BHUTANKHUTI (BAKSA), Feb 20 – Traditional knowledge and community participation have combined to ensure that 300 odd villages in the Bhutan foothills in Baksa and Nalbari districts survive harsh water-scarce winters.
The age-old indigenous irrigation system called dong enables the villagers to meet their water needs throughout the year but its utility is felt more during the prolonged dry winters when water becomes scarce even for drinking purposes.
The dong system has been in operation since human settlements started in the once-thickly forested area since the 1930s. Under the dong, small dams are built on a river and the water is routed through canals to paddy fields and into the household ponds.
“Dongs operate on sound principles of water management, ensuring that there is no waste and water is distributed judiciously and equitably. We have dong committees that strictly monitor the supply and use of water. A dong is opened for a few hours at periodic
intervals, say once a week, for one village so that the residents can store water in their ponds. The next day another dong is opened for another village,” Teknath Parajuli, a resident of Bhutankhuti near Nikasi said.
Parajuli, a teacher by profession and also an agriculturalist, said that all the people of a village contribute through manual labour to construct small stone-dams on the rivers, and then regulate the flow of the water and supply it to the destinations through long canals.
Water scarcity has led to strict rationing of this precious resource. People get water as per their needs. A person with a pair of bullocks or a couple of bighas of land will get less than a person having two pairs of bullocks or four bighas of land. Everyone respects this arrangement and see to it that there is no violation of laid-down norms.
A vast landscape on the Bhutan foothills is crisscrossed by a number of rivers and streams originating from the hills. Most of these turn into frothing torrents during the monsoons and flow in trickles in the winter.
“Pagladiya, Diring, Gongor, Sukia, Boga, Kaldiya, Diya and Basfola are the rivers covering an area of around 300 sq km where we have a large network of dongs on all of them. The people of the area have entrusted the overall management of the dongs to the Uttar Anchalik General Dong Bandh Committee which functions as per provisions of its constitution,” Maheswar Barman, a retired teacher and journalist said.
This traditional water harvesting has also led to greater bonhomie and camaraderie among the different communities. “We have Assamese, Bodos, Nepalis and Adivasis living together in the villages. Since the community-managed water management has a major bearing on our lives, it has also cemented our ties,” Kamal Sarma, a farmer who also holds a government job, said.
According to Barman, while dongs have been providing great relief to the people, especially during the parched winters, there is an urgent need for installing some permanent water sources by the State Government.
“No doubt dongs have been a great relief, but the problem has turned more acute in recent years with the rivers drying up alarmingly during the winters,” he said.
Echoing Barman’s feelings, Goma Ghimire, a village woman, said that water shortage was among the biggest problems plaguing the villages. “We need at least six days to build a dong, which again needs frequent repair during the rainy season. Till now we are getting whatever little water during the dry season from dongs. But the Government should give us a permanent source of water, as the rivers are drying up faster than before,” she said.
While government intervention in ensuring even a basic need like water is conspicuous by its absence, Gramya Vikash Mancha, an NGO, has made a successful endeavour towards mobilising the locals and boosting community participation.
“We are helping the locals through technical and financial assistance in different initiatives such as diversion irrigation and restoration of lost wetlands and river channels,” Prithibhusan Deka, president of the NGO, said.