Immune to drought
Jhabua continues to flourish and maintain its status as a model district while many others fail |
JHABUA IS a dramatic story because of the three key ingredients that are missing in most government programmes: political will, competent and committed bureaucratic support, and people’s participation”, wrote Anil Agarwal, founder editor of Down To Earth (dte), in 1998 after he visited the tribal district in Madhya Pradesh to witness the dramatic recovery of poor villages in the hilly area from extreme ecological degradation. It shows how poverty can be eradicated very fast and very cheaply, he noted.
Nearly two decades later, dte visits Jhabua again. At the outset, our fear was that the district might have suffered the same fate as other model villages that fell from grace after the initial enthusiasm of people and bureaucracy died down (see ‘Sukhomajri falls apart’, dte, February 1629, 2017); watershed development structures that transformed the water-scarce region into a water-sufficient one might have silted up. Instead, what we see is a rare example of sustained bureaucratic will and continued participation of people.
The villages, scattered along the hill slopes and nestled in the valleys, resemble an oasis in the barren landscape of southwestern Madhya Pradesh. Contour trenches, up to 3-metre deep, crisscross the slope of almost every hill in sight, while check dams dot the streams and the Nugami, the only river flowing through the district. The once denuded hill tops and slopes remain covered by mixed-species plantations. All the 818 villages in the district have ponds and dugwells that yield water round the year. Government data shows that 2,400 water conservation and