Rainwater harvesting in India: Traditional and contemporary

A brief look at the historical development of traditional rainwater harvesting systems of India ans also issues, need and relevance of RWH in the urban context

The document informs that traditionally Indians worshipped both water and rain as “Jala” and “Varuna”. Even rivers were worshipped. Till 3000 B.C., RWH happened without human effort as rain got collected in rivers and natural depressions. Civilizations flourished on river banks all over the world Indus valley civilization in India.

From 3000 B.C. to 1800 A.D., RWH happened with human effort. Indians harvested rainwater using different methods. These methods depended on local conditions.

However, Since 1800 A.D. traditional systems of RWH began to deteriorate. The reasons included:

  • Lack of understanding of these systems by the British during their rule till 1947
  • British wanted to be the provider of water and took over the management and ownership of water bodies.
  • This attitude continued by our Indian rulers even after independence – 1947.
  • Increase in urbanization lead to destruction of water bodies.
  • Lack of awareness and apathetic attitude of urbanites

The urban context

Unlike in the past, present day urbanization has resulted both in shrinking of open spaces and very minimal area remaining unpaved. This has ultimately resulted not only in flooding of cities but has also caused water scarcity due to groundwater depletion in general and saline intrusion in coastal cities.

Urban rainwater harvesting, due to lack of open space for capturing the runoff, is mostly in sub-soil storage as groundwater by injecting large amounts of rainwater into the soil during rains.  RWH in urban areas also consists in reviving whatever water bodies that are left behind without allowing any further construction in them in future. This will be an activity at the macro level and will have to be undertaken by the government.

At the micro level every resident/individual should implement both rooftop and driveway runoff harvesting in their respective homes, commercial complexes, office premises, factories etc. The article goes on to describe the step by step mechanisms to implement RWH at the microlevel.

(These documents are based on information received from Shri. Sekhar Raghavan of the Akash Ganga Trust, Chennai)

Both the documents are available for download below: