"The time has come for every individual to take responsibility of conserving and harvesting water" - A conversation with Anupam Mishra


Amit: Anupam ji, I am confused after reading about the water crisis in India and it looks very complicated.

Anupam ji: Don’t make it complicated. Let’s have tea first. Tell me, where are you from ?

Amit: Almora. It has turned into a concrete jungle now.

Anupam ji: True. Almora is at 6000 ft above sea level and it gets its water from Kausi river, which is at 3000 ft above sea level. So water is being lifted from the valley to support Almora, isn’t it ? My point is, why can’t the water be stopped at higher elevation itself ? Why do you just let it flow down and then spend energy / electricity to lift it up again ?

If you have read “Aaj Bhi Khare Hain Talaab”, there is a mention of Mysore, which had 31000 ponds and lakes. It was said that any drop falling over any mountain, was collected in ponds on either side. Then the Britishers came and thought that spending on maintenance of these ponds and lakes, was a bad idea and so they died a natural death and then gradually disappeared due to neglect and disuse.

Amit: Maybe the government finds building dams, an easier option. This is also because people like me, living in cities, want the water at our doorsteps, without making any efforts to harvest / source water, so we rely on the government to provide this water to us by building dams.

Anupam ji: Have you heard of Dwaraka Society in Delhi, which has about 5,00,000 families living in it ? Recently, the Jal Nigam received about 50,000 requests by SMS, asking them to provide water, but it was refused on account that the Society was never approved. They might get some water, but only during the election seasons.

Is building of dams the only solution ? I don’t have any issues with dams as such, but somebody has to take care of people who are being displaced. We have fought in case of Narmada Bachao Andolan as well.

Anyway, even if we are okay with dams, what is the long term solution ? Give us a long term solution for the future generations to come. We have to understand the even dams have a shelf life. Today we are getting water and will maybe get for a few more years, but what are the alternatives we have after that ?

Also we cannot have dams everywhere. One cannot have a dam on Yamuna in Delhi. Delhi is meeting its demand from Tehri dam, which is 300 kms away.

When the government made the Tawa dam in Hoshangabad, many people were displaced. Besides the issue of displacement, the few people who got land in compensation, also complained of it being saline, waterlogged or uncultivable. There are a number of other issues related to dams. Yet, we are all okay with dams, as all of us in cities stay in our own comfort zones. How much longer is the question ?

Amit: Yes! Even in a city like Pune, Purandar block which is nearby, has been struggling for water. A district with good rainfall and good number of dams is also not able to meet its water requirements. There is a serious distribution issue. Maybe development is restricted to cities/city centres like Pune, Delhi and Mumbai, without any thought given to the survival of small villages ?

Anupam ji: These big cities are in a big crisis and they have a sword hanging over their heads. You have seen how empires like Mohenjodaro, Rome etc have collapsed. What will you do when you wont have water ? Everyone will be forced to leave the city. Then you will see what happens to these cities.

Amit: Recently the same thing happened in Pune. Monsoon delayed this year and people started making a hue and cry, finally the rains came and everything was sorted out temporarily.

Anupam ji: Nature is very generous Amit ! She gives warning signals. Situation will arise again next year or may be after 10 years, but if we really are intelligent, then we should take corrective action as early as possible.

We talk about saving Western Ghats. These Ghats have survived thousands of years in some or the other form, we should think about our survival first. Nature has its own way of correcting things. There is sustainable life on earth, but first we destroy habitats and then count species and try to save them.

Amit: Like the disappearance of the river Saraswati ?

Anupam ji: You may say so. It did not disappear because of any human interference. It vanished due to some natural reason and so did the people, who were dependent on her.

Amit: This year Pune Municipality asked people to use tankers to immerse Ganesh idols, inspite of that, more number of idols were immersed in Mula - Mutha rivers, which are already in a pathetic condition.

Anupam ji: Why blame festivals only. All of us are anyway killing rivers. All the waste of the cities is getting into the rivers. Ganesh idols are really a small part of the issue, but I also don't understand why in a society / colony, every house wants to have its own idol, why can't people have a small one for the whole society. It has become matter of prestige, lots of famous celebrities visit these mandaps, which is then advertised and all try to make their idols bigger than each other. Having more idols, does not indicate that you are more faithful to Ganesh !

