Water management is necessary to harness India's monsoon - Need to relearn ancient methods too - Interview with Ranjan Panda, Water Initiatives Orissa

With considerable experience at the grassroots and at macro levels, Ranjan Panda drought-proofs perennially drought-prone areas in Orissa.

What is your specific area of environmentalism and why?

It's water harvesting. It's a myth India doesn't receive a good monsoon. The problem is wastage, exacerbated by climate change. People have less time to collect rainwater for farming and personal use. I try to change this, put in place schemes villagers can use to harvest rainwater. As a sociologist, I went to remote areas to study local knowledge and stayed to help preserve it, especially in managing water because of the richness of their knowledge. Ineffective water harvesting means people can't grow crops, land is deserted, there is migration to urban areas and that generates a whole slew of problems at the abandoned village where soil deteriorates causing environmental problems. And in the city, look how destitute people live in slums. None of this need happen.

Can people quitting the land be attributed to water problems?

In Orissa, water degradation started at the end of colonial rule and was aggravated post-Independence by two huge mistakes. First, massive state sector water harvesting. This meant local knowledge was lost as government created a dependency syndrome. People stopped doing something they did naturally. Second, the state did a bad job. Central planning meant local practices were ignored. One example is the Mahabandha Yojana. Recently, massive water tanks were constructed in differing terrains. But one size does not fit all areas. Big tanks have problems, like silting, which cannot be managed locally. As a result much water is wasted and this is what I am trying to stop.

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