Water of life

IN INDIA, of an annual precipitation of 4,000 billion cubic metres (bcm), 1,000 bcm flows into the sea, taking along with it 12,000 million tonnes of soil. This causes siltation, floods and soil infertility, consequently resulting in economic loss due to low crop yield. Watershed management has been recognised as one of the means to retain this wasted flow of water and soil.

Guidelines for Watershed Development (1994), a report by the ministry of rural development, is a follow- up action on the technical committee report (1994) headed by C H Hanumanth Rao, former member, Planning Commission, on the Drought Prone Area Programme and Desert Development Programme adopted by the Government of India.

The Union ministry of rural development has decided to fund voluntary agencies for implementing watershed management programmes through the Council for Advancement of People's Action & Rural Technology (CAPART). CAPART recently organised a national workshop on integrated watershed management where voluntary agencies and government officials assembled to discuss the proposed Guidelines and to outline action points for CAPART.

In his keynote address, B N Yugandhar, secretary, ministry of rural development, said, "The basic aim of the workshop is forming a set of guide-lines for directing CAPART in working and funding voluntary agencies involved in watershed development." projects. Problems related to poor participa- tion in the watershed management pro- gramme were attributed to the lack of technical training, unequal distribution of resources and prevailing political climate.

Recommendations were made to constitute Panchayati Raj institutions like the 'Gram Sabha' from within the village and the voluntary agencies to discuss fund allocation and utilisation, and generate mass awareness.

Major problems in capacity building for voluntary agencies and watershed groups were identified: inadequate commitment, lack of orientation, biased selection of government agencies and resource crunch. Suhashini Muley of CAPART said, "For successful implementation, mid-course correction and drawing conclusions about the project, a continuous documentation and reporting is necessary."

The recommendations made for adopting a financing scheme for water- shed development projects were pre-funding appraisal, sanctioning and release of funds in instalments, forming Joint accounts to be operated by the voluntary agencies and beneficiaries.

Optimism was high among CAPART officials about the workshop outcomes. "A committee will study all the recommendations and within a month new guidelines will be formed," informed S K Sinha, Deputy Director General, CAPART.