Techno Economic Review of "Rainwater Harvesting" - by IIT Alumni

  1. TECHNICAL EVALUATION : Design, Material Selection, Implementation, Maintenance.

  2. TECHNO-ECONOMIC COMPARISON: The current official practices versus the community efforts observed.

  3. RESULTS: Community empowerment - upto 2 crops a year, water table rise, increased milk output, lush green landscape, women’s empowerment, employment.

  4. RESULTS: Case Studies

    1. Ralegan Siddhi Village
    2. Dead Arvari River back to life with Human Habitation.
    3. The Comparative cost economics and Large Benefits of apparent Small works.
    4. The studies conducted by IIT alumni to Bhoire-khurd & Rale-Gansiddhi(Mah.) earlier and Alwar (Raj.) very recently, were with a specific aim to study the rain-water harvesting systems implemented there. This report is to provide a perspective for the panIIT alumni/faculty on the subject linked to the success stories and help achieve our priority National goals.

      (Some background facts)

      (1) Forests in Alwar were owned by the community till late into 19th

      century. Therefore community decisions used to prevail. The Alwar Rajya Forest Act, 1888 and then Alwar Rundh act 1938 divested the community of all rights over forests and paved way for their commercial uses.

      2) Rainfall is generally quite low ~600 mm of which 500 mm falls during monsoon. In 1985-86 merely 6% Alwar district total area was under forest cover. From 70s to 80s Aravalli lost around 40% of its forests. The rainy season, due to denudation of Aravalli forests, shrunk from 101 days in 1973 to 55 days in 1987. Total no. of rainy days fell from 60-80 in 1973 to 18-30 days in 1997. Ground water levels fell by 60 m water table levels dropped rom 5-10m in 1960s to 100-150m in 1980's. Irrigation dept has declared Thanagazi a "dark Zone" indicating absence of ground water.

      Official documents say that forest cover is 40% now, a rise of 33% inthe past 15 years for Aravalli. Thangazi has now been declared "white zone" by irrigation dept.)


  1. Design

    The design philosophy is basically tuned to catching rain water and forcing it to ground rather than it going horizontally and running away. It draws on the experience of the people and their knowledge of their environment.

    Essentially, design practices employed were mainly intuitive and some few used rough drawings and sketches. Choice of location was decided jointly by the elders of the village. Slopes,curvatures and overall dimensions were based on thumb rules,without even rudimentary technical formulae. Notwithstanding, good basic design principles were in place, for e.g. providing buttresses and convex shape to the masonry structures, wider shoulders on bends,etc. However, the purely local efforts did fail and trial-and-error did result in adequate modifications.

    The main design considerations were actually more oriented to the human angle:

    1. Association of all concerned/affected
    2. Identification of the needs of ALL
    3. Ownership responsibilities for ALL

    Strangely, GD Agrawal's (former Head, Civil at IITK) report (1995) – covering 36 villages in Alwar observes:

    1. The extremely low costs of these structures, Rs. 0.2 per meter cube of storage capacity to Rs. 3 per meter cube.

    2. 36% of the water harvesting structures had the right capacity and 13% had more than required even when no engg. calculations had been done

    3. These structures withstood heavy rains of 1995,1996 when scores and scores of structures designed and maintained by the authorities failed and created tragic floods.

    4. For every Rs. 100 invested in making Johads, the economic production in the village has risen by as much as Rs. 400 per capita per annum

  2. Material Selection

    Uniformly, the scheme has entailed excavating the contiguous borrow-pits located upstream and compacting this soil with local sand and stones into the johad. Cement, an outsider, was restricted to only masonry structures.

  3. Implementation

    The machinery used for the earthwork has been the tractor at the top end, manual labour being the major component. The logistics was very easily handled by shram-daan by each and every family over time. Decision making was entirely within the community.

  4. Maintenance

    Since the entire community benefited with the johads, it seemed most natural that they collectively looked after the health of the structure. This eliminated non-productive bureaucracy and associated inefficiencies. This also helped to build self-reliance and enhance savings.


The present setup & process of our administration.

  • Setup –Administrative includes also Technical (IAS,IPS,MPSC & qualified others) run actually by Political representatives on National &state level. The departments can be basically: Rural Development, Irrigation, Water Resources, Water supply & Drainage, and Environments, etc.
  • Process –
    1. Project Initiation: by Initial Report – the Feasibility Analysis & Studies – clearance from the concern authorities like ZP/ State or Central Assembly/ etc
    2. Tendering – appointment of contracting agency.
    3. Commencement of work.
    4. Supervision by the technical cell /departments.
    5. Inaugurations by some esteemed personality for handing over to the Nation etc.
    6. Maintenance : by the same authority or the Municipal body as per the specific law governing the jurisdiction.

