278 villages pin hope on Kumudvathi river revival

“A river is a complex eco-system,” says Dr Lingaraju Yale, a geo-hydrologist and one of the foremost experts on natural water resource management in India. And a dying, complex eco-system requires tireless work of a committed team to breathe life back into it.

The story of the Kumudvathi river rejuvenation project is that of hope, commitment and rigor. Since mid-2013, Dr Yale and his team of 20-odd full-time Art of Living volunteers and few hundred part-time volunteers across four states in India have initiated their work in rejuvenating the Kumudvathi river. The team has taken up 33 rivers in Maharashtra (25), Karnataka (3), Tamil Nadu (4) and Kerala (1). 

“In February 2013, a large team from The Art of Living decided to take up the challenge and devote their weekends to travel to villages in the river basin to start working on the plan of rejuvenating river Kumudvathi using a scientific methodology for sustained results,” reminisces Dr. Yale.

What Dr Yale and his team are doing is, in a sense, seminal, the fruition of which is likely to show results in pockets throughout the country.  

For now, 278 villages and Bengaluru, the IT capital of India, are pinning their hopes on the revival of the 460-square-kilometer Kumudvathi river.

How it began

The year 2007 saw an acknowledgement of a growing crisis: Bengaluru faced a 20 percent shortage of fresh water supply as Thippagondanahalli water reservoir, fed by the Kumudvathi river, went dry.

How did the river dry up?

  • Urban encroachment
  • Deforestation
  • Quarrying
  • Over-exploitation of groundwater

This proved to be a culmination of a problem that had been accumulating since a few years and promised to only grow larger, affecting the villages through which the river once flowed.

Concerned about the river’s deteriorating state, The Art of Living volunteers, under the banner of International Association of Human Values (IAHV), took up the task of reviving the dying river.

Why does this matter to us?

One day, an old farmer made a crucial decision. He decided to begin eucalyptus plantation. Why would someone, who thoroughly understands the language of the soil, choose to switch from growing food crops to medicinal plants?

He was left with no choice as he witnessed the groundwater levels decreasing rapidly. Stream networks, a nerve center of thriving agricultural produce, began to dry up too. A report suggested that up to 100 stream networks of the Kumudvathi river had dried up.

With little water available, and no choice left, the farmer decided to switch to less water intensive crops with a hope of keeping the family’s income afloat.  

This is the story of innumerable farmers whose livelihoods depended on this river’s flow. With water crisis and economic insecurity looming large, a significant number of the rural population migrated to Bengaluru in search of livelihood.

Lower levels of water translate into:

  • Less agricultural produce
  • Decreased water levels for daily usage
  • Socio-economic instability of farmers

The good news

It is expected that with sufficient rainfalls for a minimum of three seasons after completion of work in the entire project area, the river’s levels will be significantly higher. This has the potential to augment Cauvery's water to satisfy Bengaluru’s needs, restore environmental balance in the belt, as well as bring back families and youth who left the villages.

What we did

Adopting a scientific approach

  • Built 436 boulder checks
  • De-silted over 20 traditional step wells
  • Constructed 433 recharge wells & 71 water pools
  • Constructed 44 recharge bore wells
  • Planted more than 39,000 saplings
  • Spread awareness to 66,504 people spread over 100 villages

The last time it rained, water levels in many dry kalyanis (step-wells) rose much to the delight of the local villagers and the team alike, which further motivated the team to intensify its efforts.

People’s movement

The Art of Living’s initiative, which aimed at reviving the river, has today turned into a revolution.

From volunteers gathering at the Shivaganga hills region to plant trees along the course of the river every Sunday to the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) stepping in to fund the project, corporates, villagers, government authorities and common masses are helping in the project.

“With the support of nine Gram Panchayats and The Minor Irrigation and Water Resources Department in the restoration of existing local water bodies in the region, the project is likely to be completed soon,” said Dr Lingaraju.

The Art of Living’s approach towards any project is a holistic one. So, along with the rejuvenation, The Art of Living has also taken the responsibility to train villagers through empowering programs the Youth Leadership Training Program (YLTP) and stress management programs.

The project also works with farmers, encouraging them to form farmers' clubs at the Panchayat level to take the initiative in carrying out organic farming and community farming.

The success will certainly taste sweet when the Kumudvathi river starts gushing with full force. Till then, the journey will be reward enough.


Story Credit: The documentation team, Art of Living Bureau of Communication

Published on: July 2017