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Social Work
 
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WATER CONSERVATION: A FORGOTTEN PROMISE
Why Hazare’s Model is Supreme
Development of Sustainable and Safe Drinking Water supplies is an Acute Challenge in India, given its High Population Density, and Increasing Depletion & Contamination of its Water Resources. To Solve The Problem, all that Government needs to do is to Conserve Water. But is it Really Working in this Direction?
Issue Date - 12/05/2011
 
They say, “the statistics speak out for themselves.” Well, they really do, at least when it comes to paucity of water in India. According to a recently released government data, while only 68.2% of households in the country have access to safe drinking water, 50% of the total Indian villages have no source of protected drinking water at all. In fact, if per capita water availability is any indication, ‘water stress’ is just beginning to show in India! Given the projected increase in population by the year 2025, the availability of fresh water per person per annum is likely to drop to below 1,000 cubic meters (1 cubic metre = 1,000 litres) from about 1,800 cubic meters at present. As per the World Bank’s Environment Report, drinking water availability in India has fallen by about 15-20% over the last two decades and will continue to shrink further if no proper steps are taken to conserve it, and that too urgently.

It’s not that the social activists haven’t initiated programmes to spread awareness about water scarcity in the country, or have not come up with projects that could help conserve water; they have, time and again, but unfortunately, such uprisings, except a few, have died down after sudden flashes of enthusiasm. In fact, today, there are very few social activists like Anna Hazare and Rajendra Singh who continue to do their bit to conserve water since 1985, when the shortage of water in comparatively dry parts of the country, like several places in Rajasthan and Maharashtra, had started turning acute as frail efforts from the government failed to provide residents with water.

While Hazare with Pani Puravatha Mandals (water supply associations) ensured proper distribution of water in Relegan Siddhi village in Maharashtra, Tarun Bharat Sangh, started by Rajendra Singh in 1985, is involved in revitalisation of five rivers, like Arvari & Ruparel, around Alwar region in Rajasthan, and is using traditional water harvesting methods like ‘Johads’ or small earthen check dams to conserve water.

Although these projects proved to be really effective when it came to meeting the rising demand of water in these areas, they, unfortunately failed in influencing the government, and in turn being replicated on a larger scale. Nevertheless, efforts by Rajendra Singh bore fruits considering that the project was extended to 1,200 villages. Even the 1990s saw some strong initiatives from politicians as well as social activists like Mathurbhai Savani, who with other MLAs from Gujarat visited Alwar to see the success of the project and took no time in replicating it within the parched lands of Gujarat. Chennai too saw similar urban experiments on water conservation in the 90s under the leadership of former IAS officer Santa Shiela Nayar. However, despite their thumping success, projects in both Chennai and Gujarat were never taken ahead by the government. “They were not concerned,” says Rajendra Singh, the water conservationist from Alwar, Rajasthan and winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership in 2001 for his pioneering efforts in water management. “No policies have been written down yet on water conservation. The government has the budget and it can do anything, but it is not doing enough,” Singh tells B&E.

 
Although the Ministry of Water Resources, the department supposedly responsible for all water projects, came up with the National Water Mission (the objectives of the mission is conservation of water, minimising wastage and ensuring an equitable distribution, both across & within states, through integrated water resources management) in June 2008 under the National Action Plan on Climate Change, not much has moved forward, believes Dr. S. K. Jain, Chairman of Bhagirathi Foundation in Jodhpur & The Institute of Water Conservation, Jaipur. “The government has done nothing significant yet on the national level. Even if we concentrate only on Rajasthan, where it all started, the scenario is pretty silent. Only 5% of what is required is being done in cities and less than 1% in the villages,” says Jain, adding that none of the NGOs has been able to put in the desired efforts towards spreading awareness nationally.

Further, the more difficult task of grassroots activism is yet to come. While rural masses continue to be oblivious of the dangers of water wastage, the Ministry of Water Resources have chosen to be silent on the issue. So, what is the way forward? Should the government come up with even stricter norms to regulate water wars between rural and urban India, or should it come up with something new to tackle the situation? Well, the need of the hour, experts say, is spreading awareness through education. The primary ideology that saving water is saving life needs to seep into the psyche of every Indian. Moreover, despite companies like Hero Honda, Tata, Reliance and the likes undertaking water conservation projects in the form of CSR, and social activists trying their best, it is essential that the government effectively assists them in order to generate the required national appeal.

The government also needs to encourage community-driven, and decentralised water management system. It is pertinent to understand that the time tested models already exist and the need now is to take things forward. Else, we might soon see a civil outbreak, and this time for water!

          

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