How The Women In Tamil Nadu Revived A Dead River

Around 20,000 women worked over four years to revive the river

The Naganadhi river in Tamil Nadu’s Vellore district had been dead for around 15 years. Once the lifeline of villages in Vellore district, the Naganadhi river went dry affecting farmers and forcing them to migrate to cities. In 2014, scientists and geologists in collaboration with The Art of the Living Foundation designed a model to revive the river.

The Naganadhi River Rejuvenation programme took the help of around 20,000 women over four years to build several boulder checks as well as thousands of recharge wells. These helped in directing the rainwater into shallow aquifers which reportedly enhanced the groundwater level by 6 metres. Approved by the Tamil Nadu government, the project enrolled local women and paid them over Rs 200 daily through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act (MGNREGA) scheme. The women produced cement rings locally for the recharge wells, thereby earning an extra income.

Chembakkam, one of the women workers attached to the project, said,

“We attended a yoga class conducted by our panchayat. During the session, we got to know about how cistern helps to preserve groundwater and we realised how people will benefit from the idea. We are currently working on a canal named Yelagiri at Jagannathapuram. We are really satisfied with our work because it not only benefits us but the surrounding villages as well. We wish to implement this in all of Tamil Nadu.”

The project used satellite imagery and Geographic Information System (GIS) to restore the river to its original trail. It has reportedly reclaimed 9,000 hectares of agricultural land, benefitting around 60,000 people and helping farmers cultivate multiple crops.