The concept of the programme envisages creation of awareness amongst people for ensuring their participation in land and water resource management. Prioritization of the areas has been carried out to execute the water conservation & soil moisture retention activities based on the field data furnished by the state ground water department.

Stress mandals are identified based on the ground water availability and according priorities to most stress mandals of the stress mandals and areas experiencing drinking water scarcity etc. The Water Conservation Mission (WCM) acts as a facilitator and envisages to co-ordinate and guide the water conservation efforts initiated by various departments. During the first three phases, an additional filling space of 3068.54 La. m3 has been created with an amount of Rs. 654.22 crores. During the Fourth phase, by 12-5-2002, an additional filling space of 3478.45 La. m3 was created with an amount of Rs. 473.79 crores.

The Neeru-Meeru (Water and You) programme launched by the WCM, on May 1, 2000, proved to be a boon for farmers. The programme coalesced the water conservation activities of different departments to ensure optimum efficiency. The “Neeru-Meeru” approach involves soil and water conservation from ridges to valley, causes water to flow in dry rivers and streams, revives traditional water harvesting structures, adopts a participatory method to increase the rate of ground water recharge, takes up rainwater-harvesting structures in urban areas, promotes recycling of waste water and checks the pollution in water bodies through seepage.

Under the programme, 675 water-stress mandals (a secondary administrative unit like a taluk) have been divided into five categories depending on the water level, the extent of drinking water scarcity and on the location. The programme was a coordinated effort involving the departments of Rural Development, Forest, Minor Irrigation, Rural Water Supply, Municipal Administration and Urban Development and Endowments.

These departments took up various activities in a mission mode to create additional space for storing water and recharging ground water. Activities such as building continuous contour trenches (CCT), staggered trenches, check-dams, percolation tanks, bunds in fields, farm ponds, digging pits, desilting and restoration, were taken up as part of the massive campaign led by Chandrababu Naidu.

Since May 2000, seven phases of the Neeru-Meeru programme, each stretching over six months, have been implemented until December 2003 and the eighth one is now on. In all, 41,12,698 works were taken up at an estimated cost of Rs.2,425.45 crores, creating 18,592 lakh cubic metres of additional water filling space, until December last year.

That the programme was not a routine one became clear at the implementation stage, when several innovations and experiments were tried out. If the `chain of tanks’ concept was revived to link up existing tanks to harvest the surplus flow from one tank into the linked tank, sub-surface dykes were built to arrest the sub-surface flow of water. Further, diversion weirs were laid to fill up tanks with water from the rivulets and a `cascade of check-dams’ were built to revive flow in the rivulets.

The WCM proudly claims that the seven-phase programme has created additional storage space for rainwater and raised the ground water recharge potential to 131 tmc, under normal rainfall conditions for the year 2003-04. The impact analysis studies of the Neeru-Meeru programme, conducted by the Ground Water Department, showed that in spite of a 7 per deficit in rainfall, the ground water level at the end of May 2001 stood at 11.73 metres as against 12.27 metres in the previous year (end of May 2000) – a net rise of 0.54 metres. Another study done in the following year found that there was a net rise of 1.23 m in the groundwater level between May 2001and May 2002 in spite of a 35 per cent deficit in rainfall, the ground water level being 11.73 m and 10.50 m respectively.

The availability of drinking water too improved. The WCM says that the number of seasonal/dried-up borewells has come down from 17,952 in May 2000 to 12,663 in May 2001 and to 4,111 in May 2002. During the same period, the number of drinking water transportation habitations came down from 1,083 to 817 and 537 respectively.

In terms of productivity enhancement, additional areas were brought under cultivation through silt application, soil and moisture conservation measures and drought proofing in dry-land farm areas. As for augmentation of irrigation, there was stabilisation of ayacut under the tanks and irrigated areas under borewells besides rejuvenation of dried-up wells and borewells. The soil and moisture conservation work taken up on barren hillocks helped in promoting natural regeneration from viable rootstock. Demarcation of forest boundaries by CCT and tank foreshore areas prevented encroachment.

While much of the funds for the project was raised by pooling the resources of different departments, and linking it up with the Food-For-Work programme, a major chunk came from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) in two instalments of Rs.201crores and Rs.205 crores.

The WCM attributes the stupendous achievements to a series of initiatives and a multimedia campaign. It took up a “Jalachaitanyam” (water awareness programme) from April 5 to 14 last year, much before the onset of the monsoon. A major initiative was to ensure people’s participation in the conservation effort through committees at the State, district, electoral constituency, municipal, mandal and gram panchayat levels, and involve elected representatives, non-government organisations, self-help groups and officials. The project was executed by stakeholder groups or committees, watershed associations, vana samrakshana samithis, (forest protection committees), water users associations and farmers’ clubs.

Detailed documentation and display of works at the village level, a concurrent audit by the Principal Accountant General and a random inspection by the Engineering Staff College of India ensured transparency and accountability. Procedures were simplified so as to enable the local people to carry out water audits at the village level. Cost-effective structures and location-specific designs were adopted. Having successfully implemented a people-centric water conservation programme, the State has now developed a “Water Vision” to address the water concerns of the future.