I get amazed when I hear the news of water level in various parts of Bihar going down and wells for drinking water getting dried. It is happening in a state with large number of famous rivers flowing through it. Simultaneously it’s shocking that neither the government nor the people at village level are doing anything to understand the reasons of this malady in our own callous approaches in recent past. One can find misuse and wastage of water everywhere, irrigation water flowing out of canal going to waste land or in other rivulets to reach finally the main river. Over irrigation is also another factor. There is hardly any endeavour for preservation of water or water harvesting, leave aside the innovative methods of effective water requirements for farming through drip irrigation or other advanced methods.
I go down the memory lane, and find gradually the large number of water bodies, ponds, ahar etc disappearing in almost every village. Diesel or electric run water pumps were not there, but industrious farmers used to toil hard with the primitive means of irrigation for transferring water from the water bodies for cultivating the fields. Wells were dug even inside the farm to use for irrigation by Persian wheel that was perhaps the best mechanical equipment in use for irrigation. My mother got a well dug by me in one summer holiday to irrigate a plot of land that didn’t have facility to get canal water. One of my uncles got a pond dug in our village.
It is unfortunate that most of the water bodies of the villages have been filled up to create farmland or encroached for building habitation. It has happened because of lack of education and appreciation about the need of the water-bodies and short sightedness. Some bigger water-bodies have got silted over the years and hardly even with schemes like NREGA, some effective programmes have been undertaken to refurbish those water-bodies. Though years after years, the finance minister of India talked of renovating the hundreds of thousands of water-bodies of the countries in his budget speech budgets, nothing concrete happened on the ground. Death of natural water bodies must have been causing the fall of the water levels.
Even the government grazing areas and extra land used as road by bullock carts have not been spared and forcibly and illegally occupied. I am not against providing government land to the landless families for building their houses if required, but it must be done following some rules and recorded. It should not be free for all under particular scheduled categories. The mad rush to increase the land for paddy and wheat must stop.
1.As the most urgent step, the various types of water-bodies must be defined, recorded and mapped through a detail survey. And every panchayat must take the responsibility of maintaining the same through NREGA or other schemes and saving them.
2.Every possibilities of creating water-bodies with huge projects of road building requiring a lot of earth digging must be explored and executed. Any new road project may create a large number of water-bodies too.
3.Every village and town, small and big, must undertake the schemes for conserving the rain water.
4.Possibilities of storing water in every river and water streams, even the seasonal ones such as Thora Baba in my district Rohtas or several rivers feeding Kosi through suitable barrages as executed in Gujarat for Village Pond, Check Dam, Boribandh dams (sand bag dams), must be explored.
5.It will not be a bad idea to encourage the old practices of creating water ponds by rich people in villages or by a community through donations.
6.Bihar government must invite and allure companies such as Hindustan Unilever Ltd with a plan of the setting up of the ‘India Water Body’ (IWB) to address water scarcity in India.
7.Agriculture and engineering universities must take innovation projects for water conservation related products and projects. Farmers need to be educated about farming system such as the rice intensification system that requires less water.
A lot of education is required to save water in rural Bihar. It can bring manifold improvement in the prosperity of the region. In absence of that, all dreams will remain on paper.
Use effectively every drop of water that comes from the sky, and all the water that flows through our rivers.
PS: Rohini Nilekani, the wife of Nandan Nilejani, had written an article, ‘How Not To Stop The Flow’ about the need for a water policy and water conservation in Times of India, May 28, 2011.