The story so far and the road ahead

The silt trap pond and cattle fence at once began the regeneration of land. The pond impeded the rapid run of water and trapped whatever silt was brought with the runoff. Overflow from P2 is led by a trench canal, C1 to the main pond P1. This pond abuts the bore-well from which the windmill draws. Canal C2 is site-wide, and drains the land upslope of it, to the main pond P1. This pond is located at a part of the land where post-rain water was observed to drain last, indicating that it was more impervious and clayey. It is thus more of a holding pond than a percolation pond.

All the water bodies thus far had been dug by contractors. Swale S1 was the first dug by the newly acquired Yanmar mini excavator in 2009. It was an experimental dig. The alignments of this and S2 were marked out using an A-Frame. S2 is the first swale that is a project-wide catchment. It’s effects were perceptible within a few months of creation. Visibly, the annual violent run-off event almost entirely ceased and invisibly, the land downslope of S2, was hydrated and stayed moist for a longer period after rains.

Ringo, an Australian appeared from nowhere in 2009. Using laser levels, he surveyed the whole area and mapped out a distributed plan. He was also an expert machine operator and dug S3.

S4, S5 and S6 were dug over the next three years. The last swale S6 drains into a small pond P3. P3 has come to be known the Elephant Head Pond because of the shape of a monolithic rock exposed while excavating it. Overflow from P3 spills downslope and is trapped by a shallow dam.

Overflow from the dam is again trapped by the road, running North-South, which forms a low dam. The water that dams here is led away by three buried pipes to the fields east of the road, where a well is located. [Please note that as I write in July 2013, the efficacy of arrangement just , described, consisting of S6, C3, P3 and the Dam has not been verified as it has not rained enough since their digging].

Together the whole scheme, is expected to have the effect of intercepting rainwater runoff and recharging it into the ground across a wide area. In the two annual rainy seasons, the scheme is expected to recharge about 4 million litres into the ground, whereas the project currently draws just over a million litres per annum. The resulting effect would be to hydrate the soil project-wide, while augmenting the groundwater. The well too is expected to be nourished by well-fed springs.

Related Stories: How a swale works, a video clip :: Swales, an essay[2009] :: Digging swales at pointReturn, a slide show [2010]

13 thoughts on “The story so far and the road ahead

  1. Hello DV,

    Not sure if you might be able to place me; we were in touch during your gni years and I was in Boston back then. Had the honor of sending some stuff for your laptop back then.

    It’s been quite a while but I always refer to the stories on gni for inspiration. :)

    Would love to help/participate on pR.

    Any chance you could email me back please and give me your contact particulars please?

    Thanks and warm regards,


    1. hello rajan…
      yes, yes… i do recall our connection.
      i am sorry i have taken all this time to reply.
      slowing down, i am afraid
      agains thanks for getting in touch
      sridharandv [at] gmail will get me if you want to write again

  2. Sir,there is is this Chennai based volunteer group called The Weekend Agriculturist, which helps farmers by providing free labour on weekends.If you wish,you could check them out.

  3. Dear sir,
    I have been a follower of your sites- GoodnewsIndia and PointReturn. In fact I have followed you as you went about your work. Through your wonderful posts I have shared your joys, triumphs and disappointments. I wish you luck. In between when there was no posts for a long time I slowly drifted out.
    It is after a long time I am coming back and felt I should convey my deep appreciation for the huge challenge you have taken at this age.
    My thanks also for the huge collection of highly motivating news about India that you had collated and published in your GoodnewsIndia site.
    Thank you sir, for having given many proud moments reading the highly inspirational stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things without any desire for name or fame.

    Thank you sir, once more for having inspired me in some of the most tough periods of my life. Good luck! God bless!

  4. Hi I have followed pointreturn for sometime . I want to suggest few more ideas from around web for reclamtion of wastelands and imporve soil nutrients. One of the idea is studying Terra Preta soils of Amazonia which have very high carbon content from charcoal which provides a rich medium for storing nutrients and a condusive environment for microbes. I have also come across articles around use of humic acid for improving soil fertility. Neyveli lignite corporation sells humic acid @ 30/litere. Once of my friend did use humic acid for his water melon field. Though he couldn’t say if it improved the yield in short term ,the benefits seems to be long term. Another soil fertility and pest management forming is from Subhash palekar’s Zero budget forming using Jeevamrut ,agniasrta etc. I have seen a listing of farmers using and benefitting from Zero budget forming techniques. I am not sure if DV has incorporated some of these,since I have not been following regularly.


