Making of community owned watershed structure in Nayakateni in Orissa

Nayakateni, a small village of 58 families underwent a process of transformation through the intervention of NYSASDRI. This case study outlines the process by which the community took development into their own hands and were able to design, implement and construct a water harvesting structure. Monitoring of the use of water has been undertaken through a water user's committee.

Orissa is the second poorest state in India (after Bihar) where about 47.15 per cent of its population lives below poverty line and infant mortality rate at 97 per 1000 remains highest in India. In rural areas, more than 65 per cent of the population has no access to safe drinking water and around 96 per cent has no sanitation facilities. The small marginal farmers who constitute around 80 per cent control only 47 per cent of the land. Medium and large farmers who constitute 5 per cent control 24 per cent of the land. More than three-fourths of the population depends on agriculture for their sustenance, but frequent natural calamities such as floods, drought, cyclones and even tornados have adversely affected Orissa.s agriculture-based economy.

Working in the heartland of Orissa, NYSASDRI right from the initial stages took the community into confidence in identifying problem areas. In each intervention that they undertook, NYSASDRI worked on the premise that substantial efforts needed to be made in building confidence in the people. Every day one member of the organisation attended the village meeting in the Kotha Ghar where a range of development subjects such as health, formation of self-help groups, education, family planning, protection of forests were introduced. Members of NYASASDRI also shared other successful development experiences undertaken by them in the other areas of the states and in the nearby villages. Gradually, the people began to come forward to participate in the development of their village to improve their lives.

When some of the development programmes undertaken by self-help groups in Nayakateni village 8 km away from the organization.s head office, to develop lives and livelihood of scheduled caste people began to have an impact, the community became more confident. From this experience, NYSASDRI learned to make .Community Participation. as its guiding principle. 

The village

The villagers originally came from Goradapala Village of Karamul Gram Panchayat about 15 km away from Nayakateni. Earlier they were fishermen and boatman. Some of the men were engaged in fishing in the river while others plied boats to eke out a living. Typically in such communities, the women sold the catch in the market. However, the village was washed away by a flood in 1995 that devastated eastern Orissa. The villagers moved to the nearby forestland, where they lived off forest produce and struggled to keep starvation at bay. Since they were living in the reserve forestland, no government support was given to them. Banks also were reluctant to extend loans to them. As there was no river in the new area, the villagers could not continue with their traditional occupation. The rich forest that surrounded their settlement became a new source of livelihood. They cut trees from the forest and sold the weed in the local market-gradually, emerging as the major timber suppliers in the area of 20 km radius. Forest officials booked several cases against them, but they continued with this new occupation since there was no other alternative. Over the years the forest vanished from the village and the villagers had to spend double the time and effort to get the same amount of timber. Water level in the only well in the village fell deeper and deeper. Except during rainy days, the women had to walk more than 4 km to fetch water.

The small village of Nayakateni is situated at the foorhill of Aswakhola in Raitala Gram Panchayat of Gondia block. There are 58 households living in thatched-mud houses lined on either sides of the village road. The village falls within the 'Aswakhola' Reserve Forest Area

The average family size is between 5-6 members and in most cases they are single family units. Only two scheduled caste communities of Kaibarta and Dhobi settled down in the village during the early 1960s. As many as 48 out of 58 households belong to marginal farmers' category while the rest are small farmers. Almost, all the families fall below poverty line (BPL). All the households, except one, earn their livelihood directly or indirectly from agriculture. Each family operates about 4.5 acres of land and an area of three acres is designated as community land. However, none of them have a permanent land record (patta) for their land.

The Village

Nysasdri, a voluntary organization, started in 1986 as a youth club at Santhasara, a remote village of Gondia block in Dhenkanal district. The organization aims to work towards empowerment of the rural prople in order to fight abject poverty. NYSASDRI emphasizes on people-led development initiatives and strives to empower the weaker sections of society to enable them to acquire the privileges and facilities to lead a dignified life.

Supported by NYASASDRI

Type of Service/Benefit


Organization of Mahila Samiti (Women committee)


Organization of forest Preservation Committee


Low-cost Latrine


Community Fund


Yuvak Sangh (Youth club)2


General Village Profile
Village NameNayakateni
Total Household58
SC Population261
Agricultural Worker91.3
Dominating Caste Kaibarta & Dhobi

Agriculture could have been an alternative, but this was completely dependent on the monsoon. The low intensity rain-fed land could only sustain a maximum of 10-15 families. The paddy that they cultivated was not adequate to see them through to the next harvest. With the forest resources dwindling, the survival of the people itself became very precarious. Many people began to work as wage labourers in nearby Angul industrial area. Some of them also migrated for a part of the year to Cuttack and Bhubaneswar in search of employment.

