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Karnataka farmer who dug tunnels to tap water in novel way to create lush green farm gets Padma Shri

Mahalinga Naik, the man who dug hills to get water and turn his farm lush green

Even though unlettered, 77-year-old Mahalinga Naik, through sheer girt and hard work has changed the look of a barren piece of land into a green farm located in Kepu village which is 50 kilometres from Mangaluru, Karnataka.

Naik has been chosen for the fourth highest civilian award, Padma Shri this year and on being informed about it was happy and recalled Mahabala Bhat, from whom he had received this barren land in the 1970s.

Naik worked as a labourer plucking coconuts and areca nuts in areas in and around Adyanadka, when he fell down and spent a lot of money on treatment. In 1978 he received this barren parcel of land but found that there was no water available nearby.

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Since digging a well was not possible for him, he resorted to the age-old method of digging tunnels which are horizontal in the hillocks and get supply of water much to the amusement of villagers. Known as the suranga method, the tunnels go deep into laterite rocks which are hard to reach groundwater, which then flows permanently in the form of a small stream. He improvised by creating a small reservoir.

His success story reached the public when Adike Pathrike the editor Shree Padre wrote about him and farmers in droves arrived to learn about his methods of farming and conserving water.

“It was after the fifth or sixth attempt that he got water. If somebody evaluates his work in terms of man days, his small garden, areca plantation, revetment and the earthwork, would amount to a few thousand man days,” Pathrike told TOI.

The hard work and persistence bore fruit as Naik raised areca nut, coconut, cashew and banana plants on the two-acre land helping him to lead a self-sustaining life.

Willing to learn and improve, Naik on coming to know about the benefits of rainwater harvesting, in the adjoining Government land, dug more than 300 pits to increase groundwater levels. This has helped the water table to rise.

Also read: Karnataka’s beloved grandmother donates land worth crores for her village school and playground