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A quest for water
  

   
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Vol. 3

    No. 4  

   August 2001

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People fight back

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The delegation presenting their findings in a press conference in Jaipur

As legal, technical and administrative issues once again threatened to stifle community efforts in their struggle to meet their water demands, Centre  for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) formed a group of eminent persons to look  into these issues and prepare a report. Facing the wrath of bureaucracy were the villagers of Lava ka Baas in Thanagazi tehsil of Alwar district, Rajasthan, as they  collectively stood up to protect the johad (earthen checkdam) that they had constructed  with Tarun Bharat Sangh’s (TBS), an Alwar-based NGO. The villager’s efforts gained strength from the timely support extended by other villagers from all across Rajasthan and other states of India, TBS and CSE.

        After three years, for the first time the people saw a water-filled johad, in their village. Gopal Singh, TBS’s local engineer with 15 years of experience in this field observed, “In just 15 days of first monsoon shower in 2001, the groundwater level in downstream wells have risen by 2-3 meters. If the monsoon is normal, than by September 2001 the johad will be full to its capacity, thus storing enough water for winter crops too.”

        Things were moving smoothly, till the moment the gram sabha decided to share their achievement with their chief minister, Ashok Ghelot by inviting him to inaugurate the johad. His administration in return rewarded them and TBS by slapping orders to demolish the johad on May 22, 2001, declaring it illegal and unsafe.

        The officials, who came to review the johad, refused to directly discuss the matter with the villagers.On July 1, 2001 the engineers from the irrigation department backed by the police force visited the site to direct the breaking of johad. Their arrival ignited a fiery willingness among the villagers to fight back. Mani Devi, a gram sabha member expressed this mood, when she said, “They can kill us, but they can not demolish the johad.” Yet another resident, Ram Prasad questioned the government’s right to take such an action, “The government never asked us how we survived three consecutive droughts. But when we did something on our own, they want to demolish it.”

        MCChaturvedi, a renowned water resources expert and advisor to CSE’s water programme, technically reviewed this johad. His findings revealed that the structure was safe and it needed some modifications to further strengthen it, which could be implemeted by the villagers, themselves. These facts were placed before Ashok Gehlot, chief minister of Rajasthan.

        The johad is on the small nallah (drain) of Ruparel river. This gave the department, yet another pretext to oppose the johad, on the grounds that it is a violation of an agreement reached between the erstwhile princely states of Alwar and Bharatpur in 1910 over the sharing of Ruparel’s water This agreement was reached when the river was perennial, about three decades ago.

        The irrigation department directed the villagers to lower outflow, to avoid water scarcity and consequent citizen downstream unrest in Bharatpur district. The villagers deepened the spillway. But the problem persisted, the irrigation department wanted  the villagers to further deepen the spillway. This time, the villagers refused, as it would have defeated the entire purpose of constructing the johad.

        On July 8, 2001, the meeting of Anil Agarwal, chairperson CSE and Sunita Narain, director CSE with Ashok Ghelot confirmed the political and administrative support extendedto the department’s plan to lower the level of the johad’s outflow. The incidents in Lava ka Baas once again highlights the fact that the mindset of politicians and bureaucracy has not changed at all. (See box: Political apathy vs sustainable development)

Politcal apathy vs sustainable development

On July 5, 2001 Kamla Beniwal, irrigation minister of Rajasthan supported her department’s action in Lava ka Baas, on the ground that “Every raindrop belongs to the irrigation department.” However, on hearing the news that Rajendra Singh, the secretary of Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), an Alwar based non-governmental organisation (NGO) has been honoured with Ramon Magsaysay award 2001, she changed her stand by asking to “Forgive and forget, I can assure you that the dam will not be demolished. I congratulate Rajendra Singh for the pioneering work done by TBS in Alwar district. May he build many more such dams.” This sweetness was only short lived, as on August 15, 2001 she again took a quick U-turn, alleging that Rajendra Singh got a dam constructed in Lava ka Baas violating legal provisions. She said, “No one would be allowed to violate laws even if he be a Magsaysay winner.”

          The state’s attitude of ‘you (people) cooperate and we (government) will operate’ only succeeds in alienating people from the entire developmental process. This is the reason, why the state funded watershed programs fail to promote sustainable development, which continues to remain an illusionary dream.

As the information of the incidents spread around, hundreds of villagers from neighbouring villages and other parts of the country reached Lava ka Baas, and extended their support to their fight for survival. CSE’s e-mail link has been receiving the support for the villager from both within India and abroad, in response to its information update network. (See box: People speak)

Delhi Harvesting

As the city’s water table continues to drop, officials in Delhi are finally turning to rainwater harvesting. On 10 August 2001, the Central government amended Delhi’s building bylaws, requiring new structures on a plot area of more than 100 square meters to include water harvesting infrastructure. On 5 September, 2001 the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) announced that all housing societies in groundwater crisis areas would have to install water harvesting systems by 31 December, 2001 to prevent the authorities from sealing their tubewells. About 1,400 housing societies are affected by CGWA’s retrofitting rule. The Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) is providing free technical assistance to societies wishing to install water harvesting structures, but the societies must bear the construction costs.

Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based non-governmental organisation also provides technical services to install rainwater harvesting system in urban residential and business complexes.

For further information:
R K Srinivasan and Suresh Babu SV
Natural Resource Management Unit
Centre for Science and Environment
41, Tughlakabad Institutional Area,
New Delhi-110 062 Tel: 6081110, 6081124 ext 267

rksri@cseindia.org, suresh@cseindia.org

        On July 19, 2001, a group of eminent persons convened by CSE visited Lava ka Baas. The group included eminent agriculturist, MSSwaminathan; secretary to the government of India, N C Saxena; renowned water resources expert, MCChaturvedi; National Law School University director, G Mohan Gopal; Jansatta chief editor, Om Thanvi; CSE chairperson, Anil Agarwal and CSE director Sunita Narain. The group began their visit by interacting with the villagers , which was followed by a discussion with the TBS’s workers, district officials and Ashok Ghelot. Finally, the group presented their findings and opinions, in a press conference organised by CSE with the help of Institute of Developmental Studies in the latter’s office, at Jaipur.These findings are compiled as a report, titled as ‘Jal Swaraj’. The english version of the report can be accessed at CSE’s website:www.cseindia.org/html/extrs/dam/index_repndocs.htm
While, the hindi version of the report is available in hard copy, at CSE office, New Delhi.  

        A strong political commitment could ensure the survival of the water conservation works done by communities. But when this commitment waivers, these communities like in Lava ka Baas, should collectively stand up for their rights, instead of caving under the insensitivity of the state authorities


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