Amla Ruia

Some peo­ple in the ar­eas where check dams are built had not even seen how wheat is grown. Now they cul­ti­vate wheat.

Business Today - - CONTENTS - BY P. B. JAYAKUMAR

Ra­jasthan and a num­ber of states were reel­ing un­der a se­vere drought in 2003, and the farm­ers were the worst hit. Their tale of woe spread fast and caught the at­ten­tion of Amla Ruia, a so­cial en­tre­pre­neur and wife of Ashok Ku­mar Ruia, Chair­man and Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Phoenix Mills. It sad­dened her, even more, when her na­tive vil­lage Ramghar was af­fected. With help from the vil­lagers, Ruia man­aged to build more than 200 ponds to recharge the ground­wa­ter. But she was keen to de­velop some­thing more sus­tain­able that would help the farm­ers in the long run. Three years later, her or­gan­i­sa­tion Aakar Char­i­ta­ble Trust came in to con­struct check dams, with 40 per cent con­tri­bu­tion from the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

To date, Aakar has con­structed 270 check dams for har­vest­ing water and di­rectly im­proved the lives and eco­nomic con­di­tions of 1,56,000 peo­ple across 115 vil­lages. From less than 20 per cent of arable land, th­ese vil­lages now have water through­out the year, and 80 per cent of the to­tal land is now cul­tivable. Peo­ple can grow two crops a year, rear cat­tle and ac­cess clean drink­ing water near their homes. What’s more, an­other 1,30,000 peo­ple in 193 vil­lages in­di­rectly ben­e­fited from th­ese ac­tiv­i­ties. With bet­ter har­vests and an­i­mal hus­bandry, there has been an ad­di­tional rev­enue of `500 crore. It was no mean achieve­ment, and Aakar has spent about `16 crore over the past 14 years to get the projects com­pleted. The fund­ing came from Ruia’s fam­ily, fol­lowed by gen­er­ous con­tri­bu­tions from well-wish­ers. But none of it came from any govern­ment grant even though au­thor­i­ties spend big money on ir­ri­ga­tion. “I do not want to get into it be­cause I do not know how to get things mov­ing, things are not very eth­i­cal there,” says the 72-year-old chair­per­son of Aakar.

Ruia says she is plan­ning to scale up the op­er­a­tions of Aakar, which will con­struct 90 check dams a year from the cur­rent 30 and will start sim­i­lar projects in states like Odisha, Bi­har and Haryana. As of now, Aakar spends about `2 crore a year.

Asked what her great­est achieve­ment is, Ruia does not think twice. “Some peo­ple in the ar­eas where we con­structed check dams had not even seen how wheat is grown and now they cul­ti­vate wheat. The eco­nomic con­di­tion of th­ese vil­lagers has dra­mat­i­cally changed, and that gives great sat­is­fac­tion,” she says. ~

AMLA RUIA Founder, Aakar Char­i­ta­ble Trust

WHY SHE MAT­TERS Thanks to her ef­forts, peo­ple grow two crops a year, rear cat­tle and ac­cess clean drink­ing water.

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