Im­mune to drought

Jhabua con­tin­ues to flour­ish and main­tain its sta­tus as a model district while many oth­ers fail |

Down to Earth - - WATER - RASHMI VERMA

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

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