TEN years ago, Thanagazi tehsil in Rajasthan's Alwar district was destined to become a desert. With a measly 600 mm annual rainfall, almost nothing survived. Rivers and wells dried up, forcing many villagers to flock to the towns for survival. The government declared it a "dark" zone.
But inspired by a local NGO, Tarun Bharat Sangh, the villagers took the initiative and dug up 'johads' (large ponds) and dammed rivers to create perennial reservoirs. The results were dramatic. Food grain production quadrupled; milk yield doubled; forest cover increased from 5 per cent ten years ago to over 40 per cent. A family's average annual income is now about Rs 20,000. Says Rajinder Singh, director of the NGO: "The 'johads' acted as buffers in last year's floods."
And all this without a paisa from the government. The villagers contributed Rs 11 crore in cash and labour while the NGO donated Rs 4 crore. The government, in fact, did its best to subvert the villagers' independence by declaring the bunds illegal and issuing fishing licences without asking the villagers. But the villagers protested. And won.
Now, the government recognises the villagers' prerogative over these bunds. And taking a leaf out of this unique greening experiment, it is also trying it out in other areas of the state.