MGNREGA-Dhara Vikas Programme in Sikkim Villages

New Delhi, December 5, 2013 (Washington Bangla Radio): Tangaymendang ward under Kewzing Bakhim gram panchayat in south district is like any other sleepy village in Sikkim, but thanks to the highly innovative Dhara Vikas programme launched under the banner of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), this village is now prospering and self-reliant.

Implemented in all 20 drought-prone GPs with a fresh approach since 2008, ‘MGNREGA-Dhara Vikas’ or ‘Spring-shed Development’ in Sikkim has clicked like nowhere else. As of now, 400 hectare land has been covered up under the spring shed development with a total investment of Rs. 250 lakh resulting in an annual ground water recharge of 900 million litres. This has led to a revival of 50 springs and four lakes in 20 drought-prone GPs.

Among these is the Chukudum spring, the only water source for Barfung Zarrong GP and Kewzing Bakhim GP. About 80 percent of the rural households of Sikkim are mainly dependent on springs for drinking water and irrigation needs throughout the year.

The revival of Chukudum spring meant enough water for 75 households of Tangaymendang ward – situated at around 6000-ft – which suffered acute water problem from many years. Even the people of New Sada ward under Barfung Zarrong GP have selected the same source for drinking water supply.

For restoration of Chukudum spring, people dug percolation pits of one feet diameter in large numbers. Percolation ponds of 6x3x2 feet were also dug, covering the forest land of five hectares, which resulted in an increase of the spring water discharge from 40 liters per minute to 60 liters per minute. As per official records, June 2010 recorded 60 liters in just one minute, successfully demonstrating spring shed development to revive springs using the concept of recharging ground water in mountain terrain.

With the revival of this spring, beneficiaries of both the wards have enough water not just for their basic needs, but have also seen better crop yield.

A local farmer when asked by a survey team about his opinion on the matter had narrated the success story of his village, the same of which was incorporated in a book published by the Sikkim Rural Management and Development department. He had said: “Chukudum had been providing water for us for as long as I can remember. But lately, the water discharge had become very less. We were worried it would dry up entirely. Fortunately, with MGNREGA intervention with Dhara Vikas Programme, our spring is definitely showing signs of rejuvenation. Now even in the lean seasons, we have enough water for us.”

Women taking the lead to dig staggered contour trenches in Sumbuk Block under the supervision of technical team of SIRD, Karfectar

Before artificial intervention was done, the discharge of Chukudum spring, although covered by dense vegetation was very low due to the area dominated by red soil. Such springs in Sikkim were drying and turning seasonal due to an increase in population, erratic rainfall and developmental activities.

The other success story is the rejuvenation of Deythang Lake under Barfung-Zarrong GP, west district. Carried out in convergence with Horticulture department, the people through NREGA constructed walls around the lake and planted herbal plants and rhododendrons. Today the lake with a capacity of 84,000 litres is sufficient to meet the requirements of 90 households to support floriculture, agriculture and horticulture activities, thus earning appreciation from national level monitors. Since it is located near the road, it has also served as a place of tourist interest and a picnic spot.

RMD special secretary Dr. Sandeep Tambe, the official credited with much of the success in Dhara Vikas describes the process in one of his presentations like this: “During the first year, local expertise and experience was developed to identify the recharge area of the springs based on the structure, weathering and fracture patterns of the rocks. To provide specialized training and skills to existing manpower in the field of rainwater harvesting, geohydrology, spring discharge measurement, use of GPS and laying of contour trenches, the whole of 2009 was utilized in organizing over 20 capacity building programmes jointly with SIRD in coordination with various NGOs like WWF-India, Peoples Science Institute – Dehradun, ACWADAM – Pune, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Mines and Geology, Government of Sikkim, Central Ground Water Board and the G. B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development.”

Percolation pond filled with rain water

According to an independent study by Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Science, the Dhara Vikas programme has led to 15 percent enhancement in the spring discharges in Sikkim.

How did Sikkim achieve this? Although the guidelines permit 50 per cent of MGNREGA implementation to be taken up by line departments, in Sikkim, the State government devolved 100 per cent implementation of the programme to gram panchayats. Hence the scheme grew on the foundation of strong social-cultural fabric at the village level, and took the form of a community-led social movement.

Secondly, as a strategy to facilitate demand, the programme shifted from planning just a few macro works per village to promoting several micro-works across the mountain terrain to encourage involvement, especially womenfolk. Thirdly, MGNREGA familiarity was done through regional expert trainings/workshops among district and block teams, and NGOs.

Sikkim’s Dhara Vikas programme has not only been successful in reviving the rain-fed springs (dhara) and streams (kholsa, jhora), but also earned awards and accolades and attracted teams from WWF Nepal, Bhutan Government, Arunachal Pradesh Government and others to learn more about the spring revival initiative and implement similar programmes in their respective places.

MGNREGA programme in Sikkim was introduced in north district in Phase I, since its enforcement on February 2, 2006, and in east and south districts in Phase II during 2007-2008, and in west district from 2008 in Phase III.