Water-crisis In Punjab : Empowering Society With Water Vision
By Umendra Dutt
25 October, 2006
impending water crisis in Punjab has not only eclipsed its agriculture
and economy but also ruined the ecology, health, life style and social
fabric of the state. It has severely destroyed the water heritage and
cultural value system also. One can find hundreds of examples across
the state in this regard. The stress and strain due to water crisis
is taking the Punjab into unending series of suicides. Recently a farmer
Mohinder Singh and three of his family members has consumed pesticide
in Khiyali village near Raikot owing debt accumulated over the years,
and three of them died one after one. The water woes continued to hunt
this family. There is no source of canal water for this area and further
poor quality of ground water at depth of 100 feets pushed Mohinder Singh
into debt trap and subsequently forced him to commit suicide. Water-suicides
are emerging as a new social crisis in this prospers state.
We are on cross roads; we
have to drive Punjab out of this devastation. Conserving water is like
conserving life. But how this will happen? Who has to take initiative?
And why the Punjabi society has become so ignorant about water? How
the sacred relation between water and society has being lost? These
questions have to be answered before evolving any conservation strategy
and action plan. The civil society has to be recognized as the rightful
custodian of water and its involvement for a larger role is must for
the success of this rescue mission. The crisis has to be tackled holistically.
The vision, the approach, the strategy and action has to be holistic.
Man had taken control of whole of water resources and this control is
absolute, it displaces other creatures and their natural right over
water, this is a brutal attempt. It is an injustice to other forms of
nature. This may ultimately lead to the destruction of human civilization.
We inherit the water tradition
which was de-centralized and managed by community, the stakeholders
their selves. Each community has its own water-order .That treats water
as an integral part of nature not mere a resource used to meet ever
increasing human demands. This water-order reflects in our social customs,
traditions, beliefs and knowledge systems. It was so interwoven in a
multi-fabric structure that it symbiosis with very identity of the society.
Environmental justice to all living beings and sustainability are the
foundations of this water-order. It covers all aspects of environmental,
agricultural and economic sustainability along with social and cultural
security. This water-order has an inbuilt institution of water conservation
and enforcing water laws. It also defines our relation with water. Unfortunately,
Punjab has lost its inherited water-order.
The water is creation of
God; it is a gift of Mother Nature. It is sacred, divine, pious, sanctimonious
and godly. Water is known for its intrinsic quality to purify every
thing that comes in its contact. But we had made it most polluted, contaminated
and even toxic substance. It is a sin and we have to pay the price for
this. Our every holy place has a water body as an integrated and indispensable
part. This signifies our own water vision. Water is for all , the every
living creature on the earth has its water-right. Water belongs to nature,
the rivers and the oceans. Man had only misappropriated it. We can take
the water from Mother Nature as a child gets her or his feed from mother.
We can draw water from nature but can not exploit it.
Then what could be the way-out
for Punjab. How could we save water without proper water policy, a conservation
strategy and action plan? What is water vision of Punjab and what Punjab
government follows? Interestingly Punjab has no state water policy as
of now. In 2004 a draft water policy was circulated with in governmental
circles only and it is still not more than a draft. Ironically, there
is no space for community initiative and participation in the proposed
draft policy frame work.
To begin with, let the people
of Punjab have a water budget. As we manage our finances by budgeting,
the water has to be budgeted too. It has to be done on various scales,
such as – individual, village, block, district, town, geo-climatic
sub-zone, river basins and then entire state, then sectoral levels like
agriculture, industry and domestic supply. This water budgeting shall
be based on equity, sustainability and harmony with nature along with
social and environmental justice.
We have to think about sustainable
consumption pattern also. Gandhiji has said that earth has enough to
fulfill everyone's needs but not for their greed. There is no limitation
to consumption, if there is no budgeting. We are going on increasing
water supply but there will be a limit, how far we can go? A systematic
effort to reduce the man's demand of water is earnestly required. Western
approach to consumption as happiness is like ever walking without ending
according to Tagore. Can the people of Punjab think on this aspect?
We have to identify potentially unnecessary consumption demands of man;
we have to differentiate between need and demand by greed.
