been strengthened by his company. "It is ultimately for the people to take an initiative and the company's efforts were secondary", he said.

He added that the company has never shied away from any requests of water conservation but admitted community initiative has been found lacking in most cases.

Coca Cola, as part of its social corporate responsibility, has been providing extensive support for community programmes across the country.

The company aims to provide drinking water solutions to as many as 1,000 schools by 2010.



Surmani Agni’s 60-hour sargam
Neena Sharma
Tribune News Service

Dehradun, January 27
Surmani Agni Verma 0n Sunday created a record by playing the sitar non-stop for 60 hours. He broke the record held by Shambhu Das, a resident of Toronto, who played the sitar non-stop for 24 hours in 2004.

“I played 8,64,000 surs and 54,000 sargams in 3,600 minutes in ascending and descending order with intermittent breaks which are allowed as per rules. I did not eat much expect for a sandwich and sipped water during the four days of my performance,” Agni Verma said.

“The task was daunting but I decided to take up the challenge. To make the goal appear realistic, I first thought of surpassing the 24-hour record held by Shambu Das.”

“Once I reached that milestone, things fell into place. By then, my hands were swollen but with the blessings of Goddess Saraswati, I managed to overcome the pain,” said Shambu Das.

The marathon was organised by the Manthan Creation and Nav Jyoti Sanskriti Evam Samajik Sanstha.

The claims made by the sitarist now await confirmation from the Guinness Book of World Records as the doctors keeping a tab on him will be submitting to them the details recorded in the logbook for all four days.

The sitar player had practiced for 16 hours on Diwali last year. “During practice, I took several breaks.”

“I have dedicated my record-breaking performance to our brave men from the forces who laid down their lives while fighting terrorists in Mumbai recently,” said Agni Verma.

Surmani Agni Verma hails from the Etawah gharana of musicians who use the six-string sitar. “Under the tutelage of Guru Pandit Raj Ram Jaiswal, I starting learning sitar at the age of four. Then I enrolled at the Prayag Samiti, Allahabad, for a degree in music. Now I am learning sitar from Ustad Shaihid Pervez Khan Sahib of Etawah gharana.”

The sitar player teaches music at Mussoorie International School. Next, Verma is eyeing a 120-hour performance.



Spinning a tale of success
Jotirmay Thapliyal
Tribune News Service

Dehradun, January 27
The Angora wool promotion programme is set to begin in tribal predominant regions of Uttarakhand - Pithoragarh, Chamoli, Uttarakashi, Tehri and Chakrata.

The new assignment comes in the wake of the Himalayan Institute For Environment, Ecology and Development’s (HIFEED) success in setting up of similar units in Chamba and Thauldhar areas of Tehri Garhwal under its recently completed Angora Wool Development Project which has changed the lives of many persons in the backward Tehri district.

The institute now has been entrusted with a new project entailing setting up of 450 units of Angora spinning and weaving.

The Department of Science and Technology’s supported initiative, which will be carried out over a period of three years, will render livelihood opportunities to a large number of people from tribal communities.

Apart from providing Angora rabbits, the HIFEED will render its expertise extending from rabbit rearing to the marketing of finished products. This will be carried out in assistance with 13 voluntary organisations on the field.

The institute had set up 150 units in Chamba and Thauldhar areas of Tehri Garhwal in 2003 in its earlier wool development project. These units today are registering soaring profits and the sale of Angora products is to the tune of Rs 35 lakh to Rs 40 lakh.

As many as 150 villagers, mostly women, are directly engaged in the Angora wool industry. Some of their products like shawls, mufflers and sweaters have attracted consumers across the country.

In 2007-08, more than 100 buyers and agents visited the HIFEED stall at different exhibitions. Its Ranichauri facilitation centre is used to finish the products.

“The agro-climatic conditions of the hilly regions between 4,000 to 7,000 feet above sea level in Uttarakhand suit the Angora wool enterprise,” Kamal Bahuguna, director, HIFEED.

He felt that the new project is a boon for the tribals of the state. Kamal Bahuguna said that as tribal communities, the backbone of the wool-based cottage industry, have been engaged in sheep rearing for generations, the new project will render impetus to their wool-based economy.

