Participatory Modeling in My village: E. Palaguttapalli

My village, E. Palagutapalli (, is a typical upland village in southern peninsular part of India (Figure 1). After working in India and USA as software engineers for a few years, my wife and I (Aparna Krishnan and Nagesh Kolagani: settled down in this village since 1995. We have been observing changes in its fortunes over the years and trying to motivate its people to understand and adopt sustainable resource management practices. It has not been easy! I will describe here the changes we observed and the various attempts we made, using participatory modelling (PM) and public participation GIS (PP-GIS), to help them improve themselves.

Figure 1. Location map of E. Palaguttapalli gram panchayat, Chittoor district, A.P. state, India

E. Palagutapalli was a thriving agricultural village for several decades. During 1980s and 1990s, its farmers shifted to commercially profitable and water intensive sugarcane cultivation. However, since the year 2001, the water bodies and wells in this village have dried up almost completely leading to a collapse of agriculture. Out of 198 wells that were working till the year 2000, only 25 continued to work. Out of 75 new tube wells sunk, only 34 were successful; these also yielded low levels of water. The sugarcane cultivated area under the main water body of the village dropped from around 30 acres (Figure 2) to about 3 acres (Figure 3). More than a third of the farm workers and the farmers emigrated to the nearby city (Tirupati) in search of livelihoods. Those who have remained are struggling to make ends meet through dairying and cultivation of subsistence, rainfed crops such as millets and fodder for cattle.

Figure 2


Figure 3


The farmers’ perception of the cause for this sudden water crisis was failure in rains due to ‘climate change’. It is true that there were not enough rains since 2001 (except in 2005 and 2015) and therefore the water bodies did not get any water inflows. However, such a situation occurred almost every 3 years on the average in the past, without ever causing such an acute water crisis in the village. For example, during the 1990s, they got any water inflows into the water bodies only three times: 1992, 1996 and 1998. While tube wells did get deeper progressively, from 250 feet in 1995 to 500 feet in 2000, they never failed to yield water. Despite water bodies getting at least partially full during 2000, two bad years of rainfall were enough to result in an acute water crisis in 2001. Hence, to understand the cause of this water crisis, detailed participatory water accounting and modelling exercises (Figure 4) were carried out using PP-GIS tools (Figure 5).

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Figure 5

Mapping location of each well, working as well as non-working, along with gathering of its attribute information, such as: when it was sunk, how much water it yielded over time and until when, was carried out by school children (Figure 6) using a mobile GPS/GIS application (Figure 7). An open source Quantum GIS based python plug-in was used to prepare maps from this information.

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Figure 7


During the participatory modelling exercises, these maps were discussed with farmers and following facts emerged:

– Up to the end of 1970s, only a few shallow open wells (76 numbers) were present, mostly in the lower parts of the village near the main water body (Figure 8). Water used to be drawn from these wells using bullocks and each well used to irrigate about one acre of rice crop.

– During the 1980s and the 1990s, with advent of diesel and electric motors and deep tube well technology, number of wells increased substantially to 198 numbers (Figure 9).

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Figure 9


– Up to the 1970s, the amount of water being pumped out from ground per year, ‘discharge’, was almost of the same order of magnitude (2/3rds) as the amount of rain water percolating into the underground aquifers, ‘recharge’. During the 1980s and the 1990s, diesel and electric motors could pump about 3 times more water per hour than the bullocks; being deep, tube wells could continue to function even during summer months, increasing number of hours of operation per year by 1.5 times (Figure 10). As a result, the overall water consumption increased by 13 times. Hence, discharge increased substantially to almost an order of magnitude (8 times) more than re­charge.

– This overexploitation of ground water continued during 1980s and 1990s for nearly 20 years, pushing the water table down from around 50’ to more than 500’, resulting in drying up of most tube wells. As against the 198 wells that were working in 2000, only 59 tube wells were working in 2001, mostly with low yields (Figure 11).

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Figure 11


– The cultivated area had gone up from 18 ha in the 1970s to 60 ha during 1980s and 1990s. This fell drastically to almost the old levels, 16 ha, by the year 2001­. This has happened after about Rs. 1.5 crores of private capital has been locked up in the digging of these short­-lived tube wells. Government is having to provide subsidy of about Rs. 13,000 per motor per year in the form of free electricity to bring back the same amount of water as before, now from 500 feet depth as opposed to 50 feet in the 1970s.

As a result of these participatory water accounting exercises, the farmers realized the importance of constructing new rain water harvesting (RWH) systems to increase recharge of overexploited ground water aquifers. During last few years, several RWH systems have been built by the farmers (Figure 12) with financial support from the Government. We are now trying to motivate them to collectively regulate discharge from these aquifers and ensure sustainable use of ground water by interconnecting all wells in the village into a village level water grid (Figure 13).

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Figure 13
  • : Nagesh Kolagani