ITANAGAR: In Arunachal Pradesh’s Lepa Rada district, a government scientist’s untiring efforts over a decade have brought back to life springs and water bodies which were on the verge of drying up.
Soi village is a site of this miraculous turnaround that began when Egam Basar, then a Horticulture Development officer, started the process of restoring the water bodies with dedication, perseverance, and scientific know-how in 2008 with ‘EB Project Nature’.
“We have three rivers in our area — Kidi, Hie and Bam Hile — and their many tributaries. In my 30s, when I was a young officer, I noticed that these rivers were beginning to dry up. Earlier, they were major rivers that were difficult to cross. But their volumes had reduced significantly and the water-level had dropped, raising an alarm among locals,” Basar told EastMojo.
The reason for this, Basar found out, was the jhum (slash and burn) cultivation practiced by villagers and accompanying deforestation.
“Based on a survey we did, we discovered that our rivers were on the verge of dying because small streams and rivulets feeding these rivers were drying up because of deforestation in key water catchment areas,” Basar says.
Amid these investigations, he turned his attention to Soi village in the vicinity, where acute water scarcity had put the local rice cultivators out of business and even drinking water was hard to come by.
“The situation was especially dire in winters when the drinking water supply used to run out. Moreover, local cultivators had to abandon wetland paddy farming completely as they did not have the water that was needed for irrigation,” Basar says.
To help the villagers, the government officer came up with an “action plan” to reverse the drying process of streams and other water bodies in the area.
Basar conceptualized spring shed development to reverse the process. Now, the first step was to increase the forest cover in the area by planting trees where they had been cut down.
“We also turned our attention to digging rainwater harvesting pits throughout the area so that the water could be retained,” Basar says, adding that he mobilized youths from Soi and neighbouring villages to help him achieve this feat.
‘Great things are done when men and mountains meet. This is not done jostling in the streets,’ reads a poster at Basar’s project site that one will come across during a trek through the woods. This quote by British poet William Blake perfectly encapsulates the spirit of ‘EB Project Nature.’
“I knew I needed to acquire the land at Soi to realize my vision of turning it into a paradise self-sufficient in water. At the very outset of my initiative, I gave my own land near the town to villagers in exchange for their land near the village. There were some plots of land that also had to be bought. To acquire the land in Soi, I had to dig into my own resources as a government employee. At the end of the process, I had managed to acquire 27 hectares of land in and around Soi,” he adds.
By leaps and bounds, Basar’s labours have borne fruit. By 2017, the village had become self-sufficient for water and in 2019, villagers resumed cultivation of paddy in their fields. Fast forward to 2022, and optimistic locals energized by the new lease of life have even set up fisheries.
The wonders of this initiative in Arunachal were laid bare for the world to see when Chief Minister Pema Khandu, Union Minister Kiren Rijiju and their entourage visited the site on Monday, posting pictures and videos of the unique site, and urging “those who have adventure spirit” to explore the area.
In a tweet, Chief Minister Khandu described Basar’s ‘EB Project Nature’ as “incredibly blessed with greenery and plenty of oxygen”.
It needs mentioning that over the years, Basar’s project has also had a significant influence on the Arunachal Pradesh government’s policy programmes.
After New Delhi-based Integrated Mountain Initiative (IMI) presented the success story of EB-Project Nature in Legislator’s Dialogue-2018 for Arunachal Pradesh to raise awareness on climate change, the state earmarked Rs 5 crore in the 2019-20 budget to revive 20 of drying spring water sources across the state.
Basar, who is now the Head and Scientist at the State Horticulture Research and Development Institute in Arunachal Pradesh, continues with his imperative to preserve water at the project site. At his perfect little haven in Soi, he is assisted by 10 volunteers who accompany tourists on a trail for visitors at Soi, charging Rs 500 to acquaint them with Basar’s unique success story.
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“It gives me great joy to be able to generate employment for local youths…it is like feeding two birds with one scone,” Basar tells us with contentment, adding that the trail through his project site displays many of his key projects, including preserved rare varieties of flora, and several varieties of orchids.
Basar’s eventual goal, he says, “Is to ensure that one day the area returns to its former pristine glory,” which is why he still continues with the processes that brought the local water bodies back from the brink.
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