Born and brought up in the quaint village of Halgara in Latur district of Maharashtra, Datta Patil grew up amid immense hardship but within a family that believed in the importance of Education
Datta pursued Engineering, and a few years later worked with brands like Yahoo and Microsoft. He later moved to California in the USA but visited his family every year. In 2016, as per the tradition since last few years, Datta had planned a visit to India, take his parents on a pilgrimage, meet his family and friends and return to the US.
As per the ritual, the family packed their food, started a road trip and decided to eat at some lush field before reaching Pandharpur. They started at 5am and drove for hours but could not find one green patch to eat their homemade food and relax for some time. This deeply affected Datta, who had been reading about farmer suicides and drought like situations in Maharashtra.
He commented, “This was nothing like the place I grew up. It felt like we were on a parched desert stretch in Rajasthan. It was then that the gravity of the drought sunk in. When I enquired, my father lamented the distress of farmers in our village. I just kept quiet for the rest of the trip and retrospected about what I could do.”
Once he returned to California, he researched and found out that California too is classified as a drought-hit region in the USA. So he started drawing parallels. He found out that California has been affected by drought for five years, but personally he never experienced water cuts. Datta further figured out that in 2016, the annual rainfall in Santa Clara was 400 mm, whereas Halgara received 800 mm of rainfall, which is almost double. However, surprising was that California's groundwater level was at 70 ft, but Halgara was dug as deep as 800 ft in search of groundwater. So clearly, the definition of drought when based upon groundwater levels and the locations, was jarring.
He then decided to first recharge the groundwater level at Halgara and spent almost three lakh rupees from his own pocket to start the watershed activities. He was determined to save every drop of rain water and allowed it to seep into the ground, instead of letting it run off.
The first steps were desilting the 20 km canals in Halgara and clear the river beds. This ensured that the flow of the water in the rivers was slowed, thus giving it more time to seep into the ground. They also used about 1,500 hectares of farmland to create compartment bunds to store water during the monsoons. The success of the project helped Halagara save over two hundred crore litres of water.
The impact of the project is visible in how the groundwater level of Halgara, which was previously at a depth of 800 ft has now risen to 100 ft. Moreover, in the last two years, Halgara has been receiving more rainfall too!
From asking villagers to put in two hours of shramdaan (donation of labor) to work on the ground, to connecting with youngsters from the village who have migrated elsewhere; gathering funds at Indian temples abroad and talking at Marathi Cinema theatre, Datta was determined and positive.
He also presented the Halgara project to authorities at Yahoo USA and managed to get a help of over one crore rupees in the next three years from the MNC's Corporate Social Responsibility wing. Gradually, Datta developed a motivated team which consisted of friends, families, and villagers and built 26 check dams.
His efforts and triumph is visible in the satellite images of Halgara before 2016 and after 2018. One would be stunned to see the green cover that now graces this village AGAIN. Today, many of its hard working farmers are earning 300 times more than ever.
It is people like Datta Patil whose grit and unwavering resolution brings a dramatic change not just in the lives of people but also in the landscape of one entire village. He has saved lives of people, animals and plants and restored faith in humanity. He is indisputably an inspiration for the generations to come!
Source – The Better India
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