With a high-paying job as a software developer in Dubai, Thanjavur-born Nimal Raghavan’s life was going well. But in November of 2018, his perspectives would shift when he visited his hometown.
This was soon after Cyclone Gaja, which caused enormous damage to the banks of the Kaveri Delta, left 45 people dead, and damaged over one lakh homes.
When Nimal arrived in Nadiyam village, he found that it was among the 90 villages destroyed in the calamity. All of them were known for their agricultural cover.
“After the news went viral, some of my friends, who were working abroad but had plans to eventually settle in India, changed their minds. The most unfortunate thing was that generations of farmers who lived here started abandoning their only source of livelihood and moving to cities in search of employment,” recalls Nimal.
But the 35-year-old couldn’t leave his land, realising that nothing would be left there for his next visit. So he quit his job to work for his land and revive his hometown’s lost glory.
The results are for everyone to see. Nimal rejuvenated the Peravurani Lake, one of the biggest in the region, during 2018-2019. This helped irrigate over 6,000 acres of agricultural land. With a team of like-minded volunteers, he also planted 25,000 saplings all over the Kaveri Delta region.
Saving lakes and lives
Needless to say, this was no easy task. It required in-depth planning, execution, and most importantly, money.
As a first step, Nimal started off with relief activities by putting together a social media campaign called #BounceBackDelta, in which he helped those affected by the cyclone with clothes, groceries, household necessities, and money.
Inspired by Vimal’s work, a group of youngsters from Nadiyam went a step ahead and launched another campaign #DeltaSaplingChallenge in order to restore the lost trees of the region.
This was only the beginning. Nimal travelled to each village in the Kaveri Delta region and spoke to farmers to understand their concerns. He found that unavailability of water is a major issue everywhere.
So far, Nimal and his team, with the support of villagers and well-wishers, have spent more than Rs 32 lakh to rejuvenate the lake.
Today, he is part of several organisations including Kadaimadai Area Integrated Farmers Association (KAIFA), BIOTASOIL Foundation, Exnora International, Oor Koodi Oorani Kaappom, Nam Thamirabarani and Mega Foundation, all of which work on restoration projects in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.
“Our major activities include water body restoration, Miyawaki plantation, mangrove forests plantation as well as conservation, rain water harvesting and water treatment,” says Nimal.
“We work for the betterment of farmers and fishermen. The water bodies we restored made freshwater available for farmers and common people for domestic and agricultural use. Cattles and livestock have easy access to water now, which was not the case earlier. This improved species diversity too.”
Nimal has been working on these projects for four years. “All of our work is well-researched and planned, and sustainability plays a special role. We ensure that all of our revamping and restoring efforts are mostly self-sustaining and that most of the initiatives do not require special maintenance efforts. We also assure that beneficiaries are educated about the importance of water bodies and their maintenance.”
“So far, more than 40 lakh people have benefited from restored water bodies, which have helped them access fresh drinking water, irrigate agricultural land, and earn livelihood. Together, we have restored a total of 118 water bodies across Tamil Nadu,” he adds.
“When farming restarts in places that were earlier a barren land, it gives me so much happiness. Toiling in air conditioned offices and earning crores does not give the same feeling,” he opines.
Nimal’s future ambitions include expanding his programmes to all rural parts of India, raising more finances to grow the team’s work and introducing new technologies to improve the efficacy of the efforts.
“Our overarching goal is to ensure that no farmers suffer as a result of water constraints,” he says.
Nimal is the winner of ‘India’s Water Warriors,’ an initiative by The Better India to honour the unsung heroes of India for their exemplary work in water conservation, harvesting, rejuvenation, restoration of water bodies, water crisis management, water planning and sewage treatment. The announcement was made in a virtual event conducted on 1 September 2022.
Selection of the winner was based on positive impact created, tenure of work/ action/ duration, scale/ number of individuals benefited, frugality and cost-effectiveness of solutions, scalability/ possibility to implement elsewhere, innovation used in the implementation of ideas, and sustenance of change through the establishment of systems, processes, and people.
Watch the event here:
Edited by Divya Sethu
Photo Credits: Twitter/ Nimal Raghavan