Santosh Ragunath Gondhalekar
This profile was prepared when Santosh Ragunath Gondhalekar was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1990.
The New Idea
There are more than thirty different aspects of managing village water resources, varying from conservation to land management, from distribution to finance, and from popular education to building ongoing management capacity. Unless all the pieces can be brought together into a professionally competent and comprehensive plan that everyone understands and that ultimately is implemented in an equally coherent way, even major investments in the different pieces of the puzzle are likely to achieve little. The challenge, of course, is how to achieve the needed orchestration.Santosh's approach has two main elements. First, upon a local citizen organization's request, he and his team, "Gangotree," analyze the area's needs and water resources in depth and prepare a detailed, fully integrated plan. Second, he will work closely with local groups and all the necessary outside agencies to involve, educate, and help organize everyone with an interest. Although these two steps require different skills, they have to be closely joined to each other right from the beginning. Much of the value of Santosh's model comes from demonstrating how this complex relationship between technicians and grassroots leaders can be made to work on a regular basis.The analytical and planning dimension of the process requires everything from detailed analyses of families' needs to engineering design and preparation of specifications for construction of dams to percolation tanks. All these pieces must then be laid out in a time-phased action program that, for example, gets the new water storage and distribution infrastructure built before the new trees and grasses that depend on the water go in. This sort of work requires a great deal of specialized knowledge - knowledge that neither villagers nor local or even regional citizen groups currently have. The "software" half of the puzzle is no less demanding. Knowing and, even more important, having the trust of the local community is essential if such water and land reformation is ultimately to work. Here the citizen organizations, either native to the community or well established there, are best positioned to take the lead. The second half of Santosh's approach, then, works out a series of partnerships with the most suitable groups he can find. Santosh knows that his organization, even if terribly successful, cannot serve even his home state of Maharashtra, with its 40,000 villages. However, he can demonstrate a new way of organizing India's effort to improve the lives of its people through truly integrated watershed planning and implementation. If he can make it work, others will follow the Gangotree model.