Jun 01, 2003
A gathering of water warriors.
For a little over a year now Rajendra Singh, the man who woke up a river asleep for 40 years, has been traversing the country trying to awaken Indians to an emerging danger.
Before the Central Government published its National Water Policy on April 1,2002, he says he was assured that a categorical undertaking would be included in it stating that water rights will not be privatised. In the published policy however there was no such undertaking.
The Magsaysay Award winner’s suspicion have been aroused. He believes private interests --Indian and foreign-- will take over river and water source management. The Government will then step aside and turn India’s citizens into ‘consumers’ who will have to purchase water from private owners. After all a similar thing happened with salt during the British rule. He says that in the newly ‘independent’ South Africa this has already happened. Another, strong indication in India of this trend is that bottled water is more expensive than milk! The poor can ill afford such safe water. Even as taps have disappeared, bottled water has become ubiquitous.
Rajendra Singh’s fear is confirmed by the recent grand talk of inter-linking India’s rivers. He says there are thousands of local solutions possible to stem the water crisis. Local people can implement them with very little intervention. Village management of water sources, water shed development, rain water harvesting etc. are all proven, low cost technologies that will create local jobs and solve the problem. Instead of trying these there is talk of the grandiose linking of rivers.
“Why so?” he asks and answers it himself : as an engineering, political feat it cannot be achieved. But lurches will be made to skim the cream off the top. Then river management will be selectively parcelled off to private interests, who will spring the money the Government lacks and needs. That would be a sell out of a basic right.
On April 1 -2, 2002 a National Water Convention was held in Wardha, Maharashtra from where Gandhi lit up the nation and prepared it for freedom. As Rajendra Singh’s campaign --Jal Yatra-- rolled down south another Jal Sammelan [Convention] was held on May 29-30,2003 in a charming old house in Kancheepuram. It was attended by over 200 water warriors. The meet was remarkable for the numerous local level success stories in water management that were explained and exchanged. It was felt that if a bare fraction of the money allotted for the feasibility studies of river linking, were assigned to create a national exchange of success stories, the problem will solve itself. Solved by India’s unknown water warriors at a very low cost.
As an expression of defiance the Convention decided to boycott bottled water with a view to defeat that subversive business. According to Rajendra Singh over 350,000 have sworn to the boycott.
Rajendra Singh has initiated an affinity group called Rashtriya Jal Biradri [National Water Brotherhood] which can be contacted at:
34 / 46, Kiran Path,
Phones: 0141-2393178 / 01465-225043