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Strengthening the water bond
Continuing wisdom
Meet some of them...
Their impressions
Water warrior speak out
  

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Vol.3

  No. 2 

April 2001

network

 

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 Everybody’s Business: Practice and Policy of Water Harvesting,CSE’s new book was also released on the occasion (See box: Continuing wisdom).

Anil Agarwal addressing the water warriors in Delhi

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 other’s 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.

"We can take government help but
the power of implementation must
be ours. The money can be from the
government. But the mind to use the
money must be ours"

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.

Agarwal’s call for a geometric progression in the number of water harvesters in India — leading to one water harvester each from India’s 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 people’s 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.


Continuing wisdom

CSE’s new publication on water, Making Water Everybody’s Business: Practice and Policy of Water Harvesting was released by Digvijay Singh, chief minister of Madhya Pradesh during a public meeting on 22nd March. The meeting was attended by people who had developed their relationship with water, coming as they did from all walks of life.

Speaking on the occasion, Anil Agarwal, chairperson of CSE informed about the need for such a book. He recounted the journey that CSE had traveled from publishing Dying Wisdom: Rise, Fall and Potential of India’s Traditional Water Harvesting Systems in 1997. He informed about how success of water harvesting efforts led to more innovations and still more water harvesting efforts. He called for a geometric progression in the number of water harvesters ‘water warriors’ as he called them, in the coming years. This meant mass mobilisation and making water conservation a national movement.

Releasing the book, Digvijay Singh spoke about the efforts his government had made to conserve water first at the district level, then at the village level and now, finally, at the farm level through well recharge schemes. He stressed the need of decentralisation and granting people rights over their natural resources. Responding to Anil Agarwal’s dream of having at least one water warrior — a water conservation person — in each village of the country, Debi Prasad Mishra, minister of state for health in the Orissa government vowed to mobilise people in his home state.

So impressed with Digvijay Singh’s efforts was a villager from Rajasthan that he pleaded with him to drill some sense into the head of the chief minister of Rajasthan.

The response of the people was heartening. It was an indication that water was a subject still dear to many.

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