A glaring example is the inauguration on 28 Feb.’03 of a dam in the district – which began in ’78! The cost estimate of Rs 20 Cr rose to Rs 45 Cr.

In stark contrast, the community is able to be more dynamic and johad building takes 6-12 months to plan and execute. And at costs which are 25% or less of that of local administration.

TBS, over 15 years, has successfully completed almost 5000 structures repairs, reconstruction or new constructions. And a majority of them are still generating revenue for the community, year after year.

TBS has contributed over Rs 7 Cr in outside funding to the cost of the water harvesting structures. This works out to a cost of 500 rupees per hectare irrigated and 100 rupees ($ 2 only !) per person supplied with drinking water. An admittedly back-of-the-envelope comparison of these costs with those of the notorious Sardar Sarovar dam project (SSP) in Gujarat state gives startling results. Taking a conservative estimate of the total cost of SSP of Rs 300 billion gives a per-person cost of Rs 10,000 for drinking water supplied – 100 times more than in Alwar. The cost of supplying one hectare with irrigation water from SSP works out to be Rs 170,000 – over about 350 times more than in Alwar. Theoretically, if the budget for SSP was available to TBS-type water harvesters, they could provide drinking water to three billion people (half the world's population) while irrigating 600 million hectares (more than twice the world's irrigated area).

Now consider that TBS started work in Alwar at around the same time as the Gujarat government started construction on SSP. The people of Alwar district have for years been enjoying the benefits of water harvesting, while all but a tiny fraction of the supposed beneficiaries of Sardar Sarovar are still waiting to see a single drop of water. Furthermore, some 40,000 people have already been forced off their lands to make way for SSP, and hundreds of thousands more face displacement if the project is ever completed.

The World Bank and other dam builders and water privatizers build up the case that $180 billion a year must be invested in the water sector and that multinational corporations are key in mobilizing this huge amount of money. But at Alwar costs, $180 billion would be enough to supply water to 15 times the world's current population. The needs of the one billion who lack water could be met for about the cost of a single major dam.


The pix from the slides show clearly that after 4 years of drought, johads are enabling the community to reap harvests twice a year and standing water bodies exist even after 3" rainfall in Aug’02.

Greatly increased quality of fodder with sustained availability has increased production of milk from the cattle.

With revenue all around and sufficient water in the village, the women are able to invest time saved to the betterment of the family – children’s education,savings,etc. Migration for survival has, in fact, been reversed.

The table below brings out the rise of the ground water level:

Villagebefore conservationafter TBS
Bhaonta Koylala17m9.4m


a) Ralegan Siddhi Village

Ralegan Siddhi is a village in a drought-prone area of Maharashtra where the annual rainfall ranges from only around 500 mm and where the villagers were once not even assured one regular crop. In 1975, the village was poverty stricken, with less than one acre of irrigated land per family. Krishna Bhaurao Hazare, a retired driver from the Indian army, began constructing storage ponds, reservoirs and gully plugs. Due to the steady percolation of water, the groundwater table began to rise. Simultaneously, government social forestry schemes were used to plant 300,000-400,000 trees in and around the village. Because of the increased availability of irrigation water, land that was lying fallow came under cultivation and the total area under farming increased from 630 hectares to 950 hectares. The average yields of millets, sorghum and onion increased substantially.

Every effort was made in the village to ensure equitable access to the resources generated. Water is distributed equitably. Only low water-consuming crops were allowed. Water conservation efforts resulted in increased availability of groundwater that in turn has facilitated the development of community wells. Water from these wells, supplied at a moderate price, has enabled farmers to grow two to three crops a year including fruits and crops, some of which are exported all the way to Dubai.

Today not a single inhabitant of the village depends on drought relief. Incomes have increased substantially. By Indian standards, Ralegan Siddhi is a rich village now. Over a quarter of the households earn nearly half a Rs 5 lacs a year, and a branch of a major bank has opened in the village. Ralegan Siddhi's income distribution is also much less skewed than that of rural Maharashtra.

