Make johads, reap riches
To implement something in the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the top persons in their respective areas as a rule, are summoned, right. So, when water harvesting was implemented in the grounds, why was Gopal Singh, untrained in modern education and from an obscure village of Alwar district called in?
The answer can lie in any of the following. Though untutored in modern engineering, he has already implemented water-harvesting systems in many parts of Rajasthan, with astounding success. The organisation he works for, Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS) is anything but obscure, having been recognised for their exemplary socio-economic work not just within India but also outside of it with awards like the 2001 Ramon Magsaysay Award being given to its leader, Rajendra Singh, or johadbaba, as he generally known about the region. The people who have built johads in their villages have witnessed a manifold improvement in their overall quality of life.
Whatever be the reason, the TBS today is a success story, a fairy tale come true for many a hardy village of this dry state who can still hardly believe their luck as they harvest up to three crops a year even after consecutive years of drought.
Alwar district, situated in the northeastern part of the Rajashan, nestles among the Aravalis. The land surface is rather stony and traditionally, the area has been forestland. However, the imperial era, during which Alwar was a princely state, saw rapid deforestation. And this is a trend that continued after independence. It is estimated that the current forest cover is only 28.6 per cent (Making Water Everybody's Business, Centre for Science and Environment, 2001, page 88). Unfortunately, this trend continued even after independence, with the result that many rivers in the area dried up completely.
People's choice: Tarun Bharat Sangh, which had been launched in 1975 at Jaipur's Rajasthan University when some students had got together to rehabilitate slum dwellers from a fire, got involved in Alwar in the mid 1980s. Rajendra Singh toured Alwar district, experiencing a major drought in 1986-87, and wanted to help improve the quality of life. The unequivocal first choice of the people was 'water'.