In India, from the 19th century onward,
the paradigm of managing water has followed two interconnected routes.
One, the state took upon itself
the role of sole provider of water. (It was the colonial state that
centralized control over water resources. The post-independent state
inherited this role, and continued with it.) Among other things,
this led to communities and households being no longer the primary
agents of water provision and management.
Two, the earlier use of rainwater
and floodwater declined. In its place, there came a growing reliance
on surface water (primarily rivers) and groundwater.
Today, the effects of this
way of managing water are clearly visible:
- There is complete dependence
on the state for any kind of water provision. It is a kind of
fostered parasitism since the state, via its bureaucratic machinery,
does not seem to possess the will to alter such a situation.
- Such has been the level
of extraction from rivers that most of India's river basins have
degraded and the rivers are polluted.
- Large dams are the major
source of water storage, and canals are the major distributory
route. The former have caused large-scale community displacement
and ecological havoc. The latter, large-scale degradation of land
via soil salinisation.
- Groundwater resources
have been heavily over-used.
Thus water availability, both
in terms of quality and quantity, has declined to such an extent
that many parts of India, rural and urban, today face a drought-like
situation. And when drought actually sets in, as it did in Gujarat
and other parts of the country most recently in the year 2000, scarcity
takes on a frightening visage. An already bleak reality seems even
What if this bleak scenario
is just a bad dream? Maybe, instead of hanging our heads, all we
have to do is look up for the solution.