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The Groundwater revolution : Economy, Self Sustainability, Woman Empowerment, Solar Energy and Education

Vivek Umrao Glendenning
The Founder, CEO, and the Editor, Ground Report India
The Vice-Chancellor & Co-Founder, The Gokul Social University

The distinctions :

  • Rejuvenation of four rivers, 250 large water harvesting structures (JOHAD/जोहड़) in more than 100 villages, 25,000 families, 200,000 people and 60 million dollars annual economy in ten years period (2006 to 2016).
  • 200 drinking water ponds (KUND/कुंड), most of them between 1998-2005.
  • Converting thousands of acres barren land into fertile land.
  • Forests rejuvenation, plantation and development.
  • Holistic development.
  • Amla Ruia didn't start working with wealthy and powerful farmers. She began working with peasants.
  • Amla Ruia did not begin working in fertile areas.
  • She started working with her family's money.
  • There was no land acquired by Amla Ruia's organisation for building offices, staff residences, or a campus. Neither did she use public funds to buy lands or build buildings for offices, staff housing or the campus.
  • Rather than using media publicity, she developed her works on her own. In various states in India, she reached hundreds of villages through word-of-mouth.

Around nineteen years ago, Amla Ruia, following the voice of her consciousness, started to build drinking-water ponds in Shekhavati, Rajasthan, to solve the lack of drinking water problem. Over a period of seven to eight years, she built around 200 KUNDs. During her search for solutions to the problem, she contacted many water activists in India, including Rajendra Singh, who was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2001 and Stockholm Water Prize in 2015. Following the trial-and-error method, she decided to use her own experiences. 

The groundwater revolution

Changing the lives of thousands of very poor peasant-families

With the suicides of farmers, her daughter, who married into the family of late Jaidayal Dalmia who founded the Dalmia Group of companies, was unsettled. She gave money to her mother Amla so she could help farmers financially. During her work on the construction of drinking-ponds, Amla Ruia realized that financial support was not a solution, as a farmer will again be in financial crisis after spending his money. Amla discussed her ideas with her daughter regarding a sustainable economy.

Amla began building a water harvesting structure in 2005-2006, with the help of her daughter's money, in a village in Neem Ka Thana, Sikar, Rajasthan, a region with little rainfall, dry hills and stony ground. During her 60s, she was constantly traveling from Mumbai, Maharashtra to Neema ka Thana, Rajasthan to build this JOHAD. Even though she came from one of the wealthiest families in India, she would often work as a labourer if she needed to. Having this mindset and commitment, she became knowledgeable in the building technologies of JOHAD and learned about the village family and social system. Later on, she built hundreds of JOHADs, and became an expert in the field of water harvesting structures and community motivation.

Several rivers in the region, including GADRATA and GARNAU, have been revitalized due to the construction of JOHAD chains. Rivers and forests have been revitalized, bringing an economic revolution to many villages. The villagers began calling Amla Ruia PANI MATA (water mother). Amla Ruia gained the trust of the people and began walking towards self-sustainability and development.

Rivers Rejuvenation (Photos)

Up to 70% of the cost of the new JOHAD is contributed by Amla Ruia, her family, her friends and her voluntary organization. Village-funds are established by her in each village; each family contributes a percentage of their annual agriculture income to the village-fund. Village funds are used for new JOHADs, forest development, and maintenance or as the village committee determines for village development.

Villagers were inspired by Amla Ruia to use solar energy for lighting and drinking water pumps. There are solar lights in the homes and streets of these villages. Solar lights are used by children for studying and by women for household chores at night.

Women no longer need to carry heavy water pots many kilometres for domestic use; instead, solar pumps are used for groundwater. Villagers say that we cultivate groundwater and use groundwater. Villagers have started to send their children to better schools and cities because they can now afford the expenses. Women are also involved in the building of JOHADs, they serve on village committees for JOHADs, and they contribute to village funds, so they have a say in the decision-making process.

For each cow that Amla Ruia provides to villagers, they are asked to contribute a healthy heifer, free of charge, to their neighbour or someone in another village in reciprocity.

