For our fourth episode, we interact with Daram Singh Meena who revived 66 Himalayan springs in Tehri Garhwal to provide a sustainable water supply that now helps 1 lakh people in 23 villages.
Q1. What is the Heval Rejuvenation Project and why did you choose this river?
Okay. First of all, I would like to congratulate Shaasan for having started a great initiative. A platform where we could really bring our initiatives which we are taking in the field and get people aware. So, with reference to the Heval project. I would like to tell you about the project. There are two types of river systems there in the entire world. One, the rivers which originate from the glaciers. And the other one which originates from the forest areas. Rivers which originate from the Forest areas where the rain is the major source of water. So, this Heval is the river, which originated from the forest and in himalayas the small rivers are a main source of water for the people living around this river system. And According to Nitiayog’s report it says like around 60, 70 percent of the population directly depend upon these river systems for the drinking water, for the cattle and for irrigation purposes. So these small river systems are extremely important for the hilly regions. So, around one lakh population Directly depend upon this heval river and this originated from the Surkanda Temple. A place called Kaddu khal in Tehri district of Uttarakhand. And after originating from the kaddukhal area, it flows down to the Sitapuri where it meets with the river ganga. Ma Gange. It covers around 50 kilometers of stretch and more than 40 Villages, are there in the vicinity of this River. And there are few towns like Chamba Narayan nagar, Agrakhal and Fakot, which get water from this River. I joined this area in 2018. I came across, like, so many andolans and agitations that were going on to save this River. Because of overpopulation and unplanned cutting of the Roads, River system had been disturbed and a lot of Springs were drying up at that time. So we took it as its Challenge.
Q.2 Who all helped you with this initiative?
We involved people from the beginning itself and had discussions with local NGOs, local villagers in the scientific Community around and we came to know that we need to have a scientific approach to revive this River because the system was really disturbed and it was very difficult to revive. So we involved IT Roorkee experts and National Institute of hydrology Roorkee Experts. We had so many discussions and deliberations. After a year, we decided or we formulated a methodology by which we just started our work. So the methodology involves like first, we had Geo hydrological steady because the system, the hydrological system is like that. Like there’s so many Springs there and those are the real source of water. The water comes from the aquifers. We need the soil and all through these Spring Water reaches to streams. And we call them Gadheras in the local language. Through these streams, water reaches to the river bed, the people,then to the small rivers, to big rivers like Ganga and through big rivers the water reaches the sea. So once the water reaches big rivers, like Ganga, it is very difficult to use by local villagers. They cannot use that water because it flows down, and only the plains, like Haridwar and lower areas of Uttar Pradesh and later on, those villages can only use but not the hills. So we need to tap water from spring and streams which are really important.
Q.3 What technology did you use for this project? And what was the first phase of this project?
So we took this pain management technology. What is this? I would like to state that water in the Himalayas flows down the subsurface and it, you know, oozes out wherever the opening is there. So if we disturb this channel, then the water flow would be disturbed. And that aquifer from the water that is coming would later on get dried up and it’s very difficult to tap the water. So we had a geo-hydrological mapping of the entire landscape and after that we had stream-side management technology in which watershed management technology is already there. We have been already working on those. So in this technology we had a lot of mapping of micro watersheds. So in the beginning, in the first phase there were nine micro sheds available in the area. Around 34 springs, 16 streams and around 10 recharge zones were there. So the first phase area was around 16,050 Hector and it’s a huge area. So it took around one year to map the entire area and later on we had vegetation mapping, drainage mapping also. Based on those studies and surveys we decided to go treat the springs first. And for that we had used spring shed sanctuary technique in which the entire spring is covered by the engineering measures and mostly involved earthen measures. We had not used cement in the spring area and followed the vegetative measures like planting of herbs, shrubs and local vegetation. Trees were taken up and later on down the spring in the streams we had a lot of check dams, local material check dams. Like Pirul check dams. Pirul is the needle of cheer pine tree, which is a source of fire in the summer season. So we utilise that thing. So we had a plan that the cost cutting could be taken care of and the problem can be converted into an opportunity because Pirul is a problem for us. So we had a lot of check dams and these grass put check dams, pirul check dams, wooden check dams are really great. Resulted very well. The main purpose for the stream management was that it was in control and adding water to the ground water so that the groundwater can be in the downward stream and can be increased. We also took a riverbed. Most of the cases people just work in one area and leave the other area. So we had a comprehensive plan. We shall include everything like spring stream, riverbed, and the, in and around land use systems. They are agriculture land use, Horticulture, forestry, and Barren lands and habitations. So we have included everything.
Q.4 What is the overall theme of your project? What other areas have been covered?
So our project’s overall theme, if you ask, is the landscape approach for the river revival. So in the river bed, what we did, After storing an increase in the water you shall utilise the water. This was our Motto. So a lot of Tulu pumps and solar pumps were installed and through this water was lifted up to the villagers and to the agricultural fields. So unirrigated area was covered into irrigated area and in many places waterfalls were created. Picnics like scenic beauty or places with viewpoints were created, so that we can involve local youth. Mostly these people have no employment opportunity in the villages. So we had a plan to involve or educate these people and provide training to these people so that nature-based employment can be provided to these people. At present around hundred such youth we have trained and those are working in the field. They are getting employment through nature-based activities only. And at Sitapuri where the river meets with the Ganga, there we have developed a riverfront development. So local rare, endangered and threatened species Park is developed and local nurseries and many eco-tourism activities have been developed so that the tourism activities can also increase in the area. By which we can again involve the local people. At Agrakhal we have installed a dairy through a JICA funded project. We have a lot of convergence activities also. We have developed a dairy involving around 450 women households. So there was a problem in the area like except for vegetables no other farming system was there. So after research, we have developed Dairy and this is successfully running at present. Around 1.5 crores turnover has been taken up in a span of two years and around 450 women have directly benefited through this. We have also developed spice based small clusters in Uttrakhand. We have a lot of one panchayats. So in this area around 34 one panchayats are available. By involving all these 34 one panchayats we have developed two spice based clusters because this area is on Gangotri national highway. There is a Char dham highway where we get a lot of tourists every year. So on the road itself, we have installed so many spice outlets so that alternate employment can be provided to the people.
