GRAVIS: Oasis in the Thar Desert
Dr Nita Mukherjee 01 April 2017
When Laxmi Chand Tyagi and his wife, Shashi, moved to Rajasthan in 1983 at the behest of Acharya Kripalani, they knew the many challenges they would face. Their work with Jayaprakash Narayan’s  Sarvoday movement in the 1960s and 1970s, in some of the most backward villages of Uttarakhand and Bihar, had made them aware of the difficulties of community development. But they chose to dedicate their life to the cause, charged with the Gandhian vision that development is about strengthening communities and making them self-sustaining.
In those days, western Rajasthan had a paucity of non-government organisations (NGO) as implementing agencies. The earlier dependence of people on rajas and maharajas had shifted to the mai-baap sarkar, even as the ground reality and environment were becoming harsher. Modernisation had brought unsustainable changes, such as mounting operating costs of tube-wells, sinking groundwater levels and an infrastructure system that was constantly in disrepair. The poor could no longer afford to maintain and operate these mechanised systems by themselves. Time-tested traditional techniques fell by the wayside. Water—how to obtain it, store it, and use it, a constant struggle in the desert—became a deepening crisis. Helping communities deal with this crisis became the raison d’être of Gramin Vikas Vigyan Samiti (GRAVIS).
Along with a dedicated group of Gandhian activists, the Tyagis founded GRAVIS, or Centre of People’s Science for Rural Development, in 1983, at Gagadi village, 60km from Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Set up under the Rajasthan Societies Registration Act, 1958, its general body comprises 26 members, distinguished in agricultural sciences, engineering, zoology, healthcare, education and social work. 
Moving to an area where they had no roots and no network of co-workers—the most precious capital of grassroots activists—was a gauntlet that the Tyagis picked up because of their passion for development work. “The Thar desert had always fascinated my father, who had done his Masters in agricultural sciences in 1960. The stark and complex issues of preventing further desertification and providing water security to people of western Rajasthan were dear to his heart,” says Dr Prakash Tyagi, executive director, GRAVIS. 
The initial years, when they had no resources and were even physically attacked by vested interests, were tough. Says Shashi Tyagi, “It was the Gandhian ideals that kept us going through those difficult times. Tyagiji (referring to her late husband) believed that village communities need to be strengthened, to empower people to take on their own development challenges.” 
Dr Tyagi says that although water remains the central focus of GRAVIS’ work, its entry-point activities were in education, opium de-addiction, healthcare, extension and livelihoods. All these were interconnected with, and dependent on, availability of water. 
In its journey of over three decades now, GRAVIS has realised that the local population actually has the solutions for the problems it faces. But people lack the resources and the organisation to implement them. For centuries, villagers’ traditional knowledge of constructing structures like taanka (underground tank), naadi (village pond), khadin (earthen bund) and beri (percolation well) had helped them survive in the harsh climate and topography of the Thar. By providing these two missing factors, to date, GRAVIS has energised villagers to build over 500 beris and more than 7,000 taankas, 200 naadis and 5,000 khadins, providing a stable source of water to nearly 1,300 villages in Rajasthan.
GRAVIS has learnt that preventing further desertification of the Thar requires not just projects to dig wells or construct check-dams, but a set of processes to find sustainable solutions to chronic problems of water scarcity and poor health. GRAVIS has been able to garner the resources for its efforts from the government, as well as international funding agencies and donors. Dr Tyagi especially emphasises the contribution of small overseas organisations and groups of individuals
who have followed the dedicated work of GRAVIS. 
Contributions to GRAVIS are tax-exempt under Section 80G of the Income-tax Act.
Gramin Vikas Vigyan Samiti 
3/458, 3/437, MM Colony, 
Jodhpur 342 008, Rajasthan, India
Phones: 91 291 2785317, 2785116
Fax: 91 291 2785116
Free Helpline
Legal Credit