Who is responsible?
Is it the government or the village community that is responsible for the water crisis in Rajasthan?
This debate is on among academics and non-government organisations, who are of the view that the people withdrew from water management with traditional methods only after the government took up their role.
Chiranji, 56, of Kharkara village in Sikar district, agreed with them. "In my time every family would repair and clear the village pond around June every year. During Morarji Desai's time, the government de-silted it. After that, somehow, nobody did any voluntary work here," he said. The pond is dry today.
This is more or less true all over the state. Traditional ponds, wells and baoris went dry over the years but the community remained a mute spectators.
Who's job to provide water? MS Rathore, a senior fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur said that after Independence, the Welfare State said, 'giving you water is my job. Giving you electricity is my job'. And so on.
"Gradually, people started looking up to the government for everything, from drinking water supply to handpump repairs. Today, community participation is almost gone," said Rathore.
"Be it for votes, self aggrandisement or money, the government told the people 'we will do it'. Gradually, people developed dependency syndrome," said economist VS Vyas.
According to State Irrigation Minister Kamla Beniwal, the government took over the community's role "under compulsion". "There are ditches and filth right in front of people's houses but they wouldn't react. They don't want to do anything, what can we do?" she said.
Role of organisations: But the same people are today responding to the call of NGOs. Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF), a joint venture of Magsaysay awardee Rajendra Singh and Gaj Singh of the former royal family of Jodhpur, organised public awareness camps in Bhadrarjoon, Selri and Rama villages of Jalore district from December 6 to 8 this year.
There was a huge response with children, women and elders attentively listening to the speeches on the need of water conservation. At least hundred villagers gathered at the time of the inauguration of an anicut project. Villagers had to share 25 per cent of the total cost of anicut, in the form of labour.
"Our role would cease after we build the anicut here. But people would sweat for its construction and therefore, we are sure, they would also maintain it later," said Gaj Singh. But in case of the government, despite all good intentions, community involvement remains on paper.
A 'model' village: For a village of about three thousand people, Mahwa, about 120 km from Jaipur, is a model of Rajasthan government's initiatives to tackle water crisis.
Projects worth Rs 20 lakh are on here. A joda (pond) is being constructed at the cost of Rs 2 lakh. Under the Sector Reforms Pilot Project, another Rs 18 lakh has been sanctioned to install tube wells and pipelines to bring water from a boring, about two kilometre away.
But the mood here is far from upbeat. Villagers are sulky; so are the women queuing up with pitchers and buckets around the tube well until midnight.
"We needed an anicut to prevent the outflow of water. The joda is located far away from the route rainwater flowed out," said a villager Madan Singh.
Last year, the government had spent Rs 6 lakh on a borewell in the village. It dried up in a few weeks. The Pilot Project would suffer the same fate once the water table goes down. Sarpanch Suresh Kumar of Mahwa gram panchayat said the projects were sanctioned by the district administration. But Sikar District Collector Ram Rakh said that sanctions were made on the recommendations of panchayati raj institutions.
Determining factors: So much for the slogan of community participation! There were several other instances in the district where extraneous factors determined the nature of drought relief works.
In Makalwas village, there already exists a big pond but the government would rather build a joda one kilometre away under drought relief works. "This is because the existing pond is near Ghatiala ki dhani (hamlet), which votes for the BJP," said Prakash Gujar, a villager.
According to Rathore, the government has no idea what a community means. "What are the community boundaries and what is their form - spatial, social, ethnic or ideological? Can a group of individuals be selected to represent the community?" he said.
Rathore said that public representatives had become the extension of the government's hand and a small number of powerful individuals cannot be called community.
D K Singh