The dry belt of Naxal-hit Katoria and Chandan in Bihar’s Banka district has mostly been a one-crop zone — paddy or sugarcane. Agriculture was entirely dependent on rainfall with the state government only recently starting work on reviving old sources of water such as rivulets, embankments and ponds.
But over the last decade, at least 10 panchayats in the region have brought about a green revolution of sorts on their own — they are no longer dependent on rains alone.
Today, because of the efforts of a 70-year-old farmer, Anirudh Prasad Singh, Katoria and Chandan blocks are home to about 150 ponds, check dams and lift irrigation.
Local officials and residents say Singh’s initiative has directly benefited about 1,000 farmers from 30 villages, while at least 10,000 farmers from 200-odd villages have followed his model to harvest water on their land. And since their success, these farmers have been growing two crops, paddy and wheat.
The experiment has now expanded to “mobile lift irrigation” — taking water up to 1,000 feet away from the origin by linking foldable pipes. The main beneficiaries are farmers from the panchayats of Kathaun, Katoria, Harhad, Bhikhuvasar, Bhairoganj, Lalpur and Varney, all semi-hilly and sandy areas with a mixed population of OBCs, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, mainly daily wagers, sharecroppers and marginal farmers.
At Panjarpatta village, farmers Malik Singh, Rajinder Yadav, Naresh Singh, Dwarika Yadav and Dukhan Yadav help Anirudh Prasad Singh, whose legs are partially paralysed, move around their green paddy fields.
Five years ago, Singh suffered serious injuries on his legs in a road accident and is now been helped by his son Chiranjiv Singh. “But that has not deterred him. What he has done is visible. When the state government declared drought in several districts including some blocks of Banka, Katoria was not on the list… it had completed about 70 per cent paddy cultivation,” says Malik Singh, a farmer of Panjarpatta.
“A lot has to be done. More government and individual efforts are needed. I am happy about the impact of my work… Our land is very conducive for potato but we are not yet able to get the water required. We have been working with farmers on how to do it,” says Anirudh Prasad Singh.
Malik Singh, who has five bighas of cultivable land, says: “For us, Anirudh babu has been the ‘green man’. I have been growing two crops a year for the last six-seven years. Growing wheat was unheard of in this belt earlier.”
For instance, around a 500×60 ft pond in Dumarsolva, constructed in 2008-09 by Singh’s Mukti Niketan Bhagalpur with funds from NABARD, paddy is now being grown on about 50 bighas of land.
“Before the pond came up, this area was largely arid and dependent on rains alone. The paddy crop yield was about 500 kg per 20 cottah, it’s now about 1,000-1200 kg. Fields on the edge of the pond hardly need to be irrigated with the presence of constant moisture. The pond had made our dream of two crops a year a reality,” says Bhuneshwar Tanti, a farmer. (One cottah is approximately 720 sqft)
Anirudh Prasad Singh, a resident of Domsarani village of Katoria, says he is a Physics graduate, who had participated in the JP movement. “I returned to my village in 1976 and tried to spread the movement but was unsuccessful. Then, I bought five acres of land in 1983 and set up the Mukti Niketan two years later. I travelled across 18 states working as a volunteer to spread awareness on water conservation,” he said.
“I also raised the issue of water scarcity in Katoria and then Bhagalpur district but no one gave a solution. In 1991, Banka became a district and the then district magistrate gave me three lift irrigation projects to complete and promised to give 100 more if I succeeded. But before the completion of my project, he was transferred and the promise remained unfulfilled. Since then, I have not approached the district administration.”
He says he got his first major boost in 2008 from the Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology (CAPART), a nodal agency that acts as an intermediary between voluntary groups and the government for sustainable development in rural areas. He went on take the lead in desilting 30 old water bodies, constructing 20 wells and 35 lift irrigation machines, and installing 40 hand pumps. It was followed by the construction of 30 ponds, 25 checkdams and 10 lifts. That was the beginning, he says.
According to him, the government’s policy of selling sand has severely hurt the cause of water conservation. “Sand is home to water. On one hand, the government is talking about greenery, and on the other, they are selling sand from small rivers and eroding the very source of water,” he says.
Five years ago, Anirudh Prasad suffered serious injuries on his legs in a road accident, and is now being helped by his son Chiranjiv Singh.
District Agricultural Officer, Sudama Mahato, told The Indian Express: “From the government end, water conservation measures such as the revival of old water bodies are done under the MNREGS and by the minor irrigation department. We are aware of the good work done by Anirudh Prasad Singh and how farmers have benefited.”