Conceptualised by the Paani Foundation, the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup has taken on the ambitious task of solving the water crisis in Maharashtra, while also infusing in its villagers a sense of pride and confidence.
In the summer that went by, the core team of the Satyamev Jayate TV show, which has been working on the issue of water scarcity in Maharashtra through Paani Foundation, a not-for-profit company co-founded by film personalities, Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao, undertook its most ambitious project yet – to make Maharashtra drought-free.
The idea was that Paani Foundation would train several hundred villagers from three talukas on watershed development. These villagers would then participate in the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup in April. The 45-day long competition would involve ‘shramdan,’ or ‘voluntary labour,’ in building important structures and thus, water storage capacities. Cash prizes were also announced for the winners.
The idea was pathbreaking; the heroes were common villagers and the ‘villain’ was a dark, powerful one that had claimed hundreds of lives and ruined livelihoods in the past decade: drought.
Initially, the villagers were not aware about the concept of Shramdan: ‘We have nothing of that sort happening here,’ they would say. The same people eventually came together, armed with shovels and pickaxes, to participate in the movement; and a revolutionary model of development was born.
The competition has brought about a sea change in the lives of countless individuals.
Take, for instance, the Ambajogai Taluka of Beed District. In the 45 days marked for the competition, 4,203 villagers from 34 villages completed watershed work worth more than Rs. 1 crore, by working for two hours on average.
With the per day rate for physical labour being Rs. 191, this total amount comes close to more than Rs. 91 lakhs, even if we take into consideration 1/4th of the work day. This was simply unparalleled.
The people’s movement got tremendous support from government and non-government bodies alike, such as the Samast Mahajan Group, Jnana Prabodhini and the Jalayukt Shivar Abhiyan. Helping hands found their way to the villages from various directions.
During the course of the competition, physical structures worth Rs. 13 crore were constructed through donations in just Ambajogai taluka; these have helped in creating a water storage capacity of crores of litres.
With structures for water conservation being built from scratch and a rising awareness about watershed development, the villages of Radi Tanda, Khapartone, Patoda, Kumbephal, Kolkanadi and Shepwadi have seen a metamorphosis that will now last for decades. More important, however, is the fact that the movement has drawn people from across the board, of different ages and social standing, and has now empowered them to believe in themselves and in their power to solve their own problems.
During the Water Cup, no incidents of farmer suicide were reported in the district of Beed. Many villagers also had top government officials come to their villages and participate in manual labour, a practically unheard of scenario before.
Women who had once united against alcoholism, came back together for the cause of water conservation, while the men put aside their quarrels and differences. The local police even noted a reduction in crime rate during the days of the competition.
The result? The participating talukas got their reward in front of their eyes even before the competition named a winner on the 15th August at a grand awards ceremony.
Thousands of watershed structures blossomed across the village landscape, creating an annual water storage capacity of 1,368 crore litres, an equivalent of 13,68,000 tankers of water, with a market value of Rs. 272 crores.
Furthermore, the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup put the spotlight on the locals, as the media arrived to discover their stories, stories of some incredible Water Heroes. What started as a competition turned into an ongoing celebration for a better future. The long-term rewards weren’t just ample water storage, but the new sense of pride and confidence among villagers.
In the monsoon that followed, the rivers and streams filled up to the brim and, for the first time in years, the water stayed in them. Entire villages and talukas now have sufficient water and sights of villagers walking for miles, carrying vessels and waiting for tankers, have hopefully vanished for good.
The summer and monsoon of 2016 will be remembered for a long time by the several thousands of villagers in Maharashtra, but it will also mark a new beginning for the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup competition, which will be held again early next year, and this time, in 30 talukas!
Paani Foundation’s work so far is only a testament to the fact that just one simple, powerful idea, if backed by dedication and teamwork, can blossom into a revolution and change lives forever.
The writer, Irfan Shaikh, was Paani Foundation’s taluka co-ordinator from Beed district in Maharashtra. To watch ‘The Battle Against Drought,’ a documentary about the journey, visit www.paanifoundation.in