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  • Participatory water management requires the involvement of millions

    Vanarai Bunds, erected at virtually no cost by using

    empty cement bags across nullahs and rivulets, have

    proved most effective in watershed management, writes

    Mohan Dharia. Around 36,000 such bunds have been constructed

    in Maharashtra by local communities since the monsoons

    of 2002

    The

    development target set by the UN Millennium Assembly and also

    by the recent Johannesburg Summit is to halve by 2015 the

    proportion of people living in extreme poverty, suffering

    from hunger or unable to reach or afford safe drinking water.

    It will not be possible to achieve these goals unless governments

    realise that water is fundamental to almost any kind of development

    and human activity and that it is not water that should be

    managed, but in fact the people who depend on and make decisions

    about freshwater. Water is not an issue for experts. Water

    is everybody's business.

    If

    the wars of the future are indeed going to be fought over

    water, the conservation of every drop and its judicious use

    is essential and urgent. Several states in the country have

    been facing drought virtually every year. Though it appears

    to be a natural calamity, to a great extent drought is a man-made

    calamity.

    Since

    Independence, our country has emphasised major irrigation

    projects and big dams to conserve water. After investing thousands

    of crores of rupees, hardly 32% of our land is perennially

    irrigated through various reservoirs. In spite of all efforts

    not even 70% of the lands in command areas have so far received

    irrigation facilities. Besides, over 20 million hectares of

    irrigated lands have become saline or waterlogged in several

    parts of the country. Even additional investments will only

    make it possible to perennially irrigate 40-45% of the total

    area through canal irrigation. Thus 55-60% of India will always

    be dependent on rains. Scientific micro-watershed development

    to conserve every drop of water, wherever and whenever it

    falls, and preventing soil erosion are the only solutions.

    Besides it may be possible to provide water for seasonal crops,

    horticulture, agro-forestry etc or to save kharif crops whenever

    rainfall is erratic. This approach must also be applied in

    all catchment areas of big dams to prevent soil erosion and

    save water reservoirs from further siltation.

    It

    will never be possible to introduce watershed development

    programmes all over the country without the involvement of

    millions of people and without participatory watershed development

    with effective management. The recent guidelines of the Government

    of India have made it very clear that the watershed development

    programme will be a people's programme and not a government

    programme and that state governments will work only as facilitators

    to implement this programme.

    Conserving

    every drop of water and its further management should be the

    responsibility of the local people. By and large a village

    or cluster of villages forms a watershed unit covering 400

    to 700 hectares. The Gram Sabhas of these villages, according

    to Schedule 11 of the Indian Constitution, are responsible

    for watershed management. According to the 73rd Amendment

    and the 11th Schedule, 29 programmes including soil and water

    conservation and water management have been transferred to

    the Gram Sabha. Thus it is the constitutional responsibility

    of each Gram Sabha to implement this programme by involving

    the local people.

    In

    view of the scarcity of water faced by various villages and

    drought conditions in several parts of the country, a massive

    programme to conserve water with low-cost technology is unavoidable.

    Especially when state governments don't have adequate funds,

    emphasis should be laid on low-cost technologies prevalent

    in the country for hundreds of years. Temporary bunds on nullahs,

    rivulets or small rivers erected by using empty cement bags,

    popularly known as Vanarai Bunds, have proved most effective.

    At minimum or virtually no cost, they have been yielding maximum

    results. In Maharashtra, after the 2002 monsoons, more than

    36,000 Vanarai Bunds were erected by local communities, administrations

    and college students. Commendable initiatives were made by

    the CEOs and Collectors of several districts. This has helped

    in solving the problem of drinking water, bringing some lands

    under rabi crops and generating employment opportunities.

    Vanarai

    bunds are low cost structures which are useful

    in checking and retaining the run-off rainwater

    towards the end of the monsoon season. They are

    also extremely simple to to construct - empty

    cement sacks are filled with locally available

    soil and are arranged in a row to form a small

    bund. On an average 200-300 empty cement sacks

    are used to build a single bund. The average life

    span of a Vanarai bund is slightly more than a

    year.

    In

    Maharashtra 36,000 such bunds have been constructed

    by local communities since the monsoons of 2002.

    Out of these, 2125 were built in Raigad, 1030

    in Wardha, 1701 Buldhana and 1414 Thane district.Voluntary

    labour worth Rs.250 crores has utilised in the

    construction of these bunds.

    Along

    with conservation of water, scientific and judicious use of

    water is equally important. The existing system of providing

    unlimited water to lands has created serious problems of salination

    and waterlogging. Besides, the extensive use of fertilisers

    and pesticides has affected soil texture. Those who use surface

    or underground water to irrigate crops should use sprinkler

    or drip irrigation systems in their fields. Crops that require

    considerably greater amounts of water should be discouraged.

    R & D centres should be established to bring down the

    use of water in all sectors in co-operation with the existing

    National Laboratories and Agricultural Universities. Similar

    restrictions should be placed on industries and municipal

    bodies.

    India

    has not so far paid adequate attention to the recycling of

    water for domestic or agricultural purposes. Similarly there

    is no compulsion to treat the water polluted by industries

    or by municipal bodies. Treating polluted water and recycling

    used water whenever possible should be made obligatory.

    To

    ensure that every drop of water is properly utilised, beneficiaries

    in rural or urban areas should be reasonably charged on the

    basis of the quantity used. Cooperatives or participatory

    associations of the beneficiaries of water should be encouraged

    all over the country.

    Pumping

    out water without recharging aquifers is perilous. After scientifically

    assessing the underground level of water the permissible number

    of borewells or wells in a watershed unit should be prescribed

    with necessary restrictions. The Gram Sabha of a village should

    be authorised to lay down such restrictions and introduce

    efficient water management.

    Evaporation

    of water is a challenge for all the countries in the world.

    Scientists have invented appropriate technologies to cover

    water reservoirs and to save the evaporation losses. Though

    costly, it has become essential to use new methods to prevent

    the losses of water from evaporation.

    (Mohan Dharia is president of Vanarai

    and a former minister of the union government.)

    Source:InfoChange News & Features

    April 2003

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