Pure water is the world’s first and foremost medicine, goes an old proverb. And the ability to harvest it can indeed transform—and heal—lives and communities. With climate change having a considerable impact on rainfall intensity and spread, springs across the country are dying and drought-prone regions are feeling the pain.

One proven climate adaptation strategy is the springshed approach, which combines landscape, watershed and aquifer management. With this in mind, in April 2017 BRLF launched the Jharnadhara project with the MGNREGA cell of the West Bengal and PRASARI in collaboration with the Advanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM) to undertake springshed development pilots with the assistance of civil society organisations (CSOs). The project aims to develop 616 springsheds in four districts—Darjeeling, Alipurduar, Kalimpong and Jalpaiguri—to revive 457 natural springs. (The majority of the springs are in Darjeeling district.)

The project will include science-based aquifer mapping, field surveys and scientific analysis, construction of physical structures, and treatment of upper ridge. Our endeavour is to facilitate and build community decision-making processes for sustainable usage and utilisation of springs. Also, to widen and deepen practice on Spring shed management in identified four districts of West Bengal by PRASARI’s direct intervention under the MGNREGA program fund supports; to be used as a model for other springs.

The project seeks to be a knowledge builder and replicable model of springshed management for practitioners, policymakers and academia; develop monitoring software tools; facilitate linkages between the beneficiary communities, local institutions and the state; and promote advocacy by leveraging partner networks to influence public investments in springshed management in other states.

Progress has been rapid and sustained. In 2018-19, over 200 Dharasevaks were trained for field-level implementation and rejuvenation work was carried out on 184 springs. This has contributed to an additional spring discharge ranging from 40 per cent to 200 per cent, depending on the size of the spring. The project has been a resource mobiliser to the tune of Rs 4.31 crore from MGNREGA funds and a human capital maximiser, generating 159,324 man days and giving the people in these districts a real stake in their development.

Climate change is an inescapable reality and has to be tackled on a war-footing. We at BRLF believe the Jharnadhara project will be an exemplar for states to fight this battle, armed with the power of civil society and the strength of local communities.