An impressive system of decision-making has been created in the village. Some 14 committees operate to ensure people's participation in all decision-making. A participatory democratic institution called the Gram Sabha was created to take community decisions and to involve every villager in the development process and exert social pressure wherever required. In other words, Ralegan has given greater importance to participatory democracy than to representative democracy.

b) Dead Arvari River back to life with Human Habitation.

Rainwater harvesting has brought the communities life up along with the river Arvari back to life, which streams & meanders out in dry and drought-prone Rajasthan regions. Earlier the villagers living on the margins of survival were desperately poor and used to find work for sustenance by migrating to cities. According to historical records of the region, the river Arvari used to provide groundwater recharge to wells in the area. But nobody can remember seeing it flow except during the short monsoon period. The river – in its 45 km journey flows through 70 odd villages. Its source lies in the degraded hills near the village of Bhaonta-Koylala.

Since 1986, working with, the Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS) a local NGO, the villagers of Bhaonta-Koylala built a rainwater harvesting structure locally known as johad to trap the rainwater and recharge the groundwater for ultimate use. Since then over 200 water harvesting structures have been built in the 70 villages in the catchment of Arvari. These small dams have helped to recharge the Groundwater & the river. Within about 5years of major completion of works the flow in the river adapted to its sustained nature. It has been perennial ever since. Apparently a miracle of last century!


c) NIMBI - Beating The Drought

When villagers unite against all odds and capture rain, the impossible happens.

Nimbi village, 1994. Where land was available almost free and yet there were no buyers, where the able-bodied left their homes, migrated to the cities around, resigned to a life of labour.

Nimbi, 2001. A dramatic turnaround has occurred. Almost within the blink of an eye.

The village is now a veritable oasis in the desert, where reverse migration has taken place and labour comes from other states and abroad in search of work on the agricultural fields.

The key to success can be summed up in two words: "water and people"

Just seven years years ago, in 1994, Nimbi village – 30 kilometres away from Jaipur, was just like any other ecologically degraded village in India. Surrounded by sand dunes and denuded hills, the westerly winds that blew through the village buried everything under sand. The traditional talabs were in a degraded condition and all the wells dried up. The village population was divided. With no water source left to water their fields, males migrated to work as wage labourers in nearby Jaipur, which had become almost like a second home.

The first structure to be built was the Ghatabara dam, followed by the Jungle dam. Small check dams were built on the three sides of the nallahs which were flooding the land with silt. Simultaneously, afforestation on the denuded surrounded hills started.

Results started to pour in. The water table in the wells started to improve. Agricultural activities resumed. Family economies revived and flourished.

In 1998, the monsoon failed and rivers dried up. The vegetable cultivators in the Banganga river catchment in Rajasthan were faced with a water crisis. Their search for alternate agricultural land brought them to Nimbi village. They had heard that farmers here were continuing to cultivate without irrigation because of their water conservation efforts. They approached the land-holders who agreed to lease their land at a cost of Rs 3,000 per bigha.

Crops were sown during summer and a bumper crop of vegetables obtained. The economy flourished. Every day, 25-30 trucks of vegetables started to leave the village for markets as far as Delhi.

Labour is now in demand within the village. The wage rates have shot up from Rs 30-40 to Rs 100-120 per day. The price of cow dung manure has increased five-fold as did the price of grass/fodder. Looking at the market, people have started making organic manure.

Word has spread. This village is now providing employment to over 500 people from the country and outside. There people from Nepal, Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and people from other states.

The turnaround is complete. Nimbi villagers who used to migrate for employment now provide employment to others.

The moment one enters the village the lush green crops attract attention. About 800 bighas of new agricultural land has been developed. Now 2-3 crops are being taken from 2,000 bighas. Some 10 years ago even during good monsoon, only bajra and jowar could be sown during the kharif season. Now, gram, peas, mustard, potato, tomato, cucumber, melon, watermelon and other fruits and flowers are cultivated.

Milk production worth Rs 1.25 lakh is supplied to the government dairy every month from the village. Some 34 families are running their private business in milk. Approximately 500 bighas of land has been given on lease for vegetable cultivation. This amounts to Rs 15lakh (Rs 3,000 per bigha).

When people nurture nature, sustainability becomes inevitable. One night, soon after the villagers had constructed a dam, it rained heavily. Concerned that their efforts might be washed away, several villagers holding lanterns braved their way in the downpour to the structure. Minor repairs were undertaken and the structure saved.
Along with water conservation, this village has also taken up forest and wildlife conservation. There is a complete ban on poaching.

With prosperity borne out of self-help comes social transformation and confidence to deal with the future. Nimbi is an ideal example