People ignore politicians and turn reeking drain into water reservoir

Our previous story tells of how Babulal Gaur, the erstwhile Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh (Bhopal)
– ignored a Supreme Court order to provide clean water for communities whose wells have been poisoned by Union Carbide’s factory,
– broke his promise to local women that he would supply clean water,
– and is now proposing that water should be supplied from wells contamined by another corporation.
Here Gaur appears as the home town politician, so out of touch with the needs of his constituents that he is totally unaware of a massive work of civil engineering being built by community effort right under his nose, after people sick of having to live beside a stinking, disease-ridden drain, took their own steps to transform it.

This is the story of a reeking nullah (canal) being transformed into a water reservoir for one lakh (100,000) people, and of what a community can achieve when galvanised into action. For, this is what is happening in a colony of Bhopal, where local people have united to restore a portion of a lost stream to the Kaliyasot river.
It all started with a 40-year-old man, crippled in both legs from childhood polio, who was goaded to action by a flippant remark.
In 2001, Mr Anil Goel, a documentary producer and ad filmmaker, had just come from Vidisha to stay at Sarvadharma Colony near Kolar road in Bhopal. When someone said to him: “Oh, you are staying at the colony beside that nauseating nullah,” he decided something had to change.
Hurt to the quick, he drew instant inspiration from Dushyant’s lines kaun kehta hai aasman mein surakh nahi ho sakta, ek pathar to tabiyat se uchhalo yaaron (who says the sky cannot be pierced, one just needs to throw a stone heavenwards with all one’s heart).”
Encouraged by the actions of water conservationist Mr Rajendra Singh, he decided to create a stop-dam on a part of the 60-metre wide Kaliyasot river that emerges near Bhopal, flowing 18 km to join the Betwa. The stop-dam would transform the nullah into a source of fresh water for local people, he felt. While Kaliyasot main dam provides drinking water to around 15 per cent of Bhopal residents, over 70,000 residents of Sarvadharma Colony, Akbarpur, Danis, Nayapura and Damkheda depend mainly on tubewells and water tankers available on alternate days at Rs 200 per tanker.
Self-effacing to a fault, Mr Goel will not accept credit for the scheme. “My contribution is immaterial and the focus should be on the collective effort.” Over the years, residents have been recruited into Goel’s vision. Mr Ratnakar Raut, an expert in rooftop rainwater harvesting, spends all day at the site. The water conservation apparatus in the stop-dam has been designed by consulting PWD engineer Mr S S Patwardhan. The Damkheda sarpanch, Mr P Ganesh, has been providing dumpers, trucks and excavators free of cost for two years to construct the stopdam.
As time passed by and word spread, other residents joined the campaign to resurrect the dead portion of the river. The slogan of ek aadmi, ek paththar (one person, one stone) began finding takers. In the last month, the project has gained momentum and become a people’s mission. Around 400 people – aged seven to 70 – come to the site on Sundays to collect stones and clean silt deposits from the water. Recently, around 50 people from Vidisha joined the effort. After four years’ work the erstwhile nullah and den of pigs holds 20,000 cubic metres of water. The upcoming dam has already spread up to one and a half kilometres and has a depth of 10 feet.
Mr Raut predicts that if the dam reaches the proposed four and half metre height, the reservoir may extend up to three kilometres accumulating over 35 lakh cubic metres water, meeting the needs of over one lakh residents. A water filter plant is proposed after the stop-dam becomes a reality. Mr Goel hopes the stop-dam will be completed in two years.
Surprisingly, former chief minister Mr Babulal Gaur, who has been representing the Govindpura Assembly constituency for the eighth consecutive time, did not know about the citizens’ Herculean effort until 4 January when he stopped his car to see why people had gathered below the Kolar bridge.
Residents told him that they had recently forwarded to the state government a proposal requesting Rs 43 lakh for the project. Mr Gaur told The Statesman “I have got a five-member committee constituted under the Bhopal collector to examine all aspects. If the irrigation department is satisfied, the government can sanction the money,” he added.
Sarvadharma Colony residents, however, are not too worried. If the worst comes to pass and they get no state help, they will pool in money by themselves. And it will not end here. They plan to construct more stop-dams in the future.

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