India is a home to a healthy lot of freshwater lakes. But, sadly, most of them have faced an impending doom either due to government apathy or because of public ignorance. One such lake, that had faced a similar fate, was the Ansupa lake of Odisha. Ansupa is the only Freshwater lake in Odisha but also holds the privilege of being one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia. The lake, on the left bank of the River Mahanadi in Cuttack district, had dried up and was getting filled with silt and filth. Also, due to excessive growth of weeds, water based sports and associated tourism opportunities had practically extinguished. As reported in Down to Earth- a prominent Indian science and environment fortnightly-the water level of the lake had reportedly reduced from 20 feet to eight feet.
But, this was the face of the lake before Delhi based NGO Goonj started its work there. The team of Goonj, an NGO that undertakes disaster relief and community development work across the country, met Kadambini and Balunkeswara women self-help groups (SHGs). They found out that these women were eagerly looking forward to an alternative, suitable source of income. Since the lake was earlier a tourist spot with boating facility, Goonj motivated the women self-help groups to clear out the weed themselves, sell the weed as compost and revive the boating facility as a source of credible, alternate income.
About 30 women from the Malabiharpur village took up the task of cleaning 2,000 sq ft area of the lake, even though it was during peak winters. The cleaning was done in two phases: November 20-28 and December 15-18. The work took place under the Cloth for Work initiative of Goonj. Around 2 tonnes of weed was cleaned up which was later used as compost for crops.
“The government, under some agreement, had given the SHGs four boats to run in the lake. However, making the boating system operational amidst weeds was difficult. Now the boating work is managed by Kadambini women SHG and till date their profit is Rs 30,000, out of which they will have to give 25 per cent to the government for repair and maintenance of boats,” said Meenakshi Gupta, co-founder of Goonj, to Down to Earth.
The first tourist season yielded Rs 15,000 revenue for the SHGs and they hope to make Rs 50,000 – 60,000 in the coming season, thanks to the cleaning of the lake and revival of boating. “The story of women who cleaned up a lake in Odisha to create livelihood for themselves under Goonj’s Cloth for Work initiative is symbolic of the strength and can-do attitude of the entire rural India. It’s time the rest of the world understood and valued this as well.” said Anshu Gupta, Founder of Goonj.
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