Water should be available
to each one, without any discrimination and hassle. The systems imposed
by new economic-order of globalization by World Bank and international
funding agencies, will certainly left no scope for this inter-dependent
life systems of shared and community governance. The new water pricing
policy is going to rout our social systems too. The drinking water can
not be and should not be controlled by the market forces. We have to
prioritize the water supply according to social and environmental justice
and made the pricing system based on these. Drinking water is very basic
human right and government has to ensure that the public stand post
First the community institutions
were dismantled, the colonial regime has taken over entire control and
it was continued even after independence and now GOI, Planning Commission
along with World Bank is talking about community management. Now government
proposed to hand over water supply to PRIs, but it will certainly not
work. The society that has lost its capacity, its water vision and water-order
could not manage its resources on its own. It was made handicap for
colonial interests and we did not rectify this after independence. Earlier
the society was striped of its sense of relation with water and now
all of sudden the government wants them to manage.
and Water Guru Anupam Mishra question this new fond love for new participatory
concepts like Joint Forest Management and others. He said," let
the rulers and planners clear, who had made management of our land,
water and forest ' solo' first? Our society had shared management system
since time immemorial". When state institution failed in managing
the things then only they had started for community participation. But
things do not work like this, society has to be empowered first, it
needs to go through a capacity building process to reinstall its own
When a society loses its
water vision and heritage it is bound to plunge into water devastation.
The resource intensive development technology has converted the water
into a commodity – only a consumer good. When there is no well
defined relation then how society could move to conserve water. So,
Punjabi society has to re-trace its relations with water. Water is considered
and regarded as father by our Gurus - pawan guru, pani pita, mata dharat
mahat. Is it like that now? We call rivers as Mother but do we treat
them like that? It is degeneration of our water-order. A sincere introspection
by entire community and institution is urgently needed in this.
We have to clear certain
more things. If we want to conserve water then, what are the requirements
of Punjab? Is it technology, Money, Guidance by developmental professionals
and scientists from departments and Agriculture University or directions
by World Bank? Punjab must look the other community initiatives, who
have set examples by evolving their water-order and social discipline,
to find answers for its problems. In Punjab also, Sant Balbir Singh
Senchewal has shown the way with his great work on holy Kali Bein rivulet,
but the entire governmental, bureaucratic and technocratic system is
still lacking the vision and things are not moving in required pace.
Because the present developmental paradigm is not native to Punjab and
its people, we are still over taken by European motives and methods
by forgetting the spirit with in our society. That is why our actions
are poor in will, unsustainable in form and ineffective in results as
they does not come from our own roots.
The initiatives of Tarun
Bharat Sangh –TBS led by Magsaysay award winner Rajinder Singh
in the district of Alwar and Laporia Navyuvak Vikas Mandal – LNVM
led by water worrier Laxman Singh in Jaipur district, are two exemplary
success stories from Rajasthan. With much less rain fall as compare
to Punjab the villagers of these areas become self-sufficient in water
without any help from government, without any technical assistance from
governmental department or agriculture university. They had retraces
their water-heritage, reenact water-order and made the community the
real custodian of water. TBS has revived the six small rivers in that
region; it is for the first time that a declared dark zone is converted
into white zone and that too by the community work based on traditional
knowledge. Then there is another example of Doodhatoli Lok Vikas Sangthan
situated in village Ufferankhal of Pouri Garwal of Uttarakhand state,
where the people's toil brings the lost forest cover back. It was not
only forest cover, but the entire biodiversity and wild life has a magnificent
come back. The high mountain springs drayed due to deforestation and
soil erosion once again become alive and perennial.
These all three places have
one thing in common that is the initiative of community to formulate
a strict water-order, social- discipline and urge for sacrifice. Punjab
needs to learn from communities and villagers of these places and adopt
their experiences in accordance with its own conditions, eco-system,
culture and heritage. It is people's wisdom and their institutions that
will sustain and show the path for future generations.
Punjab doesn't need technology,
guidance by World Bank or developmental professionals; it needs only
its water-order and water-vision. Just empower the society with these
it will do the things on its own.
(Author is Executive Director
of Kheti Virasat Mission, Jaitu, Faridkot district based environmental
NGO in Punjab. Phone: 9872682161, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
KHETI VIRASAT MISSION
Street-5, Hardayal Nagar,
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