Constructing A Dream

To contrast with Goudpali, residents some villages in Muzaffarnagar and Meerut, in Uttar Pradesh, lying on the banks of river Ganga, have been lucky. The government may not have come forward to help them but neither has it intervened to undo the community work that they undertook. The villages have come together to build a bund on the banks of river Ganga, saving the area from floods that used to wreak havoc every year, destroying their crops.

Tired of waiting for the irrigation department to help, the villagers took the matter in their own hands. They built an 11.5 kilometre bund running through the villages of Ahmedwala, Sherpur, Shujapur, Ramawala, Jeevanpuri, Hassanpuri and Kheda, besides others.

The people sought help from Baba Kashmira Singh, a known philanthropist at Tapovan Gurudwara in Amritsar. "Three years back, we approached Baba Kashmira to help us in building the bund,' says Mandeep Singh of Ahmedwala. Baba Kashmira sent Baba Jagtar Singh to Ahmedwala, who motivated the villagers in the region to take on the task of building a bund by volunteering labour.

"Motivated by him, we started collecting funds and came forward for shraamdan (voluntary service),' says Khatun, a Kallandar Gujjar from Deobhal. Slowly, a systematic approach to collect funds was set up. All farmers whose land would be benefited from the bund were asked to contribute Rs 500 per year per acre of land and a bag of paddy for each acre affected. The farmers willingly contributed. "Even today, we give money to the common pool as our yield has increased ten folds', says Kripal Singh of Ahmedwala. Work began by hiring tractors, but now villagers have bought and donated five tractors for the purpose. Many sugar mills from Meerut to Muzzafarnagar, who buy the sugarcane produced in the region have also donated money.

Today the 3.048 metres high and 9.144 metres wide earthen wall of protection stands testimony to the villager's labour. And the villagers are not ready to stop at just this. Enthused by the idea of the community managing resources and the benefits that are to be gained from it, they are not ready to stop here. They plan to build the bund over the entire distance of 25 kilometres up to Hastinapur and also make it a permanent structure. The state government had projected that a project developed for the same work as the villagers had done would cost Rs 32 crore. The villagers did it for a mere Rs 42 lakh.

"At present, we are making thokkar (dykes) with boulders and wire mesh to strengthen the bund', says Gurjinder Singh, resident of . To make the thokkar , the villagers spent Rs 50,000 while the government made a similar structure on the Bijnor barrage spending Rs 13.5 lakh.

Pouring benefits
The annual dismaying ritual of loosing standing crop to floods has been put a stop to. Naturally, the harvest, today, is much higher. Farmers grow sugarcane, paddy, and fresh vegetables in the fertile plains. "River Ganga has blessed us again,' says Gurjinder Singh, resident of Ahmedwala. Farmers are earning about Rs 74,000 per ha of cultivated land. Earlier their produce was not even 20 per cent of this amount. The villagers are able to take two crops