Editor’s note: A recent NITI Aayog report on India’s water resources presented an alarming state of affairs.
The country, according to the think tank, is in the grip of the worst water crisis in its history, with 600 million Indians faced with “high to extreme water stress”, resulting in 2 lakh deaths a year. Firstpost will run a series of ground reports from across the country to determine the extent to which depleted reserves have affected daily life.
Read the entire series here.
Keonjhar, Odisha: Talabaitarni, a small village of some 50 houses in Odisha’s Keonjhar district, witnessed spells of severe water crisis during summers, until Dhaitari Nayak, a 70-year-old farmer, decided to take it upon himself to draw a canal to the village. In an effort that earned him the moniker of the “Dashrath Manjhi” of his district, Nayak not only resolved the problem of water scarcity in his village, but also provided his people with cleaner water than what was available to them earlier.
Nayak’s tiny hutment that houses 13 family members was one among the many households in Talabaitarni that were struggling with the basic requirement of clean water.
The village, along with a cluster of adjoining ones, is situated in the remote mountainous and forested regions of the Banspal Block, around 35 kilomtres from the Keonjhar district headquarters. Talabaitarni lacks proper public transport connectivity and has experienced drought-like situations in the recent past.
Four years ago, Nayak decided to stop suffering in silence and embarked on a painstaking journey. He made a vow to himself that he would bring water to his village and get rid of Talabaitarni’s dependency on the monsoon to dispel their water worries.
Luckily, the Gonasika mountains are close to his village. Near the mountains are some streams that could be used to irrigate around 100 acres of cultivated land in Talabaitarni but were lying unutilised as there was no channel to drain the water in the direction of the village.
Nayak knew that modifying the terrain of the mountains to redirect the part of its water discharge would be a Herculean task, but he took it upon himself to accomplish the dream, only to be later known as the “Dashrath Manjhi” of his district.
An engineer without formal education
The septuagenarian, often seen in the village with his grey hair well-combed, sporting a beard and dressed in a vest and dhoti with a cotton towel around his shoulders, is now the most revered person in Talabaitarni. The villagers who once mocked him are now his followers and leave no opportunity to thank him for transforming their home. Although Nayak has no formal education, his contributions have made him a star. Many now love to call him the “Waterman of Odisha”.
Nayak, however, claims that the idea to dig the canal was not spontaneous. It was undertaken only after it became evident that the government was not going to help his village. “Once an engineer visited our village and analysed the issue of bringing water from the mountains,” he said. “He told us that to improve the water situation, a major project was needed and went back. I understood then that there was no option left but to chip in to get the work done our own way.”
It was in 2014 that Nayak struck the hard surface of the Gonasika mountains for the very first time to carve a path through the terrain, which could bring water from the streams towards his village.
“Earlier, the water used to go unused. We worked on breaking the mountain rocks first and worked on the hard soil beneath the mountains later to ensure that a path is carved and stretched till our village,” said Dhaitari Nayak’s brother Gopal Nayak.
To make the dream a reality, the “Waterman’s” younger brothers joined him in the task. Besides the rocks and soils, the Nayak family also cleared the bushes that were in the path of their canal.
News credit : Firstpost