RASHTRIYA JAL CHETNA YATRA (NATIONAL WATER AWARENESS CAMPAIGN)
The National Water Policy was declared on April 1st, 2002. It was widely felt all over the country that the provisions of the Policy would drive India towards a centralised control of water and an atmosphere in which the private sector would have more say in planning and managing water resources in the country.
In the above environment, TBS fear that in the long run, resources developed by the efforts of countless communities in various parts of the country could come under the ambit of privatisation. It is also widely recognised that lack of right to develop, manage and control their own water resources is the major reason for alienation of local communities from their water (and hence land and forest) resources. The current policy developments would further alienate communities and result in pushing the country into an ecologically and economically disastrous downward spiral, afflicting most the poorest sections of Indian society.
In order to sensitise people at large about the major issues involved and to seek a diversity of opinions from various parts of the country on the same, the National Water Awareness Campaign was planned with the following objectives:
- To increase awareness about the need for judicious use and regeneration of water resources for enhancing water quality and quantity in all parts of India.
- To increase awareness about water as a basic right of each citizen of India
- To meet & bring together activists who are working on water issues in isolated pockets of India.
- To establish dialogue with government making state and national water policies more people-oriented and responsive.
In 14 months, the campaign touched 320 districts in 30 states of India (of which 17 states are severely drought affected) and met concerned persons in 90 cities and 4 metropolises.
Issues that emerged during the yatra:
- Degradation of surface and groundwater resource: Acute degradation of land, water and forest resources in all parts of the country is leading to an acute scarcity of water with all its consequent impacts. Nature is fast losing its capacity to regenerate its capacity to provide water for human and ecological use. The cycles of floods and droughts are becoming more recurrent and severe. Overexploitation and unsustainable use of surface and groundwater is leading to a rapid fall in groundwater table. The number of districts in the dark zone is increasing sharply.
- Drinking water: The availability of clean and potable drinking water is falling very fast, leading to a rapid rise in exploitative drinking water markets. In 1952, according to planning commission study 232 villages in India were without any water source in 2002 this number has increased to 90,000 villages. In 2003, this figure has reached 1 lakh. Where potable water is not available, water borne diseases and drudgery of fetching drinking water for human and animal population are on the increase. Water quality is also being severely affected by human interventions such as excessive ground and surface water exploitation (leading to increase in fluorides and salinity) and industrial and household pollution of water.
- Conflicts on water: At a local level, increasing inequity in access to water is being manifested in the form of conflicts over water use between:
- Urban and rural areas
- Various sectors such as agriculture, industry, energy
- Advantaged classes and marginalised sections.
- “Lower” and “upper” castes.
- Upstream and downstream water users.
- Various states.
- Water for irrigation: There is a drastic decrease in water availability for irrigation, severely affecting food security. Non-judicious use of water is also visible in the promotion of water-intensive crops. As an example, of 3700 dams built in India 1600 are in Maharashtra. Thus Maharashtra has consumed 40% of the total expenditure on water resources in India. In spite of this, out of 45,000 villages in the state, 6,000 are facing acute drinking water scarcity and water is being supplied to these by tankers. There is the bizarre phenomenon of coexistence of a thriving water market on the one hand along with large areas in the state being under water intensive crops such as sugarcane. In fact, the yatra found that in more “developed” states such as Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharastra, etc., the incidence of farmers’ suicides due to the above problems is very high.
- The pricing policies of electricity and subsidies in water pricing in canal irrigation are promoting a non-judicious use of water in some pockets. Canal irrigation is itself causing increased salinity through water logging in large pockets in the country. The increased cost of water in almost all parts of the country is fast making milk cheaper than water and is hence making dairying unviable. Thus the cost of production of agricultural and associated products is on the increase.
- The entry of private water companies is being portrayed as a cure for the mismanagement of water resources by State and Municipal authorities in urban and semi-urban areas to meet drinking water and industrial water needs. However, this has grave consequences for the poor sections that do not have the purchasing power to compete in the market. These policies are leading to exclusion of poor tribals and local residents from using water for their basic subsistence in various areas such as Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, while at the same time promoting profit mongering for the private sector.
- Negligence of Traditional Water Harvesting Systems: India has a rich bounty of traditional systems of water harvesting in various parts of the country that evolved from the agro-ecological-climatic diversity of the country. All religious and cultural systems in India have viewed water resources with reverence and there still exists a strong water philosophy in the country based on prudent and judicious use of water. However, there has been a gross negligence in regeneration and maintenance of traditional water structures in almost all parts of the country. There is also now a dependence on the Government for maintaining the same.
- Learning from positive efforts: On the positive side, there are innumerable examples in different parts of India where communities have been mobilized for water conservation and regeneration. In such areas, the ill effects of drought have been minimized. Water availability for drinking and irrigation has increased, migration has decreased and an increase in income from sale of agriculture and associated produce has been the result. Such examples are visible in Neemi and many other villages in Alwar in Rajasthan, Hirwe Bazar, Ralegan Siddhi in Maharastra and other states. This underlines the need for promoting decentralized methods and techniques of water conservation and management to respond to cultural and agro-ecological-climatic diversity in various parts of India.