Acute water crisis looms large over western Odisha
February 05, 2011 7:21:08 AM
Sudhir Mishra | Balangir
Besides being in a state of shock following the unseasonal rain-hit
massive crop loss recently and currently reeling under an intense cold
wave, another grim reality of acute water shortage and water insecurity
is looming large over the western Odisha rural populace and farmers,
thanks to the scanty and erratic monsoon and rapid decline in the
traditional water bodies and conservation mechanism.
This year, monsoon had reportedly been deficit in several parts of
western Odisha. Balangir district recorded only 69.28 mm rainfall
against the normal 202 mm in June, a 65 per cent deficit. However, it
received excess rainfall in July. Against the normal rainfall of 360.50
mm, it received 370.70.mm, an excess of 2.8 per cent.
Again in the crucial month of August, it received a deficient rainfall
of 252.7 mm against the normal 333.60 mm, a deficit of 24.3 per cent.
Similarly in September, it also received a little excess rainfall than
its normal average, said an agriculture official.
The monsoon arrived here late. Although widespread distribution of
rainfall was received till the first week of August, the subsequent
erratic and deficient rainfall affected the agricultural operation in
many parts of the district following which the crop production was
affected, stated the agriculture official.
Besides, the less quantity of rainfall is going to trigger acute water
crisis in the forthcoming summer as the traditional water conservation
mechanism of western Odisha, namely muda, kata, bandh, bandhali, sagar
and others, has declined rapidly over the years.
Earlier, the traditional water bodies used to conserve rainwater not
only to meet the water needs of the people, but also to recharge the
groundwater and provide the life-saving irrigation to the crop. In the
undivided Balangir and Kalahandi districts, there used to be large
number of traditional water harvesting structures (TWHS) like muda,
kata, bandh, bandhali, jor, naal chhuan, chhala and sagar.
Earlier, there were around 300 traditional TWHSs, while Patnagarh town
alone had 100 water bodies of its own. In the erstwhile princely State
of Patna, 1, 31,744 acres of land were irrigated by around 9,087 TWHS.
“In each village, there were around five water bodies irrigating 75
acres of the village land. However, 60 years thenceforth, the total
percentage of the land irrigated by the TWHS has declined from 33 per
cent to a mere 5 per cent,” pointed out Sanjay Mishra.
The Kuda tribe of Balangir possesses the unique ability of predicting
the presence of water in an area just by viewing the soil as they are
experts in digging wells and ponds, informed Sanjay and rued that they
are now working as daily labourers.
There had been a nomadic tribe called Bhunjia who used to dig a pond
where ever they stayed for two to three years and departed. They had
better water science knowledge and could locate the place to detect
“They had dug a bandh, known as Bhulia bandh, near Juba in Belpada,”
said Jatin Patra of Patnagarh. There used to be an area called
Jalchhar, now being encroached and converted into bahal land (low
cultivable land). “It had also been a general belief then that digging
of a muda or kata was a punnya kama (pious work) following which the
zamindars and gountias (village lords) used to dig numerous mudas and
katas, especially beside the roads, to provide drinking water
facilities to the travellers,” said Ghashiram Panda.
Besides Balangir district, the age-old system was also practised in
Nuapada district. The muda is a kind of checking small streams built
across a slope to arrest the rain water having high embankments on the
three sides and the fourth side is open. The structure basically
harnesses the rain water flowing from the slope and it helps the lands
below in the perennial passing of moisture.
The kata is an ordinary water tank constructed by putting a soil/stone
embankment across a land where the rain water is preserved and it is
easily cut down to irrigate the cultivable land below at the time of
The bandh is a four sided water tank, usually excavated below a kata.
“Such traditional system of rain water harvesting has been practised by
the native peasants of Nuapada district for centuries which suits the
local topography and the water tanks are also used for pisciculture and
bathing,” said Abani Panigrahi of Lok Drusti in Nuapada district.
Patnagrah town was famous for chhakodi bandh and naakodi tota. As per
local parlance, one kodi means 20 and accordingly, chhakodi means 20 x
6 =120 and naakodi means 20 x 9 =180. Besides Patnagarh town of
Balangir district, the same thing is also found in other parts of
Kalahandi district. Chhakodi bandh aru naakodi tota was the symbol of
Junagarh in Kalahandi district as there had been 120 bandhs and 180
mango orchards in Junagarh area out of which around 85 bandhs have now
been converted to homestead plots while there are only four large mango
orchards left out currently in the area.
“Following the conversion of the TWHSs there into homestead plots for
the housing purpose, the problem of flash floods in the habitations has
now arisen as the rain water finds no place to be stored during the
heavy downpour and creates floods,” said Dilip Das of Antodoya in
To boost pisciculture and earn revenue, the State Government has now
decided to take up pisciculture in the water bodies and its ownership
has been passed on to the Panchayats since 1955, but the Panchayats
could not manage it properly due to the lack of resources, dishonest
officials, loss of forest cover, population explosion and following of
new techniques, sources revealed.
The population explosion led to clearing up of the forests and loss of
forests resulted in more soil erosion resulting in siltation of water
bodies. Besides, the encroachment further aggravated the woes. In
addition, more emphasis is being laid on large-scale irrigation
projects following which the popularity of water harvesting structures
has eventually declined.
Irrigation projects, like the Lower Suktel, have been given more
importance to reap the multipurpose benefits of irrigation and
pisciculture and also to boost allied activities.
Even though the project was sanctioned way back in 1996-97 at an
estimated cost of `217 crore, it is yet to be taken up even though the
project cost has touched around `1043 crore after a decade.
Even though the Government is promoting farm pond to save farmers and
to provide assured irrigation, it has been found that many farmers,
having less than one acre, are finding it difficult to dig such a pond.
“The Government should give thrust on digging of chuans in the fields
which can be dug in small areas and water will also be stored till
February and March,” pointed out an NGO activist.
With rainy days becoming less, rapid decline of TWHSs, deforestation
and uncertain rainfall, acute water shortage is going to be one of the
major problems for the rural poor in western Odisha.
Our forefathers had great scientific knowledge of water management.
They had also anticipated the climate change and ill-effects for which
they had developed such a large network of traditional water bodies to
save crop besides meeting their other basic needs.
Moreover, their cropping pattern was also done accordingly. Ironically,
we are blindly following other models which have brought a lot of
unseen problems for the poor and farmers of this region, the locals
The local saying goes khet ke muda te, ghar ke bhudha te. It implies
that there should be a water harvesting structure for the providential
need of cultivable fields as it could save from the drought and the
very presence of an elderly person in each house could guide the family
“It is high time we followed the popular adage to save our poor
populace and farmers,” insisted the NGO activist.