Q.5 What new systems have you developed and what problems do you face?
So these were the initiatives and at present we have revived around 66 Springs and water has increased in many places. We have developed so many new systems like a place called Jardhar village where we have installed all weather stations and we have been getting so much data through which this agricultural unirrigated area was converted into irrigated area. Irrigated channels were installed or say created long back by the irrigation department, but due to the depletion of water the water table has gone down. So this irrigated channel was left abandoned. So what we did while conserving the spring water at the irrigated channel itself, we have constructed an irrigated tank, litigated Channel tank. By which the water comes from Spring to the tank and after filling up overflow of water goes to the Irrigated channel. So by farming or say the agricultural land, which was abandoned, at present, they are getting good vegetables. So this area is a vegetable area and there are so many other problems in the area like monkeys. Then wild boar is a problem. So at present we are working on these issues also. We have involved local people in the eradication of Lantana. This weed creates a lot of problems in the area and is not good for agriculture too. And leopard problem is another reason for the this Lantana. And now we are installing monkey deewars and wild boar proof fences with the help of people and we have brought up CM Krishi Suraksha Yojana. The entire area is now flourishing up. People are getting water, drinking water, water for irrigation. There is a town called Naren nagar, half of the town is getting water from our initiatives. So many initiatives, we have taken in the area and people are transmitting the technology to the Villages. So we have trained, local people. Now around, 32 Heval dhara sanrakshan samitis are developed and now those samitis are taking up all the initiatives. Our motive was that we should have a sustainable model so that it can be replicated at many places. Now this system is being replicated throughout Uttarakhand and the Uttarakhand government has developed a spring shed consortium involving so many NGOs and will depart from other line departments like irrigation Department, Rural Development Department, Forest Department, Fisheries Department, agriculture, Horticulture departments. And lot of work is being done through MGNREGA also.
Q.6 How do you feel being referred to as Bhagirathi Ji by the locals?
17:40 – It’s a great word rather and, you know, our initiatives were little or very small I would say, but resulted in read directions and have given, you know, have benefited local people. So, the people are now very happy and many pradhans or the sarpanch here in Uttrakhand are called Pradhan. So they came to us and they asked us to please implement this technology and project in our area also. So we have also, you know, started our work in Song river also, a nearby River originating from the same place, but in the other direction towards Dehradun. So we have just started that initiative in the song river also. One fine morning I was visiting the area and one Pradhan came and he was asking sir, there was no water in our area. We were roaming here and there and we had no tourism activities in our area. But after your initiatives, we are getting regular water, 24 hours, and tourists have started coming back again, so they said you have become Bhaagirathi to us. So, that was the thing. And I really felt very good and that motivated our team. And we are working in many other places right now. Have taken so many other initiatives. Like, you know that there is a problem of human-wildlife conflict in the area in the Himalayas. You must have heard. A lot of people die every year. So we have started a project in the Kirti nagar area, involving local people. Making them aware about the social changes we can bring in the area and also monitoring the wild animals through radio collaring. And research activities going on based on which we would propose a policy paper for the government. Like these are the initiatives you should take. And these are the things we should not do and these are the things we should do so that we can avoid the conflict. And similarly, we have started some initiatives for the survival of the plantations in the Himalayan regions. So this is good that we have worked in the right direction.
Q.7 How did all of this help people by providing them with employment opportunities?
20:27- Employment is a big problem in Himalayan areas, in the Hills, because agriculture is the only source of employment and that too we need to diversify. So we had initiated so many things in the area and one such as I shared like Dairy and another one is local nature-based implements like tourist guides, bird-watching guides and picnic spots have been created at two, three places. One good such place is Neer fall, which is really very famous. Around 50 lakhs revenue is being generated every year and this all revenue is going to the villagers. The local samiti we have developed and these samitis are managing the area. Similar activities have taken place in the Sitapuri area where we are, developing Riverfront development and I think around 2,000 people would directly benefit from the area. In the vicinity so many other induced employment opportunities are being brought up, like a lot of sparse punch Karma centres, meditation centres are coming up in Sitapuri area. And these places have a lot of recreational and aesthetic values. And so the river rafting, also, we have developed in the area and maybe in the coming summer season, we would inaugurate river rafting and small ponds, you know. bird watching trails and at Khuret we have – Khuret is near to the Surkunda where the river originates. There we have developed an eco-tourism circuit involving. If you have heard about Dhanaulti, Kanatal and Khuret. So there were earlier, there was nothing there. Presently, we have developed, you know, a resting place, provided accommodation and developed these nature trails, cycling trails, bird watching trails. And all this is being managed by the local one panchayats. So, you know, so many activities are coming up. And as I said in the beginning, like our initiatives, or our everything- developmental activities, our plans should be, you know, for the conservation of water. Water conservation should be the central theme of all the activities. If we keep water as the center theme then only we can really manage the entire landscape in the right direction.