Inspired by his own success, an Ayurvedic doctor hasturned full time water conservationist.By Kavita Kanan ChandraMumbaiLittle drops of water make a mighty ocean. That adage was proved right by Anil Joshi, anAyurveda doctor in Fatehgarh village in Madhya Pradesh, who collected one rupee each fromone lakh people and constructed a check dam across a local seasonal river called Somli andchanged the life of the farmers.The doctor, who repeated the success storyof Fatehgarh by building 11 such damsacross rivers and nullahs around the areas,has now turned a full-time waterconservationist and is all out to build 100more such check dams in other villageshaving water shortage.In Fatehgarh, the dam, constructed in 2010,permanently altered the face of the village –from a drought stricken one into a well-irrigated one.Joshi, who had a clinic in the village since1994, had developed familial ties with thelocal people and was concerned about themwhen successive droughts led to abjectpoverty in the village.“Some of my patients were farmers whoobtained 100-200 quintals of food grainduring harvesting season but after eightyears of meager rains, they were in a verybad situation and had to buy food grain tofeed their family,” said 39-year-old Joshi.The situation was so bad that his patients didnot even have money to pay his fees.As a resident of Mandsaur, the district headquarters, Joshi has seen the good old days whenrains were sufficient and farmers harvested enough to sustain themselves. Things began tochange after 1999 as rainfall began to decrease.Anil Joshi’s wife and children give their total support to hiswork
In 2008, the village faced the worst drought and water scarcity made life difficult for farmers.Joshi felt building a check dam across the river Somli would help the villagers, as it wouldraise the ground water table in the area.However, when he shared the idea with his farmer friends they treated it as a joke and manyjust laughed it off. But Joshi was undeterred and went ahead with his plan.He borrowed about a thousand empty cement sacks from a friend and filled them with sand.He himself stood in the middle of the Somli river with a rope tied around his waist and hisfriends held the rope on either ends.“Though the river was dry, there was always a stretch where water flowed with strongcurrent. As I stood amidst the running water, I could gauge its force and realized what achallenging task I had in my hand. The barrier that we planned to put up across the river hadto withstand the force of the water,” he recalls.With the help of few friends, Joshi put all the sand filled sacks across the river in a row.Within fifteen days, it rained and there was water in the check dam, which in turn rechargedthe ground water in surrounding areas.The hand pumps that had run drybegan to yield water again. “Thefarmers were so happy. As farms gotirrigated there was a good crop thatyear after years of drought,” saysJoshi.Elated by this success, Joshi sold hiswife’s jewels the next year andborrowed some money to constructanother check dam on the SomIiriver. His wife was fully supportiveof his work.“Even today when I get involved in the house we are constructing, she motivates me to goand build check dams instead and not worry about our house,” says Joshi. Even his two littledaughters – one studying in nursery and the other in class seven – are proud of their father’sservice.It was in 2010 that Joshi hit upon the idea of taking one rupee from each villager forconstructing a permanent check dam across the Somli river. He felt such a dam wouldpermanently end the drought situation of the village.Joshi was able to collect Rs 36 in just three hours on the first day, as he went from door-to-door seeking support. The next day’s collection was Rs 120. However, some people began toquestion him on his motive for collecting money from the people.Joshis check dams have raised the ground water table in the area
But thanks to a reporter of a leading Hindi daily, who wrote about his work, the tide turned inhis favour. “After the media wrote about the check dams I had built, more people started tosupport me,” says Joshi. Two teachers, Sundarlal Prajapat and Omprakash Mehta, extendedtheir support in a big way.Joshi and his dedicated team collected Rs one lakh in three months and a permanent checkdam was built at a cost of Rs 92000. The villagers voluntarily provided their labour.Following the success at Fatehgarh, Joshi has helped to build eleven more check dams onrivers and ‘nullahs’ (smaller channels of water) in eleven villages within a 10 km radius ofFatehgarh.He now aims to plant trees along the 120 km road to Sawaliya Dham to provide shade for thebarefoot pilgrims visiting the Krishna temple there and build 100 check dams within fewyears.“Constructing check dams by collecting one rupee from each person in a drought strickenvillage has now become my mission and I will make this effort a continuous process,” saysJoshi, who is now becoming known more as a water conservationist and less as a medicalpractitioner.