Dhan Foundation, (Madurai) Tamil Nadu
C R Shanmugam, a civil engineer, works as a project consultant for Dhan Foundation, a Madurai-based NGO. He has revived about 20,000 300-1,000-year-old water tanks, which are now managed by people in villages across Tamil Nadu. The tanks recharge groundwater, besides ensuring water for irrigation. "A man with a vision and wisdom" is what people say about him. But, in all humility, Shanmugam believes he is "only a cog in the wheel".
A concerned villager, he mobilised his village Kursala in Kalahandi, Orissa, to overcome its persistant water shortage. The result is evident. The village, which used to face a drinking water scarcity in the month of January, now has adequate water for irrigation even in May and June. Dawn arrived in Kursala in the early 1990s, when, appalled with the depleting water status and growing poverty and migration, an educated villager Komal Lochan Jani decided to take action. He knew the groundwater levels would improve only if rainwater is used for recharging. Jani has also heard that a good vegetative cover (including grasses and forests) facilitates the recharge process as this cover acts as a filtering medium. Thus, he started by mobilising the youth to work for the conservation of forests that were vanishing. Gradually, the people of Kursala took up his concern and initiative, and they worked together. Intensive plantation work (including fruit-bearing trees) was taken up. About 50 small ponds were built and sustainable water management practices were sacredly adopted. Kursala has not only broken the cycle of irregular rains, drought and migration but have recently handed over 492 acres of forest back to the state as well.
Jammu & Kashmir
Moulana Iftikhar Hussain Ansari is a politician, a businessman and now the 'Green Maulvi' of Jammu and Kashmir. As minister for housing and urban development, he has been credited with establishing the J&K Lakes and Waterways Development Authority in 1997 to preserve the Dal lake. Hampered by a massive fund crunch, there has only been a marginal change in the lake's condition. But the de-weeding process has been started with some success. The Moulana firmly believes that he can tide over the current problem. Once the glory of the Dal is restored, he plans to start cleaning the Jhelum river.
Ajay S Rawat is a rare mix of an academician of international repute and an activist. Since 1984, he took up the responsibility of protecting and reviving the lakes of Nainital, his hometown. He began by writing and raising concern about pollution in the Naini Lake lake and the threat it was posing to the very existence to Nainital towns and adjoining areas. Such efforts generated awareness among different sections of both state and society.
The overflow of the Naini Lake during the monsoon passes through the nallah and into the Ballia ravine. The nallah was in shambles and if it had caved in the lake water would have swept off several townships in the foothills. However, these concerns never received attention either from the authorities or of the people living in the plains. Though such mishaps are not uncommon in the region. The SC order on March 9, 1995 effectively addressed the concerns raised. It directed:
The order has been executed. The proposals of 149 group-housing societies were cancelled by the administration. The height and the area of individuals houses have been fixed. The lake is being cleaned annually. Occasional intervention from the High Court has also spurred up the administration. Recently, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has accepted an Rs 98.6 crores plan to revive the lake and its catchment.
The state government has also released Rs 7 crores for the maintenance of Ballia ravine. The works will be completed by 2003, subsequently an afforestation programme will be launched and vegetative spurs will be developed. Every year during the monsoons, residents of the surrounding areas were asked to move to safer places, but not this year.
Mohit Ray is the co-founder of Vasundhara, a self-funded citizens group, actively involved in the protection of urban and semi-urban water bodies in and around Kolkata. It is actively encouraging and mobilising the local communities to protect 3,000 urban water bodies. All these water bodies are under the jurisdiction of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. Their major achievement is not only removing the encroachments from the 8,500-sq m of the water body at Jheel Road near Jadavpur railway station in south Kolkata, but also reviving it.
It all happened when in March 1999, the concerned residents formed the Jheel Sanrakshan Samiti that generated a huge public support for the pond's protection. Later, the municipal authority also extended its support. Together, they not only brought the pond back to life, 13 affected families were also rehabilitated. For the past years, Vasundhara has been celebrating June 16 as the wetlands day to generate awareness among the people. Impressed by their efforts, the Central Pollution Control Board has entrusted Vasundhara with the task of developing a management plan for protecting the ponds of Kolkata.
