Strengthening the water bond
It was a gathering of the faces and the voices of the (real) rural India. On March 23-24, 2001 Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) organised a two day conference titled Mere gaon ki kahani, meri jubani, (The story of my village in my words). Water harvesters from five states; Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Rajasthan gathered in Delhi to share their experiences on water harvesting. Making Water Everybodys Business: Practice and Policy of Water Harvesting,CSEs new book was also released on the occasion (See box: Continuing wisdom).
The conference was designed as a typical village panchayat baithak where everybody spoke about his/her experience and problems relating to water. The 60 water warriors from 60 different villages who had gathered for the conference spoke with knowledge and confidence borne out of their experience in harnessing rainwater. Success stories of building tankas (tanks) to trap the rain runoff, of check dams to recharge groundwater, of rooftop rainwater harvesting were exchanged. "It is an opportunity for me to narrate my experiences and also enrich myself with others experiences. I have found answers to many questions," said S K M Mudaliar from Vengal, Tamil Nadu who narrated his experience with community-based irrigation programmes. "Where there is no water there is drought. In my village we have harvested enough water, so there is no drought," said a proud Jakalbehn Dihora, a 60-year-old resident of Mithi Virdi village, district Bhavnagar, Gujarat. In fact, the two drought-affected states, Rajasthan and Gujarat, had the maximum participation in the conference.
Rajendra Singh, secretary of the Alwar-based Tarun Bharat Sangh, who also chaired the conference, said, "It is a conference where we not only share our experiences but also decide on how our experiences in water conservation spreads." As one community after another narrated its experiences, it became clear: to meet water needs there was a need of a national movement on water conservation. And that water harvesting has the potential to encounter water crisis.
Despite the pride in churning out economic miracles through water conservation, community members, whom Anil Agarwal, chairperson CSE addressed as water warriors, were a worried lot due to lack of support from the government. "Villages are taking control of their destiny after being neglected by their rulers for years. Now the government puts all hurdles in their way," said Mansukhbhai Suvagia, a submersible pump manufacturer and an enthusiastic water warrior from Rajkot. According to him, the Gujarat agriculture minister has termed him unsocial for constructing small dams and traditional water harvesting structures.
This led to a one-hour long debate on whether these communities should work with the government or go ahead with their own resources for further activities on water conservation. "Government help should be taken because it is meant for us," said Hardevsingh Jadeja, sarpanch of Raj Samadhiyala, Rajkot. Similarly, Nagendra Yadav, a district panchayat member from Shahdol, Madhya Pradesh, said, "In Madhya Pradesh, people are participating in a government watershed development programme but the planning and implementation is strictly with the community." Intervening in the debate, Rajendra Singh said, "We can always take government help, but the power of implementation must always be ours. The money can be from the government. But the mind to use the money must be ours."
Jadeja said that his village with water harvesting and watershed development has increased its annual income from Rs 1.5 crore in 1978 to about Rs 4.5 crore. "Give us five years of good rain even our labourers will go to work in a Maruti car," he said.
Agarwals call for a geometric progression in the number of water harvesters in India leading to one water harvester each from Indias half-a-million villages got wide support. To achieve this dream and to carry forward the water conservation activities, participant decided for a very informal but cohesive group called Jal Biradari (Water community) to be led by Rajendra Singh. The biradari includes people from rural as well as urban areas, who would work together to make community-based water management a peoples movement. To spread the movement, state- level and zilla-level meetings of the biradari will be held. These meetings will culminate in a national level meeting in March 2002.
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