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Environmental & Economic Sustainability, Social Harmony and Social Transmutation : an example towards Self-rule/Swaraj

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

Co-Founder, The Gokul Social University

The Gokul Social University, GSU

A non-formal community university founded by Sanjay Sajjan Singh, Sanjeev Narayan Singh and Vivek Umrao in 2007, Gokul Social University, GSU, works for sustainable economy, peace, social harmony, and self-sufficiency. GSU's main campus covers an area of three acres. Toilets, a pond, trees, a cow shelter, a cow-dung based energy plant, a bore-well driven by renewable energy are all part of the main campus. In addition, there is a quadrangle for growing vegetables and farmland. Located on the link road in the rural area of Aurangabad district in Bihar. Also, the building serves as a non-formal school for children from poor farming families from the surrounding villages. To generate electricity and cook food on the GSU campus, cow dung and solar energy are being used. The campus is frequently visited by farmers and villagers from Aurangabad and its neighbouring districts.

Ramrekha River

It was around 70 years ago when the Ramrekha River, which had been running locally for hundreds of years, and was one of the main lifelines for the region, dried up. In 1952, after a series of droughts for a few years, local villagers began to request to the government that the government resolve the water draught issue. People's representatives have always promised to get votes before every election of the state assembly and national parliament, but even after passing decades after decades, there has never been any initiative on this. After some time, the groundwater in the region also dried up. As a result of this situation, this area had been experiencing severe drought for more than twenty years, until just one year ago.

The insurgency region

The development, even a preliminary one, has never been reached in the area. As a result of preterition for decades, a continuous drought and poverty, the local villagers started to engage in insurgency activities. As time passed, this very backward region with no connecting roads and no other civilian facilities, became profoundly affected by the activities of the insurgents. As far as administrative areas are concerned, they fall within the Gaya and Aurangabad districts in the state of Bihar. There are many government armed forces camps in the region due to the rebel activities in the region. In the area one could see the threatening notice boards put up by the different committees of insurgents.

The First step towards “the transmutation”

A delegation of farmers from the region visited the campus of Gokul Social University, GSU, in 2011. The farmers stated, even though they would like to be part of the cow and agriculture-based self-sustaining economy, how can they do so since their villages lack access to water? More than two decades have passed since they have been suffering from severe drought. Around seventy years ago, the Ramrekha river dried up. There was a strong feeling from the delegation that the GSU should support their efforts to raise political pressure on the government by using the mass strength of local areas.

The GSU suggested solutions for dealing with water issues and the drought by taking constructive approaches, rather than relying on government agencies for the solutions. It is likely that those farmers did not understand the concept of self-sustainability that day, therefore they left and did not return. Though they didn't contact, the GSU decided to move on.

Dialogues with one hundred thousands people of two hundred villages in four years

Gokul Social University, GSU, initiated the movement with preliminary discussions with local villagers. It took around four years, from the year 2011 to the end of the year 2014, to reach "the consensus” for building a rainwater harvesting RWH dam for the rejuvenation of the Ramrekha river. Also, for constructing a canal to connect villages to get water across the mountains. After the preliminary dialogues with villagers, the foot marches were started for determiner-dialogues to motivate also to get local people's support.

Over five hundred mass meetings were held in many villages in four years. Over the course of four years, the GSU team held dialogues with more than one hundred thousand people in two hundred villages in Gaya and Aurangabad districts. For over two years, the GSU led around twenty-five thousand people from over ten thousand families from forty villages in building the RWH dam, as well as the Ramrekha canal that passes through the mountains to irrigate the villages.

The hard path was chosen, unanimously

The easy path, By building the RWH dam beneath the mountain, no need to construct a canal that passes through the mountain for around two kilometers.

Input: Relative to building a canal through a mountain, there is much less physical labour, much less financial assets, much less mass involvement.

Output: Fewer catchment areas, less groundwater and surface water storage, no revitalization of the Ramrekha River, and insufficient water to irrigate many villages.

The hard path, Putting the RWH dam in the mountain's largest catchment area will make it necessary to construct a canal that will pass through around two kilometres of the mountain.

Input: endless effort, money, willpower, mass involvement, as well as patience and loyalty.

Output: Big catchment area, high groundwater storage, large surface water storage, revival of the Ramrekaha river, and large area available for irrigation.

As a result of the GSU's continuous dialogue, it has generated large momentum, deeper social bonds, and a far-sighted vision to resolve the water problem and improve the quality of life. The easy path was never considered, and the hard path was unanimously chosen.

—Photo Album—

Constructing the Ramrekha canal, passing through the mountains by hand and with traditional tools

Thousands of financially weak, but very strong-willed, villagers took on the challenge of the big rocky mountain on the 31st of December 2014, the first day. Although it was almost impossible to dig heavy rocks by bare hands using spades, big hammers, and other traditional tools, they built the two kilometer long, twenty-two foot deep, seventeen foot wide Ramrekha canal. In the two kilometres of canal there is an open tunnel through the mountain for one and a half kilometres.


Women leadership with the zeal of the victory, in the Ramrekha canal

There were hundreds of people working each day, with a maximum of two thousand people a day. Approximately one thousand people worked each day for two months. On average, a hundred people per day dug the canal through the mountain for one and a half years.

Sanjay Sajjan Singh also contributed physical labour for many days

The water was carried by hundreds of people from long distances for many weeks. Water was used to soften the grip of rocks. Over twenty-five thousand people contributed around five hundred thousand hours of physical labor to build the canal and the RWH dam.

Although, the Ramrekha canal was ready for use in the month of June in the year 2016. To irrigate more villages, the works of widening and lengthening the canal continue due to the massive water storage and rejuvenation of the river.

—Photo Album—

The construction cost of the Ramrekha canal

Shabhu Ram

In total, forty thousand people supported the cause financially and twenty-five thousand contributed physically as well. Though they did not belong to the beneficiary villages, poor people felt a strong bond with the purpose. A poor cobbler, for example, donated the entire earnings of a few days. He is not a shop owner; he sits outside a shop. Also, He is not from a beneficiary village.

In total, the Ramrekha canal cost about 600,000 USD (0.6 million USD) including human labor. There is no funding from any funding agency, any nonprofit organization, or any government department. All assets were provided by the local community.

The "Buda-Budi" RWH dam

Amla Ashok Ruia

Despite starting many months after the canal, the construction of the RWH dam and the Ramrekha canal were completed almost simultaneously. The total cost of building the Buda-Budi dam, including manpower, was about 150,000 USD (0.15 million USD). Approximately 40,000 USD, given by Mumbai's philanthropist and water social entrepreneur, Amla Ashok Ruia.

Buda-Budi Dam is in Chhakarbandha, Dumariya block, Gaya district, and the Ramrekha Canal runs from Chhakarbandha to Dev block in Aurangabad district in Bihar.

—Photo Album—

The output:

  • After many decades, the Ramrekha River now flows with water year-round.
  • Annual income increased of villages in the first year = $10 million.
  • Irrigated agricultural land = 25,000 acres.
  • There are more than 10,000 direct beneficiary families.
  • Groundwater levels have significantly improved in more than 200 villages.
  • The insurgents are coming back into the mainstream.

Special thanks to the team

Sanjay Sajjan Singh, Founder and the Chairperson Gokul Foundation

Sanjiv Narayan Singh, co-Founder Gokul Social University and the President Gokul Sena

—Photo Album—

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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