Puja Chauhan, one of the beneficiaries of the Angora Wool Development Project, is successfully engaged in Angora wool production.

“Angora rabbit breeding and rearing has emerged as an important income generating enterprise for us here in the hills,” said Puja, who has recently been bestowed with the“Rajya Bunkar Award”. While crediting HIFEED for her success, she also called for Angora wool promotion efforts in the hills in a big way.

The rearing of Angora rabbits needs less space, time and money and any family member with minimum experience and training can manage it. Angora rabbits have a fast multiplication rate which is approximately 10-12 times annually. The climatic conditions of the hilly regions of the state are suitable for Angora rabbit breeding and rearing.



Capital merger
Raju William
Tribune News Service

Dehradun, January 27
The government is quietly working on forming a regional authority by merging the Mussoorie Dehradun Development Authority (MDDA), Special Area Development Authority (SADA) and Haridwar Development Authority (HDA) to eliminate the potential haphazard development of Dehradun and Haridwar districts.

The move is aimed at larger futuristic planning leading to the creation of a prospective capital region comprising Dehradun, Mussoorie, Haridwar, Rishikesh and Vikas Nagar towns of both districts.

The formation of a regional authority, developing the tourist circuit and starting a jungle safari on the pattern of Corbett National Park are the three steps being mulled at this stage. This will pave the way for giving a concrete shape to the idea of larger capital region.

“I am giving final touches to the concept note and will submit it to the government within a week.

“These three steps will form the basis of the prospective capital region,” said Dehradun Mayor Vinod Chamoli, the moving spirit behind the idea.

The issue has already been discussed with the government which entrusted Chamoli to provide a detailed note suggesting how this can be realised.

The deliberations had started immediately after the BJP came to power in the state in March 2007.

Due to the presence of a multi-authority system, major towns of Dehradun and Haridwar districts are witnessing haphazard growth. “This trend has to be checked in the larger interest of evenly planned future development which can be ensured with formation of a single development authority,” said Chamoli.

Besides easing population pressure, availability of open areas between these towns for housing and other developmental activities and creation of a link roads network reducing travel time between these towns, the move would be of great help in terms of faster and cost-effective execution of development projects.

As a strong sense of regionalism prevails in Garhwal and Kumaon regions, a similar authority for Kumaon region has also been suggested.

Like Dehradun, Haldwani may be the focal town of such an authority in the region.



Forest dept plans to promote fibre wealth
Jotirmay Thapliyal
Tribune News Service

Dehradun, January 27
Since the United Nations has declared the year 2009 as a ‘Year of Natural Fibres’, the Uttarakhand forest authorities has asked the commissioner forest and rural development for convening a meeting of the stakeholders related to natural fibres.

“As 2009 has been declared as Year of Natural Fibres by UN, Uttarakhand needs to use this opportunity to render much needed promotion to its fibre wealth,” said STS Lepcha, senior forest officer and chairman Uttarakhand Bamboo Board.

“We have suggested additional chief secretary and commissioner forest and rural development, NS Napachalyal for convening a meeting towards charting out a list of programmes for the present year which is also an international Year of Natural Fibres,” he added.

The Himalayan states have been bestowed with enormous fibre wealth and is certainly a basis of livelihood for hill people. The state is blessed with nearly 70 species of natural fibre plants but forest department is presently focusing to cash on only five selected species, which have better commercial value.

As per a rough estimate nearly Rs 5 lakh can be generated from the plantation of Himalayan Nettle (plant producing natural fibre) on one hectare of land. Around 1,100 grams of Himalayan Nettle fiber is produced in a hectare of agricultural field. This results into 550 kg of spindle fibre that further yields almost 1,374 metre long cloth. Thus when accounted with market cost of the cloth as Rs 350 per meter, it comes out to around Rs 5 lakh," said, STS Lepcha.

A long narrow flexible material, plant fibres are obtained from plants like cotton, jute and hemp. It has catered to the daily need of mankind but is facing gravest of challenge from synthetic fibres. But people have realised that apart from being ecological there are other financial benefits linked to natural fibre.

The UN objective behind declaring 2009 as Fibre Year is to foster an effective and enduring international partnership among natural fibre industries and to work for its sustainability.



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