Dhara Vikas: Creating water security through spring-shed development in Sikkim

Submitted by Hindi on Sun, 01/29/2017 - 11:13
Social Sector Service Delivery Good Practices Resource Book 2015, NITI Aayog Government of India

Dhara Vikas is an innovative programme to revive and maintain drying springs in the north-eastern state of Sikkim. A robust climate adaptation strategy for drought-prone districts, Dhara Vikas (meaning, spring-shed development) is helping to alleviate the problem of rural water scarcity by reducing surface runoff of rainwater and allowing more water to percolate down to recharge underground aquifers, which, in turn, ensures increased discharge from springs. Besides its significant impact on crop patterns and yields, the programme has also worked on developing a village spring atlas and a water source atlas for the state. Water access to the population through this initiative has also led to improved sanitation practices.


The adverse impact of climate change on rainfall threatens the delicate, holistic balance that once stimulated the Himalayan ecosystem. Sikkim, too, has witnessed a change in rainfall pattern, including increased intensity of rainfall, reduction in temporal spread, and a significant fall in winter rainfall1. The impact of this change on the lives of the Sikkimese people gained wide attention during a seminar in 2008, organised by the World WildlifeFund (WWF) on World Water Day, when a group of local women spoke about the daily drudgery caused by lack of water2. The problem of water scarcity was more pronounced in South Sikkim and West Sikkim districts, which fall in rain-shadow areas and receive much less rainfall than other districts. According to the Sikkim First, an economic and political journal, about 65,000 (nearly 80%) of the state’s rural households depend on springsfor drinking water and irrigation. Recognising the urgent need for ensuring water security, the Rural Management and Development Department (RMDD), Government of Sikkim (GoS), conceptualised the Dhara Vikas initiative to revive the state’s dying lakes, springs and streams. Estimates suggest that in mountainous terrain less than 15% rainwater percolates down to recharge springs, while the rest is lost as surface water. The core thrustof Dhara Vikas is to catch this runoff water and use it to recharge groundwater sources.


The primary objective of Dhara Vikas is to ensure water security by breaking the cycle of abundance and scarcity of water. It also seeks to enhance the hydrological contribution of the mountainous ecosystem as a water tower for the people, and ensure disaster risk management by reducing landslides and floods.

Key Stakeholders

This initiative is being run by various departments of government with the support of private institutions. RMDD is the nodal agency for this initiative.

Nodal AgencyWater scarcity

Implementation Strategy

Increasing occurrence of droughts in South Sikkim and West Sikkim districts, where the springs and streams used to dry up every year between the months of March to May, led the RMDD to launch the Dhara Vikas initiative in 2008. The initiative was launched under the centrally sponsored Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme, with technical support from other government agencies and organisations like WWF - India; People’s Science Institute, Dehradun; ACWADAM, Pune, and Arghyam, Bangaluru.

Dhara Vikas aims to revive and maintain the dhara (springs) in the South and West districts of Sikkim by using rainwater harvesting, geohydrology and Geographical Information System (GIS) techniques.

Community participationThe first year of the programme saw the initiation of several capacity building measures for the existing workforce. About 20 programmes were organised in coordination with various NGO stakeholders to develop specialised knowledge and skills in areas such as rainwater harvesting, geohydrology, and spring discharge measurement; use of Global Positioning System (GPS); and laying of contour trenches.

RainwaterSimultaneously, RMDD identified the recharge areas of various springs and streams based on the varying structure, weathering and fracture pattern of rocks. The pilot phase in the year 2010 aimed at reviving the Nagi Lake in South Sikkim district, focussed on digging of trenches and laying of pipes for the recharge of select lakes and springs. The encouraging results of these interventions became evident by 2011, after which the initiative was scaledup in 2012 to cover the South Sikkim and West Sikkim districts. Dhara Vikas enabled a remarkable convergence of expertise from various departments like forest, mines and science and technology, who provided their specialised knowledge on relevant subjects. Activities such as laying of trenches and GI pipes were taken up under the national flagship MGNREGA programme. The major stages of the initiative are depicted in Figure 2.

Implementation of the Dhara Vikas initiative has primarily focussed on executing a scientifically robust strategy and generating awareness. The initiative’s strategic focushas been on controlling runoff water and increasing its permeation to enhance groundwater recharge. Activities toward this objective include developing springs-sheds, enhancing hydrological contribution of hill-top forests, reviving lakes to function as recharge structures, expanding minor irrigation networks for paddy cultivation, terracing sloping lands, enhancing water storage infrastructure, developing para-professionals in geohydrology, and carrying out research and documentation.

Dhara vikas programmeDhara Vikas has not required any separate grievance redressal mechanisms. The nature of initiative has been such that it required the committed involvement of villagers, as the problem being addressed impacted all the members of the community. Decisions related todigging of trenches and recharge points were based on principles of geohydrology, which mitigated the potential problems associated with arbitrary decisions. All workrelatedresolutions have been taken up in the Panchayats and sorted through village-level discussions.

Nagi LakeAwareness generation has been an important part of Dhara Vikas. As the project was initiated in response to the problem of water scarcity, the villages with the most acute shortage were selected for implementation during the initial phase in 2009. Public awareness was high in the areas where the pilot was conducted. Microlevelplanning invariably involved discussion with the local populace. As the initiative was being implemented through MGNREGA, the locals were also kept updated on aspects of implementation.

