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Nov 13, 2005
Approaches to a water economy

When Rajasthan Patrika decided to celebrate its 50th year with a campaign to restore the state's traditional water saving structures, it was not prepared for the tidal wave of enthusiasm the idea evoked. Ramesh Menon writes: "Rajasthan Patrika had no idea that its campaign would become such a hit, a mass movement. Soon, people from varied age groups, were at work — desilting tanks, restoring traditional wells. They got their hands dirty, but it was the dream of seeing water once again that was the motivating force. As many as 1,46,000 volunteers clocking around 4,38,942 man-hours were involved. If the government was to hire them, it would easily have cost them upward of Rs 5 crore... Thousands of volunteers learnt the importance of respecting traditional wisdom. It broke down caste and communal barriers that are so strong in Rajasthan. Many of the reservoirs that were desilted like the Jaganathsagar in Jaipur were lying unused for over 20 years. When the rains came, the first signs of magic appeared. Water slowly started trickling into the reservoirs and wells".

On the 93 acre campus of the Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode [IIM-K], 400 residents are dependant entirely on stored rain water. A 1.5 acre pond gives them 100,000 litres per day. It is fed by the slopes on which the buildings stand. IIM-K has no other source of water and shows no insecurity. ICRISAT has worked in simple, well-known watershed management practices in the village of Kothapally in AP to enable farmers to raise three crops a year. Kothapally has become an island of plenty in the water-scarce Ranga Reddy District. This report quotes an ICRISAT officer:"The project is an eye-opener to how the community can be involved in tackling drought through regeneration of natural resources. It is a model for any region facing a drought".

Elsewhere in AP, a pioneering experiment uses a check dam made of rubber to trap water during rains and get out of the way when not required. The idea is well-known in 20 countries. They are portable and avoid silting up. Here's more information on rubber dams.

The purpose of this article is not to catalogue local successes - they are in the thousands. The point is that life is possible without big dams or big money. The government instead of abdicating its charge to private investors, should legislate meaningful rules and encourage community participation. There is some evidence the importance of watershed management has been realised. The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced on Aug 15, a National Rainfed Area Authority.

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