Uttarkashi: Over the last decade, it has become increasingly hard for Sartama Devi to source water around her Uttarkashi village home in Uttarakhand and same has been the story for the rest of her co-habitants. “Our water sources had been drying up with the diminishing monsoons. It has affected our livestock. In our fields, the koda-jhangora (Indian barn millet) crop had been withering away,” the 55-year-old said.
Water springs in small amounts in these mountain villages and exhausts quickly as the villagers use it for daily chores and to meet their livestock’s needs. These natural springs have not been sufficient for the 300 families in Patara village that have about 275 animals. Pooja Rana, 27, a farmer who is also Patara’s panchayat chief, said that the water taps drawn from the springs in their hamlet are functional for barely an hour or two in the morning. In summers, the taps run completely dry.
It is ironic that the Bhagirathi river runs down from its glacial origin at the foothills of Patara – just 2-3 km away. It later meets the Alaknanda river and forms the Ganga. Despite being so close to India’s most extensive river system, Patara has struggled. “People over the decades have migrated, leaving behind their farms. Many have settled on the Delhi-Dehradun road,” Devi said.
That is exactly why these Uttarkashi population is bringing chal-khals back to life. These percolation pits are saving women the time and effort it takes to find and carry water over long distances. In 2019, Patara ushered in change when Sartama Devi formed the Him Patara Self Group to conserve water and revive water sources closer to the village.
The women started learning more about chal-khals; these percolation pits used to be built and maintained by mountain communities but this traditional knowledge had been lost over the years. In Pauri, Garhwal, Kumaun and other regions of Uttarakhand, several NGOs have been working the past few decades toward reviving chal-khals. However, the work often happens in isolation, with a few villages benefiting and some hearing about it through word-of-mouth while many others still removed the means to access and implement this traditional knowledge.