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Few pointers from those who know

india Updated: Nov 29, 2006 00:20 IST

Equitable distribution of resources
Rajendra Singh, 2001 Magsaysay award winner (Rajasthan): Both, the Centre and State Government are pushing towards privatisation of water. They are treating water supply as a purely money-making proposition. In fact, the Centre has set a target of Rs 28-30,000 crore from water revenues.

When it comes to natural reserves there are gross inequalities. The country is divided into three parts; India which is middle class, comprises 20 per cent of the population but consumes 80 per cent of the reserves, Bharat which makes up 40 per cent of the population and accounts for 15 per cent of natural reserves and Nadarad (invisible) Bharat an utterly poor and exploited segment which has access to a mere five per cent of resources even though it constitutes 40 per cent of the population.

The ADB-assisted Narmada-III project may provide temporary respite but it is not a permanent answer to the City’s drinking water problem. For a sustainable solution Malwa needs to tap into its own reserves and not rely on water ferried form elsewhere.

How can this be done? First by trapping the 80 per cent rainwater that simply flows away unchecked. Secondly by tailoring crop pattern to suit water availability. Maize, til and other crops that require only a single watering should be promoted and introduced in the Public Distribution System (PDS). Framers should be paid a good price so that they continue to grow these crops.

Solutions for the heights
Chewang Norphel (Leh): In the upper reaches of the Himalayas melted snow is the main source of crop irrigation. However, global warming has led to glaciers thawing much earlier than they used to. This has affected both crop pattern and maturity. To combat this we have devised a way to build artificial glaciers by trapping melted snow as it cascades down the mountain slopes. The glaciers are located 3-4,000 feet lower than natural glaciers in the vicinity of the villages and ponds and tanks are used to store the snow when it thaws.

Wedded to conservation efforts
Claire Glendenning (University of Sydney, Australia), Researcher: Am studying the hydrological impact of rainfall as well as the catchment scale impact and downstream impact of earthen dams and bunds on the Arwari River in Alwar (one of the rivers rejuvenated by Rajendra Singh). Although they are often criticised by downstream inhabitants stop dams built on rivers force water to seep into the earth’s surface thus recharging aquifers and helping convert a river from a seasonal to a perennial water supply source.

Although there are large arid regions in Australia the water scarcity is only for industrial and commercial activities whereas in India thousands are struggling for water and many more die of diseases caused by water contamination. That’s why I chose to come and work here. There’s no going back in the near future as I have married Vivek Umrao, an engineering and IIM graduate who is also carrying out environmental conservation work in Rajasthan.

Efforts at the grassroots
R N and Sitabai Chaube (Sagar, MP): When I first came to Guraiya village after my marriage in 1964 womenfolk had to trudge over five kilometres to get a bucket of water. In the 1980’s after the arrival of TV increased our awareness we approached the Collector and asked for funds to dig five wells. Later a tubewell was also dug and our village was adopted under Rajiv Gandhi Watershed Mission. We roped in people from three adjoining villages and started a plantation campaign during which seven lakh saplings were planted by the villagers in their backyard.

This earned the attention of the Divisional Commissioner who recommended us for an award. Ours became the first Community Managed Water Supply system to be awarded under the Mission. Then Chief Minister Digvijay Singh narrated our success story to Sonia (Gandhi)ji and she invited us to Delhi and gave us a certificate of merit and (holding the laminated document proudly) an autograph. She also told us that by showing this autograph we could meet her at any time.

Area-specific efforts
Madhav Chitale, IAS (Retd), Secretary Union Water Resources department: For it to be effective water conservation efforts in a particular region will have to be grounded in the area’s topography. We cannot just have ‘a one-system fits all’ approach to water conservation. Eighty per cent of rainfall is lost through evaporation. Until this is checked conservation efforts will bear little fruit.

In areas with scanty rainfall livestock rearing is the main source of income. However, the water needs of livestock, particularly cattle, have been totally ignored in rural development schemes like the Rajiv Gandhi Watershed Mission. Also, given the increasing reliance on groundwater sources there is insufficient study of aquifers.