Sunday, July 22, 2012

Whose water is it anyway?

Today's episode of Satyamev Jayate about water crisis in India, brought to light the huge difference in the way different classes of our society consume and treat water.
One example was very telling. The water supply to the maga city of Mumbai largely comes from the lakes in Shahpur district, some 60 km away from the city. The irony is, the villagers that were displaced in construction of the Bhatsa Dam (that supplies the city's water) do not have access to the water now. They were the ones who labored to create the dam. They now stay barely a few km from the lake. and yet, no water flows through pipelines into these villages, while the water is being ferried hundreds of km away to cities. Read here about the reality.
The contention is the modern notion of 'control'. The government wants the villagers to pay for the water, whereas Villagers rightly feel a kinship towards the lakes and mountains and want unrestricted access to it.
The creation of the dam distanced them from water that was always accessible to them through traditional means. Government's actions amount to cheating, as they have the moral responsibility to villagers' well being, after having foisted on them the monstrous change of ecology.

Scale accelerator: Dam. The megapolis is sustained artificially through pipelines from the villages. The large city requires large scale infrastructure that some times affect small communities adversely

Cause effect: Government is evading its responsibility since its the one who caused change. Also, as was evident on the show, no one knew where mumbai's water came from. A typical metropolitan Mumbaikar's water supply runs unabated without him ever having to worry about its source and its effect. If the protesters who are threatening to burst the pipe lines to Mumbai, succeed, it will be seen as merely a 'law and order' problem by the citizens and the government.

Pace of change: This factor is better illustrated with the reality of Gurgaon. Recently, the Haryana high court restrained construction of new buildings that would consume groundwater for its construction. This welcome move addresses the scarce water supply available in the geography, that is being overburdened with accelerating population growth of Gurgaon, which has doubled in the last 10 years. And in the last 5 years, the three large lakes that provided water to the surrounding areas have all gone barren. Tremendous amount of illegal mining in the area is bringing in drastic geological changes that are not being completely comprehended. (possible effects for NCR of Aravalli minings - Desertification, Depletion of water table & adverse ecological changes that will affect human survival) 


Rain water harvesting, regeneration of lakes, small interventions and systematic irrigation... These were some of the solutions showcased that have worked for some villages. what is common to all these  solutions is a local approach with community partnership towards creating sustainable green solutions. What is conspicuously absent is the language of 'control and structures'. The displaced villagers in Shahpur received a system of water containers that were to be filled by tankers periodically. But that does not happen and communities remain parched. Indian reality cannot be sustained on the philosophy of control and structures. a thousand examples can be enumerated where a local, community based system was dismantled and replaced with 'modern' control systems administered by the government and not the community, which did not sustain and led to eventual demise of the local ecosystem.

One such system that was talked about in the show was the system of lakes that were created and maintained in villages of India prior to British era.

Pre-british india: india had a system of rain harvesting where many of its towns and villages would maintain community based lakes. A city typically had thousands of life-filled lakes. 
Earlier Rajas would contribute to the expense of maintaining the lake. The British didn't contribute, 
and on top of it, they started to tax the water usage from these lakes. 

Eventually, the community was alienated from the lake and caused the demise of the whole system. The vocabulary of control that defined western way of looking at global problems, instituted apathy towards local resources, that was not there before. The 'control' shifted responsibility of the local resources from the local community to the 'government'. And being so big, government has never been known to be sensitive to its subjects. Now city water comes from hundreds of miles away, from rural areas. Cities waste their water, whereas rural areas do not have access to any water. 

Lets not just look at water bodies as a 'exchangeable resource'. It has to be given its due importance as a life giving force for a community, its ecology, its culture, its economy.
For start, I will implement rain water harvesting in my home.


  1. Here's an excellent NDTV story about the alarming water woes of Delhi.

  2. Here's another video by video volunteers about water crisis