The unrelenting efforts of a young woman is making her community water secure


By Sangita Patra

1 July 2021

Shantilata’s leadership brought the whole community to work on a mission to bring water back to sources and retain for future.

Shantilata Majhi is presenting the plant with a happy smile on her face.

Photograph by Aravind AR

Shantilata, 28, a tribal woman of the Tukuguda village, Kalahandi, became the Secretary for the Village Development Committee (VDC) after her village started facing severe water shortages affecting drinking water supply and livelihoods. She has been a very active SHG member of her village. The VDC used to take the help of SHG in mobilising families and addressing the different development needs of the village. It was only then that people noticed Shantilata’s leadership abilities and voted her as the Secretary of VDC. Together they have been able to successfully solve the water supply and quality related issues in her village by repairing the water tank in the recent past.

Traditionally, the community was into shifting cultivation, however, over the years, they started experiencing water scarcity. Due to the cutting down of trees, slopes in the hills became vulnerable to landslides, causing fractures in aquifers and leading to drying springs on which the entire village used to survive. Every year, heavy rains damaged homes and destroyed crops down the hills. To deal with accessibility and conservation of water, and to protect lives, livelihoods, crops and houses, Shantilata persuaded and brought together the entire community to work on initiatives towards sustainability of water sources. She actively took responsibility for monitoring and recording monthly water readings from different water sources in her village.

She received training on soil and water conservation measures and other concepts of springshed and watershed by Gram Vikas. Land development activities such as construction of stone bunds and gully plugs along the catchment areas were done to reduce runoff and restore and protect the natural water sources. Under her leadership, over 1,000 staggered contour trenches were dug in the catchment area to ensure water availability to the entire village. She has successfully led the watershed committee of Tukuguda village to raise a nursery and plant 9,000 saplings in the village. Horticulture plantations such as mango and cashew and intercropping were also promoted which helped families earn some livelihood during the difficult times of COVID-19.

Shantilata recounts “Water has helped the community come together.  Earlier we used to face a lot of issues in terms of access to clean drinking water, now we have water 24*7 at our doorstep. Plantation and soil conservation work undertaken in the catchment area has allowed us to access water for livelihood also. We now grow vegetables in winter and also grow a second crop every year.”

Her efforts as a “woman water champion” has been recognised by UNDP India and Stockholm International Water Institute.

Plantation done in the catchment area.

Photograph by Budhadev Deep


Ashutosh Bhat and Sachin Gurung supported the field level information collection for the story writing. Ganesh Chakravarthi edited the story.


Sangita Patra is the Thematic Manager for Documentation and Communications at Gram Vikas.


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