Mission control

When he was the irrigation minister in Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh realised that big dams would only bring him unwanted unpopularity and fail to solve the problems of the largely tribal people of his state.

"I realised that big dams were not going to help achieve sustainable growth," he said while speaking to Down To Earth.

"Experience shows us that such projects hamper the lives of people. Also, given the problems of unemployment and ecological degradation, a way had to be evolved which would cater to both these problems. In that sense, watershed management seemed a perfect way."

"I felt that we should go to the people directly and make them responsible for their future. Initially we did face some problems as the mission was totally apolitical in structure. There could have been problems with the Forest Conservation Act. But the forest secretary, who is part of the mission, decided that watershed management is non-forest activity, thus taking care of the Forest Conservation Act."

The cost of the mission, as low as Rs 3,000 for treating one hectare, gave the impression that the government hid the actual cost. But this was largely due to people's participation and use of indigenous technology.

The sustainability of the mission has often been questioned. The mission, however, has an in-built mechanism to sustain it, with special emphasis on post-mission problems.

"The people are involved in each and every aspect, which itself will make it sustainable. Take it from me, it is difficult for them to abandon it. We are planning to evolve separately a supervising mechanism for the projects after the mission."