Ranjan Panda, 45
In 1988, as a post-graduate student of sociology in Sambalpur University, Ranjan Panda visited some villages in western parts of Odisha. To his dismay, he discovered that the once agriculturally prosperous villages had turned parched and drought prone.
It was a turning point for Panda, who decided to study the traditional water conservation methods that were dying gradually.
Panda formed a voluntary group, Manav Adhikar Seva Samiti (Mass) along with few fellow students and local youth to revive traditional wisdom on water by mobilising local communities.
About a decade later, the group had been able to revive different types of water bodies in around 40 drought-prone villages of Sambalpur and Bargarh districts effectively checking distress migration from the villages.
Mobilised by Mass, the villagers of Padiabadmal built a network of about 20 ‘panigharas’ (small water structures to collect rainwater when it flowed down a hill). The water thus collected assured the villagers one guaranteed crop in erratic monsoon and another winter crop.
“The villagers have better knowledge about water conservation in their areas than most engineers and we have a lot to learn from them. But the present system never seeks their views and sadly government officers dismiss them as illiterates,” Panda said.
These small efforts to revive traditional wisdom created big impact, earning Panda a name as an environmentalist. But over the years, he could also see the bigger picture – the sorry state of all the major rivers in Odisha.
Panda has formed a state level group, Water Odisha Initiatives, in a view to covering all aspects of issues relating to water – research, awareness and mobilization of civil society to work towards cleaning rivers of garbage, sewage and pollution.
“We have already started a campaign focusing on the Mahanadi, Odisha’s biggest river. Later we plan to cover all the rivers in our campaign,” he said.