  5. Dear DV,
    I have followed your efforts since the initial days of It is a great effort indeed and nothing has been a failure. There is a wealth of information and resource. There are so many important lessons. My feeling is, the failures are mainly in the growing department. It probably requires a lot more in depth understanding of the soil, water, climate, suitable seeds, crop selection etc. I was so thrilled after reading fukuoka’s ‘one straw revolution’ and tried a few things in the same line. The seeds I threw didn’t even sprout! Raised bed growing was much better but still pest control was impossible by natural methods! I feel it requires a lot more skill to grow successfully and it is not surprising if we are met with failure in the initial attempts. The soil there might need a lot of work or enrichment with organic matter to enable it to grow more successfully. (here in UK, I see truck loads of manure emptied on the field and mixed with the top soil to make it organic rich)An effective way of irrigation may be needed. I wonder if polytunnels would be successful in growing as they conserve the water by keeping the water vapour within the polytunnel. Polytunnels also help pest control. I wish you had input from expert growers for every crop tried there. Diligent following of their advice would help find more successful growing. I also felt a more limited choice of crops, best suited for the conditions of the land there would be more appropriate. This would help us to concentrate on them more, understand their needs better and get maximum yield. I think everything else has been accomplished exceptionally well there especially the pond, swales, dwellings, windpump etc.

  6. “goshala as a main anchor around which a biogas digester,a vermi-compost plant … can emerge”

    Goshala will be a lot of work and you will need more people for it. But biogas-digeser and vermi-compost can be had without a goshala in the beginning. Actually we can put any bio-waste in biogs-digester like leaves, left-over food, fruits that grow on your trees, etc. And these will work much better than cow-dung and produce much more bio-gas. Same for vermi-compost too. You can add goshala as well later when you have the man-power to support it.

    Did it rain there since you last reported? What does pR produce on an annual basis? How much is annual revenue of pR? Of-course the cost at pR would be much more, but is it going down?


  7. Our Dear and Respected Sridharan ji,

    Greetings. It is long since we interacted. I do not find your numbers readily. Very happily i do recall many talks we had over ph.

    S Ramakrishnan

  8. Dear DV, I am a long time fan/admirer of your project at point return. Saddened to see that you don’t think you have made enough progress. Sincerely hope you achieve your original goal of setting up an intentional community. Good luck. Do keep us posted of any new developments.

    1. capton,
      maybe my feelings that sadden you about insufficient progress at pR are due to my age- 72! time does run very fast when one is that old!
      i do hope pR becomes a lively, active community someday.
      i am hoping to work to realise that and shall post on steps i take

  9. Dear Mr. D V Sridharan,

    I am a longtime visitor of goodnewsindia dot com and have felt inspired by your work and looking forward to your success. You have not published data on number of visitors and kind of visitors on an annual basis. You have also not made your trust document and the clauses in it public. They may be of value to others who may want to copy it when making their own trusts. It also may inspire future volunteers.

    You asked, “The premise of pointReturn is that no one will ever have the right to title of the property but only to the rewards of their collective work. Is this a serious flaw?”

    No, not at all. This is a must.

    PointReturn needs to do several things that integrate with each other to create value for not only the people outside PointReturn, but also for people inside PointReturn. Probably people don’t see value for themselves when living in PointReturn and hence your numbers have stagnated. People will see value for themselves in living at PointReturn only in terms of getting a job and being paid for it.

    1. You can pay money to hire live-in workers, who live for free and get annual salary of say fifty thousand rupees or whatever makes sense there. So you are paying in both cash and kind. You may get more volunteers if they see that they get to become supervisors and will have workers to do hard work.

    2. To earn more cash, try to make PointReturn as a recreational facility that people from Chennai can visit. You will have to develop some recreational facilities in addition to investing in more huts, solar power, bio-gas for cooking, diesel generators etc. You can advertise for couple and family retreat and outdoor birthday parties. Recreational facilities could be hiking/biking/canoeing/petting zoo etc. Probably students from colleges or young adults can become your target customers. This will not only earn more cash for you but also increase visitor flow to PointReturn and hence potential future volunteers. People living in Chennai may value an opportunity to live in peaceful natural setting for a weekend, where they have opportunity for recreation, and don’t have to worry about cooking. They may want to pay for it as long as there are good recreational opportunities. Or you can setup a small adventure park in one acre where people can try rock climbing, and other such sport.

    3. You already have excellent ideas about vermi-culture, and bio-fuel etc. But you need to start producing these and selling the products to local farmers and market.

    4. The real value and sustainability would come from how much valuable does PointReturn become in economic terms. How much cash flow can it generate by selling what ever it produces both services and products to outside world.


    1. dear amit…
      i appreciate your having written and apologise for this delayed reply.
      yes, pR has to do a number of things now and i am trying to figure out what and how. thanks for your ideas. i respond as below:
      1- two issues with this- a- people motivated by the pR mission are unlikely to agree to work for money and the reverse is also not automatic. b- in the longer run the payments made to people has to be generated by and at pR.
      2- this i am afraid is a terrible idea. tourism -of any kind- means pampering and pollution.i would not walk this road at all, no
      3- thanks, yes. these are very viable. i am casting about to see how to kick-start them.
      4- perfect. you got it absolutely right. that was the original intention behind an adventure like pR. i might add, the challenge is how to do that consistent with environmental integrity.
      thanks again. keep following what happens here and wish me the best does.

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