This traditional floodwater harvesting system is indigenous to south Bihar. The technique comprised of a channel (locally named as pyne) diverts water from rivers to a tank (ahar) from where it is distributed to the fields. Rivers in this region swell only during the monsoon, but the water is swiftly carried away or percolates down into the sand. All these factors make floodwater harvesting the best option here, to which this system is admirably suited.
The ahar-pyne system received a death-blow under the nineteenth-century British colonial regime. The post-independent state was hardly better. In 1949, a Flood Advisory Committee investigating continuous floods in Bihar's Gaya district came to the conclusion that "the fundamental reason for recurrence of floods was the destruction of the old irrigational system in the district."
The ahar-pyne system received a death-blow under the nineteenth-century British colonial regime. The post-independent state was hardly better. In 1949, a Flood Advisory Committee investigating continuous floods in Bihar's Gaya district came to the conclusion that "the fundamental reason for recurrence of floods was the destruction of the old irrigational system in the district."s
The system went into disuse because of siltation as well as encroachment by the influential lot, adversely affecting the livelihood security of the local population.
Efforts of Mahesh and Sarita to revive the system
Mahesh Kant and Sarita of the Institute of Research and Action (IRA), a Patna based NGO, revolutionized the villagers' life by reviving an age-old water harvesting system – ahar and pyne. They united the villagers from different castes and community, in this naxalite dominated region and then imparted the lessons on water conservation. They educated the villagers on the relevance of ahar and pyne in the socio-economic well being of the local community. Persistent efforts started yielding its results after almost three years. 30,000 villagers from forty villages came together forgetting the caste differences to revive Hadadwa pyne—45 kilometre long water harvesting system. There was very little external assistance for this initiative—most of the work came in as shramdaan (voluntary labour). The villagers have also devised a management system in the form of sinchai samiti --the irrigation committees --who operate and maintain the ahar and pyne.
The initiative has resulted in two crops in a year (quite unusual few years back) resulting in additional revenue. Most of the tubewells have water today, because of ahar which recharges groundwater. Villagers have initiated community farming which is first of its kind. The management of 175 acres of agricultural land belonging to forty families is looked after by the Sinchai Samiti. Daily meetings are organized to finalize the day's plan of action. Instead of every one working in the field, the work is delegated to individual farmers (as decided in the meeting) in rotation. The benefits are also shared in accordance to the landholdings. IRA has also promoted diversification in income generation activities as well by promoting fisheries.
Many organizations are striving hard to revive this traditional and sustainable system of irrigation in South Bihar.
It is unfortunate that Mahesh and Sarita were shot dead in 2004 by region's land mafia, who consistently opposed IRA's work.