water can create a crisis and lead to panic. This is exactly
what led to a water riot near Jamnagar in Gujarat
(This article appeared in Down
To Earth, Jan 15, 2000)
At least three farmers, who died recently in Falla village
28 kilometres from Jamnagar town, felt this way. They were
not alone. With them were almost half a thousand others. The
farmers were unhappy because the authorities had taken a decision
to tap a water source, in this case the Kankavati Dam, to
supply water to Jamnagar town.
It is well known that Gujarat state is facing an acute water
shortage in fact, it is experiencing a drought. But
the shortage and crisis applies to farmers as well. The rural
folk, too, feel the need for water and also require water
for irrigation to produce more food most of which is
consumed by the nearest town. They also carry out, at least
some of them do, water rationing and water conservation and
harvesting measures to ensure that water is always available
It was only natural that the governments decision to
cater to the needs of the towns folk first would be
resented by them. Soon hundreds of farmers had turned out
to protest against the move. The police were present as usual.
The two were talking at cross-purposes. The farmers were crying
for water, the police ready to open fire. In the ensuing violence
three farmers died.
Water is both capable of giving and taking lives. The lesson
is simple. But this incident provokes certain very valid questions.
Why has the administration always failed to realise that town
and village folk should be on an equal footing when it comes
to allocating water? Why is there no equity in water distribution?
Is it because most administrators belong to the most arrogant
and inept elite in the world?
Then there is another ticklish issue, one of pricing water.
Water can be transported over huge areas to a town, either
through tankers or an intricate network of canals fed by a
mega-dam project. An entire township may have been submerged
to facilitate the setting up of this project. Are these costs
taken into consideration while supplying this water to the
town dweller? Or is the water supplied a highly subsidised
Given the present state of affairs, water is a highly subsidised
commodity for urbanites. In Gujarat the above incident shows
that it can even cost human lives. And all this is unnecessary.
The result of pure and simple mismanagement.
Cities in India are designed in a manner to ensure that water
is wasted. This creates an artificial scarcity to begin with.
No attempt is made in any city to harvest rain, the only original
source of freshwater in the world. On the other hand, it is
allowed to flow unchecked into the citys sewers. Sources
of water recharge have been encroached upon and claimed for
construction projects. Such is the fate of a lake or pond
that becomes part of the urban or municipal area of a town.
Rivers which were once a source of clean drinking water are
dyed with effluent released by a host of industries and in
Gujarat even groundwater has not been spared by rogue units
which have directly pumped their effluent into the aquifer
to avoid installing pollution control technology.
The government as a result is trying to bore wells about 550
metres deep to provide water for its thirsty town folk.
The farmers is Falla village are all too justified in protesting.
After two months if the water in the dam is exhausted even
Falla may face a severe water crisis. For the villages here
there is no other source of drinking water for the next six
While the people in Falla have been wise enough to realise
that rainwater harvesting is an answer to the problem of water
scarcity, the administration is yet to respond to their demand
for five check dams to be built in the area to catch rain.
As a result they have decided to go ahead with watershed management
programmes of their own. And rightly so water should be everybodys
business, not just the states. Left to the state, water
is mismanaged, left to the people it is a different story
But have the bureaucrats of Gujarat learnt their lesson? Only
time will tell. They have to learn to catch water where it
falls, manage it properly and prevent the desire to create
artificial crises by mismanaging water or relocating it with
the help of tankers. In any case they have a tough time ahead,
Falla may have seen the first in a series of water riots which
are likely to break out later in the year in March and April
when the crisis worsens.
Gujarat is likely to be in for an exercise its short-sighted,
file-pushing officials may never have visualised. Perhaps
bureaucrats will never realise that files do not hold water.
Rain water harvesting structures do, and proper management
and control of water use in cities is the need of the hour
Therefore, the time to do a quick rethink on water, water
management and water-related issues is here and now. We cannot
afford to delay and it is time we reviewed our town-centric
approach to the handling of this problem.