Amit: Is rainwater harvesting a solution ? Soil has its way of purifying the water and understanding its nature is science. If all this construction is made without a technical understanding of hydrology, even rainwater harvesting will not help, isn't it. The water table is depleting and the big question is how to increase that. There seems to be no organisation actively working on that.

Anupam ji : Again thanks to nature, that we don't have enough cement to cover entire area of our cities with pavements, so some water manages to seep into the earth. Nature is so generous. I really don't understand that why a city like Pune can’t have a few water bodies (lakes and ponds) to manage its water resources.

Amit: I visited villages where pani panchayats were formed, but it seems they are not operational any more ?

Anupam ji: It is not possible to dictate terms for a long time. You cannot say that, this is the amount of water which will be given to you and that you cannot have these crops like sugarcane etc. How can you control the ambitions of a farmer ?!

Amit: Inspite of being a rain shadow area, farmers in Purandar block and other areas, prefer sugarcane crop as it yields them more money, inspite of it being drought prone area. They in fact use groundwater and that too during monsoons.

Anupam ji: So what's wrong in that. Everybody is chasing money so why should farmers be left behind ? Sugarcane definitely gives them good money. A situation will come when they will get tankers to fulfil their demand of drinking water, but will still rely on groundwater for irrigation. You cannot do irrigation with tankers. They will continue to use groundwater until the day it gets over. My point is why blame rural India and expect them to sacrifice, when we want to have a better lives for ourselves.

Amit: Then does it mean that modern cities are not self sustainable ?

Anupam ji: Yes. My point is that when you plan a city, why are water bodies not formed, as part of the city's water resource management plan. Why don't you make lakes and ponds or maintain the existing ones to conserve water ?

Amit: Can we corelate the case of Fatehpur Sikri to these cities ?

Anupam ji: Certainly. It was the same situation as Pune, Delhi and Mumbai, are today in. They had water, about 51 small bawdis (step-wells) and ponds were there, but yet these were not enough to meet the demands of people, elephants and horses. So Akbar decided to abandon his beautiful palace here. It still looks new ! We must realise that capitals have changed and empires have fallen because of scarcity of water.

Amit: Maybe these big cities will continue to get water because of their money power. Our economy is centralised and everything is controlled by a system at the centre or the state. People have also lost faith in societies and communities.

Anupam ji: In early nineties, Dewas (Madhya Pradesh) used to get water with the help of railways. About 40 tanker trains supplied water from Indore to Dewas. Now the next stage could be supplying water by plane. Let them try that way also. The point is how much water from the Narmada will you be able to stop and supply. This will be very expensive, and the Narmada will go dry at some point.

The way most of these voluntary development organisations, implement initiatives around water, shows our low level of involvement and commitment. Many a times, the World Bank and other foreign funding sources have pulled out due to improper implementation of these initiatives.

About governments, whoever is in power, he/she changes things as they please.

Only a few organisations are really active.

But the time has come for every individual to take responsibility. A group of farmers in Dewas have made 6000 ponds in last couple of years without any external help. We dont need the government or other organisations, to start thinking and working on conserving our water. Most of the people in the government or other organisations, don’t really reach people on the ground.

Some of these people who work for few years do become a part of the Planning Commission etc, but distribution systems and implementation remains a big challenge. Societies are made by citizens, 4-5 people cannot be said to represent civic societies.

Amit: Are our unending desires responsible for whole crisis ?

Anupam ji: Recently I heard that someone from or related to a political family bought seven flats worth many crores each. There is no problem in buying a big house but why does one need seven ? Even if you buy seven houses, are you really happy ? Imagine in today’s world, people are paying for meditation, to achieve better living and peace !

My point is, do whatever you wish to do, but atleast be happy in the end.

Amit: I come back to this basic question. Is there any solution ?

Anupam ji: There is a traditional wisdom given to us by our ancestors, follow that and make ponds and lakes, wherever you can.

Amit: How can I help as an individual ?

Anupam ji: First don't be stressed about whole issue, it will cause depression. Whatever you can do at your level, do it, instead of just discussing and talking about it. Don’t wait for or expect the government or voluntary organisations to do something on your behalf.