Water is the driving force of nature, they say—only when the well is empty do we really understand its worth. Indeed, with water security being the need of the hour, harnessing this vital force is an imperative for India.

Inspired by the success of BRLF’s Ushar Mukti, a mega watershed programme implemented across six districts in West Bengal. the Chhattisgarh government approached us to replicate it. The result was the Chhattisgarh High Impact Mega Watershed Project, launched in October 2018 by BRLF in partnership with the state and Axis Bank Foundation to effectively deploy the investments made under MGNREGA for water and soil conservation.

As part of this Rs 1,190.58 crore project, a consortium of 13 civil society organisations (CSOs) is facilitating land and water treatment measures covering 694,500 hectare of catchments across 12 districts in 26 blocks: 10 in the northern hills, four in the central plain and 12 in the south zone (the Bastar plateau region).

The project aspires to enhance the income of 100,000 small and marginal farmers on a sustainable basis. Of these, about 59 per cent belong to the SC and ST communities, with 48 per cent of these classified as ‘deprived’ according to the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC). A total of 1,388 micro-watersheds are expected to be treated and cropping intensity improved by 150-200 per cent in about 350,000 hectare of land.

Overall, the interventions will have a positive impact on about 500,000 households, with water availability increasing by 60 per cent in project locations. In the process, we hope to achieve a significant reduction in the impact of climate change, generate employment opportunities, create community collectives, promote progressive farming and agri-entrepreneurs, and develop strong bonds between the people, local institutions and government.

In a short time since inception, the project has already proven itself to be a capacity builder and social mobiliser with training on watershed principles, the Integrated Natural Resource Management (INRM) approach, mapping, Geographical Information System (GIS), Management Information System (MIS), and other technical principles having been conducted at the state, regional and Panchayat levels. A State Project Management Unit (SPMU) headed by lead CSO Pradan is in place.

During October 2018 to September 2019, 234 DPRs comprising 26000 approx plans/NRM structures at an estimated cost of Rs. 450 Crore have been prepared in 13 intensive blocks of 12 districts of Chhattisgarh. This plan is prepared with intensive engagement of community members, women collectives, PRIs, GRS, which will impact livelihoods of 51720 Tribal HHs. Till date 1948 plans have been approved and 504 schemes are completed in the rest 1444 schemes work is under progress. Apart from DPR, the project has covered 21328 households through improved agriculture and PoPs in kharif season 2019….. to maximise on-ground implementation. What’s more, the project has successfully mobilised Rs 47.45 Crore (as of September 2019) to achieve its ends.

Like all BRLF initiatives, the Chhattisgarh High Impact Mega Watershed Project seeks to induce economic vibrancy and maximise human capital in an open, transparent environment that brings the community and civil society together with government in common cause. It also underlines the fact that the most powerful ideas are those that are both sustainable and replicable.