The intervention

In desperation, some of the villagers approached NYSASDRI for assistance. At that time the organization was new and was engaged in small scale development initiatives. Considering the plight of the people, the organization took up the challenge. After an initial study, several problems were identified in the village ranging from lack of education and health facilities to poor agricultural practices.

After a systematic study and consultation with the villagers, the organization chose to address the problem of water harvesting and irrigation in order to boost agricultural production. Issues related to water emerged as the focal area and was made the priority for the young group. There was a realistic reason for this approach. There already existed a small tank, dug by the villagers to provide water at the upper end of the village. However, the tank was too small to irrigate a large catchment area. There was an urgent need to increase the storage capacity to enhance food security and income through judicious use and management of natural resources. Timely and adequate irrigation would also ensure a good harvest. The water harvested would not only increase productivity of the land but also meet the need for drinking (for livestock), bathing and cleaning.

When NYSASDRI approached the personnel in the Irrigation Department for technical assistance to construct a water harvesting structure (WHS), they said, no sustainable irrigation system is feasible in this village. NYSASDRI was determined to look for support and extend its helping hand to the villagers. In 1986, the organization with support from Council of Advancement of People's Action and Rural Technology (CAPART) constructed a water harvesting structure (WHS) in Nayakateni.

The structure was 2000 ft. in length, 15 ft. in height and 80 ft. in width with a top width of 10 ft. Water flowing downstream from the upper catchment area was stored and controlled for irrigation through this WHS. A sluice gate regulates water supply to the agricultural field. The total cost of this construction work was Rs 4,50,000. CAPART contributed Rs 3,60,000 towards cost of material (non-wage component).

Community Participation

Before the commencement of work, volunteers from NYSASDRI interacted and consulted with the villagers regarding the implementation of the project and the overall work.

A project implementation team consisting of 10 senior members of the village and the Sarpanch was formed to monitor the work. Every new initiative was discussed in detail in the village meetings. Villagers were motivated to participate in group discussions in the evenings. Thus, the process of friendship, cooperation and communication started. NYSASDRI's sincerity and selflessness impressed the villagers. The volunteers together with the community planned the implementation strategy and their roles. This worked like magic.

Undeniably, the WHS is an outcome of the sustained and spontaneous participation of the community in its construction, management and later maintenance. From the conception of the project to its implementation, people remained involved. They helped in site selection for the WHS and procurement of materials for the construction. Taking turns, 10 youths from the village guarded the materials during night.

One villager, Babaji Sethi gave his land for construction of WHS. For three months, two members from each family worked in constructing WHS. One of them was paid a daily wage while the other contributed his labour free of cost. In total, the community members contributed 5220 man-days in the building of the WHS.

The organization motivated the villagers to manage and maintain the WHS independently. It sensitized them on the power of unity and a water users committee (WUC) was formed to manage the WHS. All the families were given an equal representation in the committee. They explained the purpose and objective of the WUC. The people learned and took on the responsibility of WHS, which included management, book keeping, maintenance etc.

Soon after completion of the work, NYSASDRI handed over the structure to the community members and withdrew from direct action in the village.

People's management

Over a period of time, the people developed their own management and maintenance code and also learned to modify it on the basis of their experience and requirement.

In the present statute of the committee, all the villagers get water to irrigate their land, but not all at the same time. The water is distributed according to availability of water and need of the individuals. Normally, land is irrigated on the basis of rotation starting with land at the lower end. If one day 15 villagers are given water to irrigate their land, the next day another 15 would be given water. Thus the distribution cycle continues until all the villagers are covered.

The key of the sluice gate is with Raghu Pohi, who is also the informal head of the village. However, he acts only with the authorisation of WUC. Each and everyone in the village, irrespective of economic status and gender, has equal right in the working of the committee. They decide when to release water and to whom. This is done systematically and is decided democratically with the consent of majority of the villagers. Plans for implementation of any new scheme and code of conduct are openly discussed. Pros and cons of any new initiative are considered with equal attention. 

The villagers maintain a register to record all the proceedings and decisions taken at the meetings. This record is inviolable and requires every member to abide by the decision. Frequency of the meetings is determined by the need to discuss issues and is decided by the majority of the villagers. 

Based on the success of their experience, the villagers have constructed a channel at the southwest side of the WHS to drain off the excess water. They did not obtain any funds and guidance from any external agency for undertaking this. For major repairs, the villagers manage on their own by collecting money from each household. The amount they collect depends upon the requirement of the work at hand. Each landowner pays towards the total expenditure in proportion of the land he/she irrigates. Besides, the villagers annually contribute Rs.5 for each acre of land they irrigate. 

