Water conservation: Lessons from ancient India As drought-like conditions have gripped many parts of India this year, the pressure to drill borewells in search of increasingly scarce groundwater has escalated. Many regions are in the grip of a vicious cycle of drilling causing the water table to sink further. There is an urgent need to explore what benefits water conservation can bring, whether through modern or ancient water storage structures. This report explains, ecologically safe engineering marvels of water conservation have existed in India for nearly 1,500 years, including traditional systems of water harvesting, such as the bawari, jhalara, nadi, tanka, and khadin. Even today these systems remain viable and cost-effective alternatives to rejuvenate depleted groundwater aquifers, according to experts. With govt support, these structures could be upgraded and productively combined with modern rainwater-saving techniques such as anicuts, percolation tanks, injection wells and subsurface barriers. This may be a far more sustainable approach to alleviating the water scarcity crisis across India. Ultimately, water conservation has to be a key element of any strategy to bring an end to India’s perennial swings between drought and flood.
Above: Red arrows indicate diversion of water from Tata Dams into surplus basin. Source: Google earth images and SANDRP
Since past three years, SANDRP has been raising the issue of West-ward water transfer during drought years by hydropower dams. Maharashtra annually diverts 3324 Million Cubic Meters of water from its water deficit Bhima and Krishna basins into the water surplus Konkan basin for hydropower generation. This happens though 6 dams on Bhima Basin privately owned by Tata Power and the Koyana Hydropower Project. Although drinking water is the first priority for any society and this is enshrined in the National and State Water Policies, there is no system in place to allocate the waters of these dams to the downstream, when there is dire need. During this drought, which is possibly Independent India’s worst droughts, Tata Dams have released nearly no water to the Bhima Basin and Maharashtra Government on its part has taken no stand on this issue.
After raising this issue several times at many platforms, SANDRP has sent a letter to the Prime Minister as well as to the National Human Rights Commission on this issue. If you agree with the points raised in the letter below, please send similar letter to the authorities. Continue reading “Letter to PM: Devise a policy for curbing hydropower water diversions during drought years”
Above: All-India Summer Monsoon (June-September) Rainfall Anomalies during 1871-2015. Note that since 1950s, not only has the incidence of droughts increased, but rainfall in the excess of 10% has also decreased markedly Source: IITM Paper Interanual Variations of Indian Summer Monsoon
When it comes to Global Warming and Climate Change (not interchangeable terms), India and the world have witnessed a series of firsts in the past year. The last 11 months have been the warmest months in recorded history, each monotonously breaking a previous record[i]. In India, regions like Maharashtra including Marathwada have experienced back to back droughts, in addition to increasing frequency of Extreme Weather events like Hailstorms and unseasonal rainfall. Variability of Western Disturbances has increased, which is linked with extensive anthropogenic warming over Tibet[ii]. Our response to Climate Change and the challenges it poses has been far from satisfactory. There has been no impact of National Action Plan for Climate Change, due to the inherent problems in its inception[iii]. State Plans lay languishing for several years, without clear accountability and transparency[iv]. India’s INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution) indicate more harm than good.[v] Continue reading “Dr. Roxy Mathew Koll: “Warming Indian Ocean means a Weakening Indian Monsoon””
On May 4-5, 2016, Lok Sabha Speaker Smt Sumitra Mahajan took the lead in organising a workshop for Members of Parliament on Drought, Agrarian Crisis and ILR. As part of the newly constituted Speaker’s Research Initiative’s (SRI for short) work, Smt Mahajan inaugurated the workshop at 4 pm on May 4, 2016, where a panel of eight speakers were invited (4 on each day, SANDRP coordinator was one of the invited speakers on 1st day) to share their views, followed by questions from Members of Parliament. The idea was that on these important issues, Parliament Members are better equipped to raise the relevant issues when debating and raising questions in Parliament. It was heartening to see that at least 90 MPs (88 from Lok Sabha and 2 on Rajya Sabha) were present for 2.5 hours on first day, and they wanted to ask so many questions that there was not sufficient time to allow all of them to ask, nor sufficient time for speakers to make full presentations or answer all the questions. Similarly on second day too Speakers showed lot of interest on these issues. While inaugurating the workshop, Smt Mahajan mentioned how in Solapur, Maharashtra, because of the work of the collector and his team of officials, the impact of drought is lower than that in other districts. This was certainly heartening since it was SANDRP Associate Coordinator Parineeta Dandekar who first wrote on this issue, following her visit to Solapur and interview with the district collector. The workshop highlighted the need for many such workshops, possibly more focussed, but the impact of the workshop was already visible in the (as yet unfinished) debate under section 193 that started in Lok Sabha on May 5, 2016, hopefully to be continued in current week.
Karnataka is witnessing drought for the third successive year; rainfall has been deficient since 2012-13. Because of the rainfall deficit, reservoirs did not fill up completely. Coupled with the hot summer temperatures in March and April 2016, the stored water has now almost depleted. Groundwater, the saviour in times of failure of rainfall, has dipped severely because of years of reckless exploitation for irrigating water guzzling crops in semi arid soils. With even drinking water becoming scarce, agricultural activity has come to a standstill in the region. The drought in 2015 was preceded by unseasonal rains damaging the previous harvest. The monsoon deficit led to a dip in kharif output throughout the State in 2015. The drought spread even to the normally lush Cauvery basin prompting digging and deepening of borewells. While southern Karnataka received some heavy rains in November, districts in Northern Karnataka again saw failure of rains with some districts such as Kalaburagi, Koppal and Yadgir registering over 70% deficiency in rainfall. There has been a near complete failure of crops in Northern Karnataka, with both rabi and kharif crops being wiped out, even as area under sugarcane has gone up! The northern region, which also lags in development indices, is in the clutches of rural distress – over a thousand farmers have committed suicide. Mass migration to cities is being witnessed.
Shimla Gujran village on the other side of DN-2 (Photo by Vikas Sharma, village doctor who had to fix an air tight aluminimum framed glass door at his clinic to avoid to deadly stench)
The news of ammonia laden pollution entering Delhi’s water supply via Yamuna River has become more of a routine. The periodical nuisance forces closure of Delhi Jal Board (DJB) water treatment plants for few days, leading in disruption of water supply to lakhs of people. But as usual, within couple of days things fall back to normalcy until the cycle strike back.
The source of pollution remains undisclosed with only hint that the origin presumably a drain carrying pollutants from Haryana sneaks into river somewhere upstream of Delhi. Much is not talked or heard about the mystic drain and the problem largely remains unfixed. Haunted time and again Delhi Government has now installed one Ammonia-Neutralizers and planning to buy more as a remedial measures.
Patoda: How a village in drought hit State turned water self-reliant At a time when almost every village in drought-hit Marathwada is facing acute water scarcity tiny Patoda, on the fringes of water-starved Aurangabad city, is offering valuable lesson in water management conservation and harvesting. Though it is surrounded by arid villages but Patoda’s residents regard water as more precious than money. They follow strict rules about usage and strictly carry the water audits. Water meters are installed in every households and entire village recycles each drop of waste water it generates. Today no rain water flows out of the village. Percolation has recharged the aquifers and the water table has risen. So effective is its water conservation model that Patoda has now become a model for the rest of Marathwada and has won 22 state & national awards. But it did not happened over nights. In fact it is a result of over 10 years joint efforts done by villagers.