Feb 06, 2023

Community-led problem solving: A solution to the Maharashtra water crisis

Pranav Bharti,   PGDM 2024, SPJIMR

Imagine a farmer Sakharam Shinde growing your favourite fruit, mango, in one of the 36 districts of Maharashtra. Currently, he owns 202 mango trees, and one morning he gets up and destroys 110 of those mango trees. But why? Why will a farmer destroy his livelihood? Simply put, he is in debt and cannot afford more. A debt of 3 lakh rupees has been accumulated just because of water tankers. Yes! Water tankers. He has been buying water tankers worth 3 lakhs to supply water to his orchards. And due to the persistent water scarcity resulting in a drought in his village, he now needs more water tankers to sustain his mango trees, which he cannot afford anymore. Is this incident fake? No! [1] Is this issue new? No! How big is the problem and is there a solution? Well, read ahead! We will delve deeper and explore briefly how big the problem of water scarcity in Maharashtra is and how a small organization, started through a TV show, impacted millions and solved this problem through a community-led approach.

Intensity of the problem

6,29,00,000 litres – the amount of drinking water supplied through tankers every day in Maharashtra; 6290 tankers to 4920 villages and 10506 hamlets sent daily, carrying water to fulfil the most basic need of over 40% of the talukas of the total 358 labelled as drought areas. [2]

For decades drought has ravaged thousands of villages in Maharashtra, leading to thirst, hunger, debt, forced migration, and withered crops. Well, as easy and natural as it comes to us that the erratic monsoon is to blame for this, there is enough evidence to prove that a major cause of this grave crisis is the mismanagement of water and natural resources, exacerbated by the uncertainties caused by climate change.

Where does the solution lie?

Well, its common knowledge that scientific solutions to eradicating this crisis can be found in methods of water conservation, water management, and environmental restoration. So why can such solutions that have been prevalent and extensively researched for so many years not be implemented? Why can’t science solve this issue which has left Maharashtra and its poor in a grim state?

Is it the government that needs to create committees and allocate budgets for this? Or is it the NGOs who will have to raise funds from the rich, and import expensive technology to solve it?

While I looked through the industry to find a scientific solution to the problem, the answer lied closer to home and in a community led approach incepted by the famous TV show Satyamev Jayate. According to Paani Foundation, a non-profit, non-governmental organization founded by Bollywood Actor, Amir Khan with his wife Kiran Rao, believe, the root cause lies in the deep-rooted social fractures. Divides of caste, religion, political affiliations, and gender have prevented communities from owning this issue and finding a purpose in solving it together.

What followed this insight is a testimonial to the power of community, the power of people, and knowledge if imparted correctly.

How it all started?

Before we look at what Paani Foundation achieved and how they did it, I’ll take you through how it all started. The idea for the foundation followed from the TV show named “Satyamev Jayate” which ran from 2012 to 2014 by the actor Aamir Khan [3]. After looking for a cause the team could associate with for several years, Satyajit Bhatkal and Kiran Rao decided to work on water, which is very fundamental to all of us. After a year of research, they started a non-profit called Paani Foundation, which could spread the knowledge of watershed management and groundwater replenishment through a competition called ‘The Water Cup’ competition, also famously known as the ‘Satyamev Jayate Water Cup’. [4]

Implementation at the grass-root level

As we have already touched upon the power of community, let us see how Paani Foundation leveraged it so well –

  1. To kick off the competition every year, Aamir khan would personally write a letter to the Panchayats of the villages inviting them to the competition, thus, fostering inclusivity, respect, and involvement. The villages invited must pass a Gram Sabha resolution saying they want to participate and send five people, including 2 women to the centres, in their talukas for short training stints, thus, encouraging knowledge-building through community approval and involvement in decision making.
  2. Post training in watershed management techniques, leadership, and community building, these members return to their villages and lead the work, prompting everybody to join in and do shramdaan work (voluntary labour), thus, encouraging progress through community-led problem-solving.
  3. Keeping voluntary labour at the heart of it, the villages who participate, work on various water harvesting techniques and prepare their villages before the monsoons. Hence, this enables the citizens to address the crisis of water scarcity as a united unit, breaking the cycle of government dependence and finally experiencing the glory of making their village water-abundant through their efforts. This not only fosters self-dependence, but also breaks down social barriers such as community strife, caste discrimination, etc.

Such competitions and initiatives usually look glorious on paper, and so the obvious thought process is – But do they work? Well, yes and no!

The impact

For the three years that the Water Cup competition ran from 2016-2019 [5], with over 10000+ villages and 51000 participating and trained, water storage capacity for a total of 55000 crores litres was created, with a market value of water being 11020 crore rupees. A participant of the Velu village (who was the winner of the cup in 2016) encapsulates the whole result so perfectly and says – “Last year, at this time, there was not a drop of water. Even sparrows could not find water to drink. Now, there is greenery everywhere.” So, the model initially worked, but then the age-old issue of human nature – “The more a man has, the more he wants” resurfaced, and the draughts started coming back. As the water availability increased, so did the usage. This reality makes it clear that working on water and soil conservation alone cannot insulate a village against drought [6]. But what came out of this are also some positives, such as community development and training and voluntary united work by the community are crucial to grassroots-level problem-solving. Hence, keeping this in mind, with a more comprehensive approach to uprooting droughts, Paani Foundation launched Samruddha Gaon Spardha in 2020 [7]. At the heart of this also lay community decision-making and implementation but with a more holistic mindset.

The Conclusion

If you google water crisis today, the first suggested search is – water crisis in India. It is so easy to believe that this crisis won’t affect you or me because we come from a place of privilege, and affects only the lowest strata of society. But as we go deeper into the earth for searching groundwater, the crisis is slowly creeping upwards towards us. The simple yet effective Water Cup project by Paani Foundation testifies the power of the community and highlights where the answer to this crisis lies. Now the only question is – Are we willing enough? And let us not forget the moral of the story from our early school days – “Where there is a will, there is a way.”


[1] Deshpande, S. (2019, August 25). Water scarcity forces Maharashtra farmers to destroy crop. Hindustan Times; Hindustan Times. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/farmers-forced-to-destroy-crop/story-tuDM5bovzrp8z6zo7DcyML.html

[2] P. Manoj & Rahul Wadke. (2019, May 31). Maharashtra’s water scarcity hits crisis level. Thehindubusinessline.com. https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/national/maharashtras-water-scarcity-hits-crisis-level/article27393500.ece

[3] http://jalshakti-dowr.gov.in/sites/default/files/PaaniFdn_Success_Story_2018.pdf

[4] The Logical Indian. (2019, February). Satyamev Jayate Water Cup: This Is How The Paani Foundation Has Been Fighting Drought In Maharastra. Thelogicalindian.com; The Logical Indian. https://thelogicalindian.com/my-social-responsibility/water-cup-satyamev-jayate-maharashtra/

[5] Satyamev Jayate Water Cup: Overview, Impact and Success Stories | Paani Foundation. (2016). Paani Foundation. https://www.paanifoundation.in/watercup/

[6] Winning the Water Cup in parched Maharashtra – Civil Society Magazine. (2021). Civilsocietyonline.com. https://www.civilsocietyonline.com/campaigns/winning-the-water-cup/

[7] About the Satyamev Jayate Samruddha Gaon Spardha | Paani Foundation. (2020). Paani Foundation. https://www.paanifoundation.in/samruddh-gaon/about-the-spardha/

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