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This retired army colonel is enriching lives of people by rejuvenating dams in Maharashtra

Ayush Agarwal

I am a namesake Engineer, Nascent writer, football fanatic, confused being. That's it, really.

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This post is a part of Neer, a collaborative project by DCB Bank and Chaaipani to bring out stories of individuals and initiatives that are working hard and smart to save water.

“Visit the dam in the morning. See water flowing from the bridge right in front of it. What an experience it was.” This was the experience shared by one of the visitors of the Khadakwasla Dam.

Apart from the feeling of strength a waterfall gives, the dam is a source of life and livelihood for an entire city built around it. During the floods of 1961, the Indian Army came to the rescue of Puneites to prevent the dams from collapsing, but even then the Panshet Dam collapsed, leaving the Khadakwasla Dam the last line of defense for the people, and the dam played it’s role well ensuring the safety of people.

Khadakawasla Dam, Suresh Patil

Patriotism has numerous facets. But without a shred of doubt, what our soldiers do for us, for our country, is tantamount to a mother’s love for her child. But, what if the very thing they are trying to protect perishes over time because we didn’t have the sagacity to preserve it. When it comes to the environment, there is a second thought that crosses our mind, ‘who has the money to do it, and those who do, might not be willing to invest’. Well, let me tell you there are other ways to bring about a difference.

Retired Colonel Suresh Patil was born and brought up in Pune. Col. Patil was a very good boxer during his college and taking inspiration from his brother he joined the army at the young age of 20. With nothing but pride in his voice, he tells me how he got a chance to serve the Indian army.

“In 1971, I was fortunate to have served in the Indo-Pak war, where our battalion lost 6 officers and close to 67 men. I was critically wounded by enemy shelling. When I regained consciousness, I realized I had lost so many brothers with whom I had broken bread, the morning before we went to war.”

“My commanding officer told me, Suresh, you’re lucky to have survived where there are so many who went out to war, celebrate your life by doing good for the humanity. That is when I decided to serve the remainder of my time and start working for a better future.”

Col. Suresh Patil hung his uniform in 1993 and set up three NGOs. As a retired army officer, Colonel tells me there were a lot of high paying opportunities but he had made up his mind long before this, and he didn’t budge. He started with Green Thumb organization and 2 decades later, up until now they have planted a million trees in Maharashtra, parts of Madhya Pradesh and Punjab with the help of a lot of people who believed in this initiative. With his initiative of Justice for Jawans, he helps war widows, ex-servicemen helping them attain justice. With a little pride in his voice, he tells me compared to other retired army officials he is too busy managing three initiatives that some days he can’t keep doesn’t realize when dawn turns to dusk.

Recently Green Thumb was in the news for helping the city of Pune’s biggest water source i.e. the Khadakwasla dam. The 4 water reservoirs that supply water to the city constitute about 29 TMC of water storage but the actual water holding capacity has reduced to less 40% due to silt accumulation.

“We suggested to the irrigation department, that instead of building a new dam or raise the height of the existing dam, which would have resulted in the loss of cultivable land and taken a lot of time and resources, the idea of desilting the dams.”

When they got no response, they did it themselves. The water receded in months of March, April, and May, they pulled out the smaller islands from the lake with the help of Southern Command, BEG (Bombay Engineering Group) and individuals who believed in this initiative. To remove the silt and soil, they needed equipment so they asked army college that instead of training in Alandi they could do it in the lake and which helped them remove the initial fifty thousand trucks.

“The soil which came out of these islands was brown gold as it has been there enriched since 150 years. We gave this soil to farmers and their yield has increased by double and triple. One truckload of silt equals one tanker, which is 10 thousand litres of water, and we removed 10 lakh truckloads.”

When Vandana Chavan visited them, she was all in awe of this feat that the group had achieved, so the Colonel asked her to request the government to invest in the concept. But apparently, there is no provision of silt removal, which costs much less compared to building a new dam altogether considering the connected effects of the activity.

“There are cascading benefits. The water holding capacity increases, we give most of the soil to the farmers and the rest of the soil is used to plant trees on the periphery of the lake which would attract the bird life. The place has become a tourist destination, where families come for picnics.”

Now, the government, NGOs, and industrialists have tied up with this idea and are investing their time and money. Change is different from the norm, it’s beyond the horizon so you can’t see it, but you can’t stop walking because if you don’t take a risk, even if it’s a calculated one, you won’t know. People who were reluctant on desilting the dam because the idea was an ancient one or they assumed that it would be cumbersome and costly joined in when they saw the proof. A step was taken by one, followed by hundreds, and affected thousands and thousands of people. A plan for the masses, Col. Suresh Patil wants to spread this concept of desilting through the nation.

If you know of individuals or organisations who are doing their bit to make every drop matter, and who you think have a story that should be told to the world, do write to us on contact(at)chaaipani(dot)com.

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