Family Trees

A Rajasthan village’s watershed-management plan promotes gender equality

The Piplantri model has now been emulated by 157 panchayats in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Bihar and other states. Smita Pranav Kothari
01 February, 2020

Shyam Sunder Paliwal was the sarpanch of Piplantri, a village in Rajasthan’s Rajsamand district, between 2005 and 2010. His father helped a marble company establish a unit in the village. In return, the company let his family sell its scrap marble, making them affluent. Over the years, excessive marble mining and sporadic droughts caused a severe depletion in the village’s groundwater levels. Water could not be found in the area, even by drilling tube wells four hundred feet deep.

On 21 August 2006, Kiran, Paliwal’s 16-year-old daughter, died of dehydration after suffering from diarrhoea. Devastated by her death and recognising the urgent need to rejuvenate the water table, Paliwal launched the Kiran Nidhi Yojana, in 2007. The KNY mandates that the parents of a newborn girl plant 111 trees. The father or guardian of the girl are asked to pay Rs 10,000, while Rs 21,000 is collected from other villagers and philanthropists. The total amount of Rs 31,000 is invested in a fixed deposit, redeemable when the girl turns 18 years old. The money is expected to be used to fund her higher education and wedding. In exchange, the parents are asked to sign an affidavit promising to take care of the trees and not marry off their daughter until she attains adulthood. After the wedding, the trees become the property of the panchayat, with any income they generate being used for developmental activities.

Paliwal’s biggest challenge in implementing the scheme, he told me, was “to recover the government land that was encroached.” Convincing villagers, who saw the economic benefits of the scheme, was relatively easier. The KNY is now linked to the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, a central-government deposit scheme launched in 2015, as part of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign.

In 2007, the government identified around eight hundred hectares of land in the village—based on factors such as soil erosion, water level and migration of farmers—as watershed area. The watershed-management plan included building contour trenches across the mountain slopes, to prevent erosion, and anicuts to retain rainwater. With government officers providing technical expertise, a ten-member committee was appointed to oversee the monitoring work on the ground. Paliwal was named the chairperson of the committee. Villagers, including women, Dalits and Adivasis, made up the remaining members. The labour required was recruited from the village under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.