In 2005 the Cabinet cleared a Rs. 3 billion national project for the repair, renovation and restoration of water bodies such as tanks and wells. The Centre will contribute 75 percent of the funds, while various state governments will provide the remaining 25 per cent. The project hopes to recover the lost irrigation potential of these sources within a period of seven to ten years.

In some places people have already been making an effort to take good care of traditional water sources, some of which were created several hundred years ago. For example the tank and open wells near Ganesh Bawli near the famous pligrimage centre of Chitrakut are still being used by farmers of a nearby village.

However some of the damage is not easy for villagers to take up on their own, and this is where the assistance to be provided under the newly approved project may make an important contribution in giving a new lease of life to several endangered water bodies.

Some water bodies have deteriorated to such an extent that now there is hardly hope of saving or retrieving them.

In a hotel in Banda town (Uttar Pradesh), I was interviewing a local social activist Avadhesh Gautam about the traditional water resources of this region when he surprised me by saying – “Just now you are drinking a cup of tea sitting in a water tank.”

He meant a former water tank of course and he was right. As he explained, Diggi water tank which existed here had been filled up for building a hotel and other buildings on this land.

In such cases it would be foolish to try to retrieve the lost water body, but there are many other examples where relatively low budgets can help to save threatened water bodies.

A voluntary organisation A.B.S.S. Sansthan recently implemented a watershed project in Tikariya panchayat of Chitrakut (U.P.) district. As a part of this project, they renovated two water tanks which badly needed cleaning and repairs. As a result, newly irrigated fields near these tanks have experienced a sharp rise in yield.

Maya, a social activist for several years with this organisation, says, “When serious water shortages develop in this drought prone area, it is a traditional water source called Raja Ka Talab which comes to the help of thirsty people. People in a radius of 5 to 6 kms. continue to use the water of this tank for various purposes, and often they use bullock carts to fetch water from here. The nearly hundred years old tank is still very useful. However if the government takes up cleaning and repair work its utility can increase further.”

In Banda I met Dr. L.P. Chaurasia, a senior geologist and an expert on the water problems of this area. He told me, “Wherever I’ve seen bawlis I’ve noticed that these may be badly damaged but water is still available in them. So these are very useful for water scarce villages. Similarly tanks are extremely useful, both for collecting water and for recharge.”

Keeping in view the immense potential of these traditional water sources, it is really tragic to see to what extent some once glorious water bodies have been allowed to deteriorate. For instance in Kandhar tank of Banda it is still possible to see old structures which indicate that once it must have been a very good tank. But now there was no water in the tank. On one side some children were playing cricket. On another side a drain was emptying sewage.

Clearly, therefore, the recently announced national scheme for the renovation of water bodies was badly needed, particularly for areas like Chitrakut – Banda where traditional water sources like tanks still have the potential to be a very important source of water. Infact there are so many of these water bodies requiring repair and cleaning that a second and third stage of this scheme may be eventually needed.

While renovating those water bodies where such work is still possible, it is also important to prevent other water bodies from encroachments, particularly commercial interests. Already several water bodies have been lost beyond the stage of reclamation because of large scale encroachment. Unless strict guidelines to prevent future encroachments are issued and followed, much of the gains of the new scheme may be lost.