Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Water Management in Perspective

Here are some points to ponder over regarding water management in India -
  1. It is not possible to manage water resources effectively without a proper estimation of the availability and use of water. This is where a serious problem exists in this country. Reliably measured data on ground water and surface water availability and use at the local level is absent in most parts of the country. While the central and state groundwater boards have done commendable work in fairly accurately estimating the availability and use of ground water at the district level there is still a lack of information at the subdistrict level. The estimation of the availability and use of surface water is still largely based on insufficient hard data. To correctly estimate the availability of surface water we need much more detailed measurement of stream flows, run off coefficients and evapotranspiration at the watershed level. Similarly detailed studies of crop production data have to be done to better estimate the agricultural water use. At present very approximate empirical formulae are being used for determining surface water availability and use. For example despite 85% to 93% of the annual flow of the Brahmaputra (there are no firm estimates) being contributed by its Indian tributaries there is no flow measurement taking place on these tributaries and the estimates are based only on the measurement of flow in the main river stem at different points above and below the confluence of a tributary by very approximate methods.  The proper estimation of water availability and use requires a multidisciplinary approach involving hydrology, geology, agriculture, remote sensing, sociology, anthropology etc. This has to be done in fact in a campaign mode involving the people also through the panchayats and municipal wards. People have to be made aware of the need for sustainable water management and the importance of good grassroots level data collection to make this possible. The adhocism in planning and the mismanagement of water resources in this country has occurred precisely because of this criminal ignoring of the need to collect authentic grassroots level data on water availability and use.
  2. Agricultural production is geared to food consumption. So unless our food consumption habits change it will be very difficult to change agricultural production. Following the trend of the developed economies in India too there is a trend towards the consumption of foods which require high amounts of water for their production. Higher consumption of high water demand foods leads to many diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure etc which are all silent killers. So to reduce the water demand of agriculture it will be necessary to change the food consumption patterns of the population. In recent years there has been considerable research work done on the calculation of virtual water of food items and this needs to be popularised to make people change food habits to less water consuming items.
  3. There is in fact a tremendous interlinkage between much of our consumption habits which all contribute to unnecessarily high water demand and subsequent wastage. The important issue of recycling of waste water to meet a substantial part of the demand for water has to come onto centre stage. For instance there is an open drain releasing a considerable amount of the sewage of Haridwar just upstream of the Har ki Pouri where millions of pilgrims take a dip in the Ganges to wash their sins! Recycling of waste water can be done much more cheaply in a decentralised manner than in a centralised manner especially in cities and towns. There is a need for starting a campaign for this as it is the best way to clean up our polluted water bodies from our  village tanks right up to our biggest river - Ganga.
  4. Engineering is always based on scientific principles and if the scientific principles are good then engineering also must be good. Thus, when there is bad engineering it results from bad science  means making wrong assumptions and wrong deductions. In Engineering since actual work has to be done rather than just make hypotheses the need for assumptions is even more than in science. In most cases bad engineering results from making bad assumptions and deductions due to ulterior motives spurred by greed and this as mentioned earlier is partly due to a lack of authentic data.
  5. For proper nation wide water management the Panchayati Raj Institutions have to be made the nodal institutions. They have to be provided with the resources to be able to characterise their watersheds completely both above and below the ground and plan water conservation and use scientifically and in a socio-economically just manner. This is essential if the universally accepted "ridge to valley" concept of water management has to be implemented as opposed to the present unsustainable big dam oriented approach. The stress has to be on in situ water harvesting which is economically and ecologically the best option. Especially in a country like ours where 70% of the area is underlain with hard rock and has low rainfall combined with high evapotranspiration.
  6. Coming to big dams apart from the ecological and social consequences of these projects the huge gap between the cumulative designed irrigation potential and their actual performance is a big shame. There is a huge body of literature on the reaons for this shameful situation and the ways in which it can be remedied and this must be immediately prioritised than building even more of such misconceived projects. 
  7. The artificial recharge of Groundwater aquifers has to be explored much further and appropriately implemented on a war footing. aquifers present a much better option for storing water than big surface reservoirs and it is much cheaper to tap them when they are filled than to build dams.

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