Chemical fertilisers and pesticides are not used in these villages. Natural organic compost is made by decomposing plant matter in JOHADs, along with the flow of rainwater from forests. Profits are good for farmers due to very low recurring costs. These villages now have concrete houses, tractors, motorbikes, cows, buffaloes, water-coolers, and fans.


Bottle Gourds

Rabi Crop




Amla Ruia in an agricultural field

The newest JOHAD, which cost INR 3.5 million (about 55,000 USD), generated INR 545 million (about 8.4 million USD) in net income for 700 families across seven villages in the first year.

In Ramgarh, Rajasthan, Amla Ruia founded an education center with innovative teaching methods. This center does not use traditional teaching methods. Instead, it uses self-learning, open classrooms, free-group learning, and creative techniques.

A teacher training center was also founded by her in Ramgarh, Rajasthan. The centre invites non-government teachers across India to help them improve their teaching skills. The center focuses on practical learning. Trainers gain experience by teaching various ages of students, ranging from small children to teenagers. Teachers and students at this center are provided with food and accommodation for free. There is no charge for training.

Amla Ruia teaching kids

No conventional classroom

Self Learning Methods

Teacher is only for support

Amla Ashok Ruia

Amla Ruia is around 70 years old and still very active; she has expanded her work from Rajasthan to the various villages of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and other states.

One of the wealthiest families in India, Shanti Prasad Jain of West Bengal was her grandfather. She married Ashok Ruia, owner of Phoenix Mills Limited, which was founded by textile tycoon Mr Ramnarain Ruia. Phoenix Mills, Dawn Mills, and Bradbury Mills were owned by Ruia.

The Ruia family was also instrumental in setting up a number of premium Indian institutions, including The Union Bank of India and The New India Assurance.

Vivek Umrao Glendenning 'SAMAJIK YAYAVAR'

Rather than take a job for money after graduating from mechanical engineering and working on renewable energy research, he chose to do volunteer work with exploited and marginalized groups in very backward areas rather than working for a salary.

In India, a PhD scholarship from a European university could be a lifetime dream for a student, but he preferred to work with marginalized communities rather than accept a PhD scholarship from a European university.

He walked many thousands of miles covering thousands of villages over a period of time to obtain ground realities and unmanipulated, primary information. Through these intense marches, meetings, and community discussions, he had direct dialogue with more than a million people before he was forty.

In his work, he has been researching, understanding and implementing concepts of social economy, participatory local governance, education, citizen journalism, ground reporting and rural reporting, freedom of expression, bureaucratic accountability, tribal development and village development, relief, rehabilitation and village revival.

His work in India included establishing or co-founding various social organizations, educational and health institutions, cottage industries, marketing systems, and community universities for education, social economy, health, the environment, the social environment, renewable-energy, groundwater, river revitalization, social justice, and sustainability.

About fifteen years ago, he got married to an Australian hydrology-scientist, but stayed in India for more than a decade to work for exploited and marginalized communities. The couple decided before marriage that they will not have a child until their presence in India is required for the ongoing works. Therefore, they waited eleven years to have a baby after their marriage.

Hundreds of thousands of people from marginalized groups in backward areas of India love and regard him, and even consider him a family member. All these achievements and prestige he had achieved were left behind when he became a full-time father to his son and put his life on hold. Before leaving India, he donated everything except some clothes, mobiles, and laptops.

He now lives in Canberra with his son and wife. He contributes to journals and social media that cover social issues in India. He also provides counseling to local activists working for social solutions in India. Additionally, he is involved with some international peace and sustainability groups.


Through Ground Report India editions, Vivek organized nationwide or semi-national tours to explore the ground realities covering up to 15000 kilometres in each one or two months to establish a constructive ground journalism platform with social accountability.

As a writer, he has written a book in Hindi, “मानसिक, सामाजिक, आर्थिक स्वराज्य की ओर”, about various social issues including community development, water, agriculture, ground works, and conditioning of thought & mind. Several reviews say it covers "What" "Why" "How" practically for the socioeconomic development of India.

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