NGO Helps Women SHGs Restore Odisha's Only Freshwater Lake & Their Livelihood

Poorvi Gupta
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women transboundary rivers

A Delhi-based NGO, Goonj, has come to the rescue of Ansupa lake, the only freshwater lake in Odisha  and the one of the largest in the whole of Asia. It used to be a tourist spot in the state but in the last few years, this lake -- on the left bank of the river Mahanadi in Cuttack district -- has gone dry and is full of sludge.


Odisha women Rural women plucking out weeds from Ansupa lake (Pic by Goonj)

Earlier, the lake would clear itself of weeds getting collected on it from the flood water coming from Mahanadi through a channel called Mayurinala but that has been closed by the government and since then there is no de-weeding happening leading to collection of silt in the lake.

So two women Self-Help Groups -- Kadambini and Balunkeswara -- got in touch with Goonj to determine sustainable ways of income. Goonj, which works for disaster relief and community development across the country, came up with the idea of giving women the responsibility of de-weeding the river and opening up boating facility on the lake again, thus bringing back some lost income.

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Despite the weather being cold, the women got down to the business of removing weeds from the lake. They braved the winter and chilly water and cleaned the river in two phases --November 20-28 and December 15-18.

Odisha women The women SHGs were given four boats (Pic by Goonj)


The women were able to remove about two tonnes of weeds, which were to be used as compost for the crops. And as remuneration, they were given tarpaulins and tent house material, which they can give on rent to generate income.

When contacted, Goonj’s co-founder Meenakshi Gupta told SheThePeople.TV about this initiative. “This particular activity was started as part of Goonj’s nationwide Cloth for Work initiative (CFW). These women in Odisha identified the work of cleaning the weeds in their lake and received material as reward for their efforts.”

She added, “In Odisha and across India, women have been at the forefront of our work; as mothers in aanganwadis and schools,  digging up community wells, cleaning water bodies like ponds and lakes, making nutrition gardens etc.”

The boating facility at Ansupa lake has now been restored by the women and is being managed by the Kadambini SHG. It has gained about Rs 30,000, of which 25 per cent goes to the government for repair and maintenance of boats.

Goonj has been working across Odisha for many years now, directly and with grassroots partner groups. It turns under-utilized urban material into a resource for hundreds of rural development activities. Every year, village communities across India take up more than 2,500 activities like building huge bamboo bridges, digging up wells, doing bunding of acres of land, developing small irrigation canals, building drainage systems, building village schools etc. All these works are done by making people understand their own community power and by using old material as a reward under Goonj’s initiative.

Apart from this, Goonj is also involved in other initiatives that empower women like their decade-old Not Just a Piece of Cloth (NJPC), which involves talking to women across India about their menstruation-related challenges, but also providing them cloth sanitary pads called MY Pads.

Ansupa lake Balunkeswara SHG Kadambini SHG Women of Orissa Women SHGs in India