Jal Sabhas of Thar defy climate change

A success story of community-led water management system in Gujarat and Rajasthan


The Marwar region of the Thar Desert in Western India has the lowest water endowment in Rajasthan. Rainfall is sparse with an annual average of 200 mm; groundwater is saline and unsuitable for drinking as well as agriculture. With the changing climate, droughts have become more frequent with the region witnessing six drought years in the last decade. This project was planned in response to the rising global temperatures estimated to increase up to 4°Celsius in the Thar Desert by 2050. The project was implemented in Potaliya, Gangawas, Thumbli and Kalawatsar villages of Marwar region between October 2013 and December 2014.


The village community, led by the Jal Sabha (village level water users’ association) was the primary stakeholder in the project. The Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF) facilitated the creation of the Jal Sabha, and acted as a catalyst, facilitator and support system for the project. The project was supported by The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited (HSBC India).


As groundwater in the Thar Desert is extremely saline and unsuitable for drinking as well as agriculture, impounding water harvesting structures that hold water on the surface were constructed in the project villages. These structures included:
• Talab or Nadi which are ponds dug at a natural depression in the land to collect water from large catchment areas.
• Tanka or underground tanks, constructed for collecting and storing runoff water from natural or artificial catchments or from a rooftop.
• Beri or shallow percolation wells near ponds for recharging clean water into the wells.

A ‘Community Led Water Management System’ was developed in the villages which tapped runoff from the catchment area which could be an agor (catchment area), gauchar (grassland) or oran (sacred forest), through water or feeder channels to a surface-water harvesting structure, namely, talab (village pond) or nadi (grassland pond) located at the outskirts of the village. This system ensured that every drop of water falling on the catchment area was diverted to the water harvesting structure.
Simultaneously, catchment areas of these above-mentioned structures that acted as the repositories of biodiversity were developed to improve the efficiency of water harvesting. Village pasture lands were revived and communities were encouraged to plant local variety of grass and trees to create availability of fodder for livestock.
The project supported a total of eight community-level water harvesting structures including three ponds (talab/nadi), two check dams to harvest water from hillocks, one beri (recharge well) to filter the water from talab, thereby making it potable and ensuring year-round availability, and two school tankas to ensure water availability for children during school hours.
To enable household-level water availability, 108 tankas were constructed in houses across the four villages. The project also addressed the interrelated issue of sanitation.
• A total of 302 toilets were constructed across the four villages.
• Households were mobilized to construct some 200 soak pits for liquid waste management and ensure hygienic disposal of the wastewater from houses
• A liquid drainage system was constructed in village Potaliya for the disposal of water and prevention of waterlogging, a first of its kind in the region.
• In addition, two village level soak pits were designed and constructed in the heart of villages for liquid waste disposal.
The remarkable characteristic of this intervention was that the community raised between 30-70 percent of the cost involved in water and sanitation projects, and this amount was further deposited in the Jal Sabha’s bank account named as Jal Kosh, ensuring transparency in financial transactions. JBF funded the balance cost after completion of the project. This financial contribution from the community into the project assets helped foster ownership and ensured buy-in from the community, reinforcing their commitment to long-term management of the infrastructure created.

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