An ardent environmental activist, Razdan heads the Jheel Sanrakshan Samiti (JSS), an Udaipur-based non-governmental organisation, which is initiating the process of awareness generation among the people to manage rainwater in both urban and rural areas. Under his leadership, JSS has been able to mobilise more than 80 villages of Udaipur district to join the jal biradari network. The major challenge before this network has been on how to make people understand the importance of managing their water resources themselves. According to Tej Razdan, the secretary of JSS, a surgeon by profession, "It has become a habit among the villagers to get work done without moving a finger. They show interest only in those works, which are either funded by the government or NGOs and where they don't have to give their own contribution." JSS devised a comprehensive awareness generation strategy, including various aspects like village pheri, puppet shows and plays to get their message across.
JSS has waged a relentless struggle to save the lakes of Udaipur - Pichhola, Swaroop Sagar, Fateh Sagar and Badi - through public interest litigations. Filed in 1997, it seeks urgent judicial intervention to clean up and to check the flow of pollutants into these water bodies, which form the city's lifeline. Their concerted efforts have been able to strengthen the local people's resolve to brave long delays in the judicial process and an apathetic and partisan government to protect their lakes. But their hard work paid off. The city has received funds under the National Lakes Conservation Plan (NLCP) to restore the water bodies. And, the High Court is itself monitoring the executive compliance of its orders on a regular basis. Recently, his group has joined CSE's Urban Wetland campaign to collectively motivate the urban population to understand the manifold uses that these decaying water bodies once served, and to emphasise the urgent need to protect and revive them.
Bansal is an unassuming businessman from Haryana, who is doing remarkable work for the people in Jamalpura. His life took a significant turn in 1995, when he read a review of Talab, a well-known book written by Anupam Mishra. Not only did he read the book carefully, he also met the author. "It was an inspiring encounter. And, I decided to spread awareness about this book and the issues it addresses.
The response of the people was encouraging", he said. He has translated Talab in Gurmukhi, so that more people can read it. "I never thought of joining or starting any organisation or group. I want to work with people on my own terms", he says. For past few years, in the months from June to September, he and a few other interested people plant new trees. Recently, he has also obtained approval from Shiromoni Gurduwara Prabandhan Committee to take up tree plantation on vast tracts of land owned by this body.
An advisor to Danida, Mangalam Balasubramaniam is actively involved in mobilizing communities to take up rainwater harvesting. One of her major achievements includes inspiring about 1,000 residents of Pammal, Chennai to not only implement rainwater harvesting in their houses but to restore the temple tank as well.
"Once we started the desilting and cleaning up of the tank, even people who had previously ignored the renovation came forward to offer their services - in the form of technical advice, monetary help or voluntary labour", reminisced Balasubramaniam. To achieve the goal, a fund-raising campaign was launched. Pammel women went from door to door seeking contributions. "We accepted whatever sum was given.
One person contributed a rupee, which we accepted gratefully," shared Mahalakshmi Janarthanan, a resident. To attract the attention of the people, the fund raisers used a catchy line, 'Oru addiku munnuru rooba' - which literally means "Rs 300 for one foot (of the temple tank wall)". However, adi in Tamil also means a beating, thus, making many residents laugh at the pun and contribute the requisite amount.
Sri Sankara Vidyalaya, the Exnora Innovators Club, the Rotary Club, Pammal Tanneries Association and a few individuals were the major contributors. About Rs 13 lakhs were raised through this campaign. The ease with which the community mobilised itself to collect funds was the direct result of the change in the mindset of the people, who had experienced the positive impact of implementing rainwater harvesting in their houses. Initially they used to say, 'Namakken vambu?' (why bother?).
But when they realised that the quality of water in their wells had improved drastically, and the money they would spend on buying water resources during summer had declined - their attitudes changed. Balasubramanian rightly explains, "For any community effort to be successful, the change must be visual."
More than half the fund was utilised to strengthen the banks of the tank, by constructing a wall around it. This measure was taken up to protect the tank from degeneration in the future. In September 2001, the works began and within three months the project was successfully completed, despite heavy rains. Seeing the people's enthusiasm, the administration of Kanchipuram district also joined in, by extending its support to the project. The results of the work have surprised the residents as well. Both the quality and quantity of water in the region have improved, due to the restoration of the tank.