‘Rajasthani-style ponds can solve water crisis’

Magsaysay Award winner Rajendra Singh, also known as waterman of India. (PTI photo)

India is the 13th most water-stressed country in the world as per data from the World Resources Institute.

But Alwar, a semi-arid district in Rajasthan, showed how community-based decentralised water management can combat severe water scarcity, five decades ago. The person responsible for this is Dr Rajendra Singh, fondly called the waterman of India.

The Ramon Magsaysay awardee and the Stockholm Water prize-winner Dr Rajendra Singh, along with local communities and his NGO Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), has constructed 12,000 johads (traditional earthen ponds) so far and revived ten rivers in Rajasthan such as Arvari, Ruparel, Bhagani and Sarsa.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q. India is reeling under a severe water crisis. The 2018 NITI Aayog report says by 2030, 40% of India’s population will have no access to drinking water. How do we tackle the water crisis?

A. Every household is facing water problem. The country is reeling under floods and droughts. If this situation persists, India will be devoid of water resource. Community-based decentralised water management is the only way out of the current crisis. 

The johads we created in the villages of Masalpur in Karauli district of Rajasthan are filled to the brim even with the meagre rainfall the region receives. This has to be replicated across the country. 

Both floods and drought have wreaked havoc in the country. The farmers can tackle this situation by growing crops in tune with the rain pattern. To beat this crisis, we have to create johads, talabs (ponds) and water reservoirs everywhere and use water efficiently. We need to increase water literacy and encourage people to conserve water.

Community-based water management as has been implemented in the Alwar district of Rajasthan should be practised across the country.

Q. Why do people’s movements fizzle out quickly and turn synthetic?

A. Every people’s movement has four steps: Seva (service), Jagruti (awareness), Sanghatan (organisation) and finally Satyagraha. Even if one step is skipped, the whole movement loses direction and falters. There has to be praxis.

Q. Is Gandhi relevant in times such as now when we are staring at an environmental breakdown?

A. ‘Gaon ke maati gaon main..’ song of Gram Swaraj that I sing at every meeting delineates the concept of Gram Swaraj that Mahatma Gandhiji advocated. India being a country dependent on agriculture, the growth of the villages alone can ensure the country’s prosperity. We neglected Gandhi’s holistic and organic development model at our own peril leading to mass destruction of the environment, ecology, livelihoods, way of life in the rural areas, their language, culture, art and with it a whole body of traditional wisdom.

Mahatma Gandhi was in tune with nature and its flow. He believed in the indigenous knowledge system and knew what India, an agrarian country needed. He was aware that the country needed to create its own development model. The government cannot solve all the problems. And hence the stress should be on decentralisation which Gandhi stressed on.

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