All the money is deposited with Raghu and utilized according to the decision of the WUC. They maintain a cash book to note down the income and expenditure of the village body. Each year Raghu presents a statement of account of expenditure and income -that is comparable to the audited statement in any formal set-up. The statement is discussed in detail in the village meeting and passed, if found correct.

People's Management

"Hardly any problems arise," said Natabar Tarai, a villager. If somebody disobeys the village decision, the committee will assemble to discuss the problem. Usually, we punish the offender with financial penalty. Depending upon the intensity of the offence, the committee decides the amount of penalty for the offender.


For technical assistance, the community continue to consult NYSASDRI and sometimes the appropriate government departments. The major contribution of NYSASDRI's in the village has been the construction of the water harvesting structure.

Apart from this, the organization's involvement was mostly indirect in nature. After they withdrew, NYSASDRI conducted meetings at regular intervals to discuss different problems and issues of the village and sought ways to understand and resolve them. It also organized several trainings and capacity building programmes on agriculture and other income generation skills for the villagers. It introduced castor oil seed cultivation and cooperative pisciculture and scientific agricultural methods. It acted primarily, as a motivator at different points of time. This helped the communities to work for their personal as well as common needs and face difficult situations, collectively.

Women's Participation

During the initial phase of the project, there was no women's participation at all. However, after the formation of four self-help groups (SHGs) in the village with assistance from NYSASDRI and the village level worker (a government employee), the situation gradually changed.

However, it was only after Lata Pohi was elected as a ward member of the gram panchayat, that women's involvement in village activities increased. During the election of ward members, the committee endorsed Lata's selection. Earlier considered to be an exclusive business for men, this has changed. Now we women participate in committee meetings and give our comments, said Lata Pohi. 

The committee provides an opportunity for interaction among the villagers. It has united and generated self-confidence in the people. It has not only ensured smooth management of water in their village but also contributed significantly towards betterment of the community in other sectors. The committee also collects money for village development. They sort out their internal problems through this committee. The committee protects the forest and also collects money for village festivals like annual Namasankirtan/ Astaprahari .


This initiative recharged the ground water table and now there is enough water available all the year round at 15 m depth as compared to the ground water depth of 18 m earlier. This has helped regeneration of plants and grasses. Careful monitoring of water distribution to irrigate crops has helped in two crop farmings. Since agricultural activities have become a viable economic activity, the forests are also protected.

The total land under agriculture is about 400 acres and is serviced by the WHS.The agricultural production has doubled, reports Babaji Majhi. Yield per acre has gone up from 15 quintals of paddy to about 25 quintals. Generally, in kharif season they cultivate paddy and during winter vegetables are grown which are sold in the local market. This has increased their income to the tune of Rs 2000 per household per annum. Now, none of the villagers migrate to urban or industrial areas in search of livelihood. More than 23 families have a bank account in which they save up to Rs 500 in a year.

Birat Majhi, like other men in Nayakateni eked out a living by cutting trees and selling the wood nearby market. He said, "after a hard day, I could manage to earn Rs.10-20 in a day". Fear of being caught and punished by forest officials and police haunted him all the time.

Now, the situation has changed. "At least, I have enough paddy in our home to feed our children." Thanks to the irrigation facilities provided by the WHS, he no longer depends on forest wood for his survival, neither is there any fear of the forest officer or the police. His wife, a member of the village SHG, has taken a loan of Rs 2000 with which she bought a cow. Now she earns approximately Rs 3000 a year and has repaid the loan to the SHG. The family has attained total food security and to some extent financial security as well.

This is one among the 58 families in the village, whose livelihood has improved by proper management of WHS and community based initiatives. Through community mobilization and capacity building activities, the community has gained self-confidence and skills to improve their lives. The villagers confidently interact with government officials. They have on their own negotiated with the administration to bring electricity to their village. The village has 100 per cent school enrollment of children. The forest department is relieved as the villagers have now become protectors of the forest through the formation of Vana Samrakshyana Samiti (VSS) under the joint forest management plan.

The WHS and more specifically, the WUC has become the lifeline of the village assuring one paddy crop for their food requirements as well as vegetable cultivation for additional income. There is a change in the behavior around the use of water. Water management skill has been extended to a better understanding of other developmental issues in the village. Each person in the village is an equal stakeholder in all the socio-cultural and economic initiatives.

This has been made possible through the creation of a we feeling among the community that has developed and been strengthened through water and the water users committee. Instead of calling it water users committee, it can indeed, be appropriately called village development committee.

Taken From Best Practices in Water Management-Case Studies from Rural India-2005 German Agro Action, 2005. Sarangadhar Samal and Sanjaya Kumar Sahoo, National Youth Service Action and Social Development Research Institute (NYSASDRI). We would like to thank German Agro Action for very kindly sharing the case studies for the portal.

Post By: Rama Mani