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Jul 28, 2006
Water harvesting via the Internet

Let’s say you are bothered about the impending water crisis in India. Despite the enthusiasms of our President and the Hon’ble Supreme Court for it, you are convinced that not only is river water linking a pipe dream or, even if the dream were ever realised, it will not bring water to every hamlet of the country. You are against big dams too: they displace people, serve the wealthy and water for living is a low priority for them. You realise privatizing water is the ultimate crucifixion of the poor and big water schemes need private capital. “Why, oh why, can’t we save all the rain that falls, where it falls?” you moan.

You are probably cut off from your rural roots, are sitting in a far city or town in front of a computer reading this, feeling helpless. You are reasonably well-to-do, but are beginning to wonder how you can make a difference in matters that worry you. Well, here’s one way to start: fund an Oorani.

Oorani is a Tamil word meaning village pond. It is an institution as old as Tamil society. Poet Thiruvalluvar referred to them 2000 years ago. Every village had three water bodies: one for irrigation, one for cattle and an Oorani for drinking water. All three are rain-fed. Many villages have survived centuries because of these catchment bodies.

Ooranis were usually endowed by ruling or merchant princes. Beneficiaries were involved in excavation and maintenance. They developed a sense of ownership. With Independence however, a disconnection has occurred. As government departments took over every realm of village management, Ooranis too fell to neglect. Maintenance and dredging became businesses for contractors.

A classic example of central planning is the one-design-suits-all drinking water scheme under a Rajiv Gandhi Mission. A borewell, an electric pump, an overhead tank and a distribution pipeline with taps was the standard prescription. All that the people had to do was open a tap. An incredible leap indeed, it seemed from having to go fetch water until, in several places, groundwater got scarce, the electricals failed and leaky taps wasted water. No one had planned for recharging the groundwater. Soon it was like old times again, with the additional jeopardy that old ways of rain water harvesting [RWH] had been forgotten. Today in several villages women and children trudge between 2 and 3 km for two pots of water.

This is probably the story across India, but enough now of the ills. Let’s get positive. The focus here is on Tamil Nadu because of an assured opportunity that let’s you participate in RWH by reviving Ooranis.

In the last five years the government here has become very active in RWH. Through a fiat all buildings across the state were mandated to be rigged for RWH. Suddenly water security became a people’s movement. RWH became a buzz phrase. The attention soon turned to traditional water systems. Tamil Nadu has few rivers but 40,000 man made water bodies.

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