More than a month ago, it was a pleasant surprise to receive a message on WhatsApp that I have been added to a group on WhatsApp named Jalyatra. The message that followed on the group was as follows:
“I have formed this group with the help of Dr Sachin Tendulkar of Dabhal, Nirankal, Goa. Basically, we are the people who have undergone training and have worked in watershed management in Goa. Looking at the water scarcity problem in Goa, we have decided to study the ancient water harvesting systems in Goa and see if any additions can be done.”
Soon a number of messages followed on the group in support of the initiative and within days the group sprang into action. This initiation was without any formal meetings, discussions or one to one interactions with any of the group members. It goes to show the power of social media, in the hands of common people. With the help of social media, a group was formed on WhatsApp first and later materialised on the ground. The intent and the topic of discussion & action was so endearing that apart from one or two members, hardly anyone dropped out.
This group is the brainchild of Dr Dattaram Desai, a doctor by profession who chose to serve in his small village Savoi-Verem, instead of a city and has been working tirelessly for social causes that he strongly believes in. His contribution to the society has been instrumental in creating a positive change. He has played a pivotal role in several initiatives like watershed management, successful agitation against the proposed Nylon 6,6 project on the Keri plateau etc. In the last Lok Sabha elections of 2014, he contested on the Aam Aadmi Party Ticket for the seat of MP from North Goa.
Since the first message from Dr Desai about the group – Jalyatra, over the next few weeks the group has been meeting regularly on Sunday mornings. So far, the group has surveyed several lakes and cleaned a few of them in the heart of Ponda taluka. The waterbodies include lakes such as the one near Vijaydurga Temple at Keri, Shitol & Bonye lakes in Savoi-Verem, Dhaigode lake on Magueshi-Keri road, Simepain lake Mangueshi and some lakes and ponds in an around Madkai, Ponda. Some of them are in use, but most have been abandoned or in very bad state due to excessive growth of water plants and weeds. The group has cleaned a few lakes employing shramadan, NSS volunteers and even paid labourers. Groups like Lokwan & Nirmal Vishwa have also extended support to this initiative.
Dr Desai has been a firm believer and practitioner of collective action by the common people through shramadan. The idea behind Jalyatra is precisely to do that and with the help of some government schemes and local industry, attempt to revive some of the abandoned water harvesting structures.
The Sunday morning meetings also serve as a healthy fitness regime for the group members as the visits to these waterbodies involve some amount of light trekking, walking and manual labour. The WhatsApp group serves as an interesting medium of valuable information about water resources, processes involved in water harvesting and also about our cities & villages.
‘Goa receives around 3500 mm rainfall; however 80% of this water flows down to the sea. The steep slope of the terrains devoid of any vegetation aids this process. The excessive use of concrete and asphalt aids it further. Conversion of nullahs into concrete lined, cutting of hillocks for laying roads etc. interfere with the natural process of recharge of ground water. If this continues unabated we will have no water after few years’, informs Dr Tendulkar on the WhatsApp group.
One of the active members Mrs. Gulab Borkar adds ‘my student team has already surveyed Ponda under the guidance of Mr K. D. Sadhale of Nirmal Vishwa and identified nine springs. The work for cleaning these has already started with a pilot project near Mamlatdar Office by involving all the stakeholders. The Member of Parliament of the area has also offered to finance this project’.
Although the group can initiate such collective action ideas and fora, it can become successful if local people of the place take keen interest in the initiatives and carry
forward the work that is started. Once the lakes are identified, cleaned of excess vegetation and weeds, some will need desilting. The next steps would be to introduce fish into the water so that the water remains clean and potable. The lakes will also need to be looked after post the initial cleaning.
Villages like Keri in Ponda suffer from acute water scarcity in summers and grass root initiatives like Jalyatra could be the answer to these problems. The ancestors of our Goan villages had worked on these water harvesting bodies and techniques to create a self-sustaining ecosystem. Over a period of time due to neglect, they have been abandoned. However, considering the acute problem of water in the most abundant of rainfall areas like Goa, it will be only prudent to revive these systems before it’s too late.