Jalaamrutha is a convergence project of MGNREGS and the Agriculture Department in Belagavi District, and aims to provide safeguard against drought and crop failure. Belagavi District of Karnataka is a plateau region lying on the lee side of the Western Ghats. Rainfall in this area has been steadily decreasing over the last few years adversely impacting the agricultural productivity. The situation got so worse in 2016-17 that the region faced its worst drought in the last four decades leading to an acute shortage of even drinking water. The entire district was declared drought hit. There was a total crop failure and the farmers were in a miserable situation. The situation reached this stage also because of inadequate treatment of water shed structures.
The immediate relief was in terms of additional mandays under MGNREGS. The wage earnings would be able to offset consumption gap however something needed to be done for the long-term relief as well. Zila Panchayat of Belagavi being sensitive of the situation initiated ‘Jalaamrutha’ project for watershed treatment in 50 micro-watersheds in the district. Jalaamruthais supported by MGNREGS and is being implemented by the Agriculture Department, Government of Karnataka. The Zila Panchayat of Belagavi proposes to ultimately implement this program in all untreated micro-watersheds across the District.
Jala Amrutha follows the ‘ridge to valley’ approach of soil and water conservation with the active participation of the residents of the watershed. There is sufficient evidence to proof that these watershed management techniques not only reduces soil erosion but also increases soil moisture through groundwater recharge and surface storage leading to an increased biomass. The above technique also ensures availability of drinking water and increases resilience of agriculture during drought. The project is implemented following the sequence of identification of micro water sheds, community mobilization around the structure, participatory planning for increased ownership followed by execution. The identification of micro watersheds in each Taluka was based on District Strategic and Perspective Plan which had listed these structures to be treated. Maps of the area along with information on land ownership was obtained and reconciled with the Micro Watershed Maps. These maps were obtained from Karnataka State Remote Sensing Application Centre, Bengaluru.
Gram Sabha meetings were called to conduct Participatory resource appraisal exercise. The landholders, with the help of the implementation team, prepared an action plan and listed out the activities to be taken up in the micro-watershed treatment. Following approvals of each plan in the Gram Sabha and by the District Programme Co-ordinator, work was implemented as per the Programme Guidelines.
Over six thousand MGNREGS watershed works have been completed so far at a cost of 1.6 crores. This work while generating seven lakh employment days under MGNREGS has also created assets in convergence with several line departments such as Agriculture, Horticulture, Sericulture, Animal Husbandry, Forest Department and PRED.
Jalaamrutha has great potential to increase the resilience of the district to drought. Not only did this generate employment for the rural poor at a time of agricultural failure, but also safeguarded them against the worst impacts of future droughts. The District Panchayat of Belagavi proposed to ultimately implement this program in all untreated micro-watersheds across the District.