Water crisis: solutions from a parched state

A significant research on traditional water conservation and drinking water system in the parched state of Rajasthan, prominent environmental researcher Anupam Mishra's book gives a detailed and fascinating account of several successful, time tested, community-based practices of that society.

Rajasthan is home to the Great Indian Desert, and notches up the highest temperature and the lowest rainfall in the country. Probably, this inclemency of the environment has made the people of Rajasthan come out with a perfect, practical as well as harmonious way of collecting rain water. They have built many a kuje, kundi, tanka, talaiya, and talab, employing their native skills and resources. These are relevant even today, particularly in view of the disastrous water policies of the modern state.

The author cites data to claim that other desert countries of the world, like Botswana, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya are very poor in this particular tradition when compared to Rajasthan. These countries are forced to depend on external support to meet their water needs. In this context, he not only promotes the "wisdom" of this "self dependent society" which has "never stretched for alms before anybody", but also questions as to how long outside agencies working on water management will survive without people's participation.

Certain points emerge clearly from this study. Firstly, the tradition of water management in our society needs to be documented and understood. Secondly, community-based, collective and decentralised ethos is central to any management of scarce natural resources, where individuals, families and groups build and maintain various water systems, but the society collectively governs the use of common natural resources. And finally, governments, academicians, historians and engineers either ignore, misinterpret or spoil this tradition by their various acts of commission and omission.

Even if the author completely neglects various questions on the powerful control of water resources and the conflicts over irrigation, and makes very superfluous, unsubstantiated comments on Indian history, science, technology, and engineering, the book retains a certain value in terms of environmental literature, especially in Hindi.