According to RMDD, the success of the programme, which has revived five lakes and 50 springs, has generated more demand from villages that suffer from similar waterscarcity. With the revival of lakes and springs and the increased awareness, villagers in the area have also started constructing water storage tanks. They use the day-time discharge from springs for irrigation, while the night-time discharge is used to fill personal tanks by rotation.

Resources Utilised

The initiative has made remarkable use of the existing resources by converging the activities of various Departments to ensure effective implementation. NGO partners like WWF provided support in training and assessment studies. More than 20 training programmeshave been organised by various NGO partners in collaboration with RMDD. It’s estimated that an amount of Rs 2.5 crore has been spent on spring-shed development activities, covering a total area of 400 hectares and resulting in annual groundwater recharge of900 million litres3.


Recharging lakes, reviving springs, reforestation: Dhara Vikas has created a significant impact by recharging lakes and reviving several springs in Sikkim. As many as 50 springs have been revived, most of them in Kaluk, Rhenock, Ravangla, Sumbuk, Jorethang and Namthang. Further, five lakes, namely Dolling, Deythang, Nagi, Karthok and Datum, were revived by the initiative. It has also led to reforestation of seven hill-top forests at Simkharka, Sadam, Tendong, Maenam, Gerethang, Chakung and Sudunglakha. Overall, at an investment of Rs. 2.5 crore over the last four years, Dhara Vikas has brought about 900 million litres of annual groundwater recharge.

Creation of a cadre of technical specialists: Dhara Vikas has also developed seven master trainers as inhouse cadre of para-hydrogeologists.

Recharging lakesCreation of a village spring atlas and web portal: Another significant impact of the initiative is the creation of the village spring atlas web portal which provides information on 700 springs, and can be accessed at www. Sikkimsprings.org.

Benefits to agriculture and farming: Dhara Vikas has made a significant impact on crop patterns and yields. According to Bengaluru-based Indian Institute of Science’s assessment report (2013), increased irrigation has encouraged farmers to cultivate new crops such as beans, radish, cauliflower, cabbage and chilly, along with paddy and tomatoes. Many perennial garden fruits, such as guava, banana, orange and litchi, have been cultivated following this initiative. The report also indicates an average of 15% increase in crop yield and 25% increase in the cultivation of irrigated crops such as paddy, tomatoand vegetables.

Dhara Vikas’ Innovative Approach

1. Developed para-geohydrologists to bridge the knowledge gap on geo-hydrology and revival of springs at the village level

2. Adopted a landscape-level approach by reviving springs, streams and lakes

3. Succeeded as a community-driven initiative that created grassroots demand by successfully carrying out pilot projects on spring-shed development

4. Linked with the MGNREGA national scheme for sustainable funding support

Improvements in sanitation: Another notable impact of the programme is the improvement in sanitation, which was earlier seriously compromised due to water scarcity.

Key Challenges

As this initiative involved the implementation of a new concept, many lessons were learnt along the way. Trenches for groundwater recharge were initially dug without adherence to geo-hydrological requirements. Some trenches were dug on terraced fields instead of onsloping land, while others were dug without supervision which could ensure maximum trapping of surface runoff, thus making them ineffective. Similarly, many horticultureand forestry activities initially undertaken to improve groundwater recharging did not show any positive outcomes. In time it was realised that trenches and ponds had a greater impact on groundwater recharging and soil moisture than plantations, which lose moisture throughevaporation.

In certain locations, the lean period discharge was not recorded, making any conclusive impact assessment impossible. Also, as the programme gathered momentum, its positive effects generated demand for scaling up, which could not be met due to the limited number of trained staff.


Replicability and Sustainability

The ecologically sound and scientific solution implemented by Dhara Vikas is seen as a highly replicable strategy to tackle the pervasive and persistent problem of water scarcity in mountainous regions. Representatives from countries like Nepal and Bhutan, which have asimilar topography as Sikkim, as well as from other hilly Indian states, like Arunachal Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, have visited the state to understand the processof spring-shed development. They plan to implement similar initiatives in their respective geographies.

People speakThe sustainability potential of this initiative is also reasonably high, as it taps into plan funds and the MGNREGA scheme and uses infrastructure that already exists within various Departments. Other than the trenches and GI pipes used for groundwater recharging,Dhara Vikas does not demand the creation of any new infrastructure. Once the initial pilot is successful, the impact itself paves the way for Gram Panchayats taking up ownership as well as the responsibility for upkeep and maintenance of the project.


Dhara Vikas has had a profound impact on the lives of people living in water-scarce areas of Sikkim, and this innovative intervention is set to continue in future. In keeping with its utilisation of latest technology for spring-shed development, Dhara Vikas has initiated anenvironmental isotopic fingerprinting study of springs in Sikkim, in collaboration with the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), to increase knowledge of mountain aquifers. This technique can further strengthen the understanding of recharge areas and pinpoint specificlocations for optimal recharge of a spring.

Apart from this, a training handbook is being prepared to illustrate the process of groundwater recharge. Pilots of other water security initiatives, including documentationof village water budget, village recharge areas and ways in which water efficiency can be enhanced are underway.

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