Dhara Vikas – Enhancing Rural Water Security in Drought Prone Areas

The State of Sikkim has a number of Gram Panchayats that are prone to droughts. Around
80 per cent of the State’s rural households depend on springs for drinking water and irrigation throughout the year. Over the years, several of these traditional water bodies have either dried up or discharged water only seasonally due to declining natural recharge and ground water table. In 2008, the initiative of ‘Dhara Vikas’ – Sustainable development and management of critical springs was launched. Government of Sikkim conceptualized and pioneered the Dhara Vikas initiative with an objective to revive springs, streams and lakes in the State.
It aimed to enhance water availability in the drought prone areas of Sikkim, and was undertaken through MGNREGA with convergence of various line departments and non-government organizations (NGOs). Currently, the project has been upscaled and is being implemented in 25 drought prone Gram Panchayats in South, East and West Districts of Sikkim.


The principles of geohydrology, watershed and Geographical Information System (GIS) were integrated to conceptualize and design this new initiative of spring-shed development under the banner of Dhara Vikas in the year 2008. This scientific, people driven programme, was initiated in collaboration with several government and non-governmental partners.

These conservation and development initiatives focused on enhancing the rural water security in Sikkim were taken up in collaboration and partnership with IIT Guwahati, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, Central Ground Water Board, Kolkata, Advanced Center for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM), Pune, WWF-India, People’s Science Institute, Dehradun, Arghyam, Bangalore, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bangalore, German Technical Cooperation (GIZ) and others. During the first year, local expertise and experience was developed to identify the recharge area of the springs based on the structure, weathering and fracture patterns of the rocks. Successful demonstration of this rainwater harvesting technology started from the year 2010 onwards and now provides a successful model to revive springs in mountain region.

This study indicated that according to beneficiary perceptions and bio-physical measurements, Dhara Vikas has led to ground water recharge by increasing percolation rates and checking surface runoff. Beneficiaries reported an increase of 10 to 15 per cent in the quantity of water collected from springs for domestic purposes throughout the year. According to a study conducted by Indian Institute of Science in 2013, increased irrigation has encouraged farmers to cultivate new crops such as beans, radish, cauliflower, cabbage and chilly, along with paddy and tomatoes. Many perennial garden fruits, such as guava, banana, orange and litchi, have been cultivated following this initiative. The report also indicates an average of 15 per cent increase in crop yield and 25 per cent increase in the cultivation of irrigated crops such as paddy, tomato and vegetables.

The online database has been created which provides information on the location, GPS coordinates, land tenure, catchment status, dependency, discharge (supply/demand) of nearly 700 springs of Sikkim and is also linked to the google-earth platform. The outcomes have also been monitored by various independent agencies and have impacted national policy; the learnings from this unique initiative have benefitted other mountain states and countries as well. Several states like Meghalaya, Nagaland, Himachal Pradesh and countries like Nepal and Bhutan are in the process of replicating the Sikkim model of spring shed development.

Impact – Case study of Deythang Gram Panchayat, West Sikkim District, Sikkim

One specific example of the initiative is the revival of spring at Deythang GP, West Sikkim. Spring-shed development works were taken up in three critical fracture springs namely Nunthaley Dhara, Aitbarey Dhara and Kharkharey Kholsa which were becoming seasonal.

The graph above shows the discharge of Kharkara Kholsa for the last 8 years since January 2009 (baseline) to May 2016 post the MGNREGA intervention. With the help of trained para geo-hydrologists, a total of 15 hectares of spring-shed development work was taken up in the catchment area of these springs with a total investment of Rs.9.7 lakh, amounting to Rs.3.34 lakh per spring.

During the first phase, rainwater recharge structures were developed in five hectares of identified recharge area above each spring. Groundwater recharge structures such as staggered contour trenches, percolation pits, check dams etc. were dug on sloping land not affected by landslides. After the intervention, the springs have shown a positive result and increase in the discharge during the lean season. The results and impact of the ground water recharge projects to revive the springs were compared with the baseline to analyse the impacts. Perception of the water users was also documented to ascertain the impacts. This programme has been successfully able to demonstrate the science and practice of revival of dying springs in the drought prone mountainous rural areas.

Voices from the Field

107“In the past, we had scarcity of drinking water during the lean season (Feb-April). The water discharge from the Aitabarey Dhara (spring) was so less that it was insufficient for all the 36 households who were dependent on it. Consequently, we the women had to fetch water from another spring – Hyieng Khola which was half a kilometre away. Being MGNREGA job card holders, we also worked in the Dhara Vikas project for revival of Aitabarey Dhara last year. This year during the lean season we did not face shortage of water since the discharge of Aitabarey Dhara had increased after the intervention”.

Sancha Maya Rai, user of Aitabarey Dhara, Deythang Gram Panchayat, Sikkim

108“I worked in the MGNREGA Dhara Vikas project at Kharkharey Dhara which is near my home with a hope to secure water for the lean season. Before the implementation of this scheme, there was insufficient water during lean (winter) season and the water shortage was our biggest problem. Post the intervention, the water discharge has increased during the lean season. Some farmers in my village have also started growing vegetables during winter. We are really happy and we still want to do more of Dhara Vikas work in other nearby springs.”

Kavita Subba, user of Kharkharey Dhara, Deythang Gram Panchayat, Sikkim


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