The Groundwater Up Project

A film by Tarini Manchanda

Vikaas ki kahani gaon-gaon se hai dur kyun?
Nadi toh hai paas, yeh paani dur –dur kyun?

Why is the story of development so far away from each village?
Why is the river close by and the water so far?

(slogan from the people’s movement opposing Tehri Dam)

All the seven cities of Delhi were water-full. Baolis, deep wells and tanks have been instrumental in storing water for its people. Today, Delhi relies on water tankers. The Yamuna is dead and Tehri’s water is proving to be insufficient. It is a real crisis. And Delhi’s groundwater is going down everyday. By 2015, all of it will be gone. How will one deal with this? Filmmaker Tarini Manchanda, a resident of south Delhi,sets out to find out more about this.

The Groundwater Up Project sets out to explore the politics of this situation- through a poetic way. The notions that rest around the crisis of scarcity – both built and achieved and what is done to negotiate it. We all know this crisis too well and that it is too real. But how different is it for the underbelly and posh colony settlers? Is it just a management flaw of inequitable water flow that results in a consumption crisis? We are taken to urban slum and posh colonies of south Delhi. Where and how do they arrange for water and why do they have to sometimes steal from their neighbors? From where do tankers get water? What goes on at a treatment plant and how much water is made re-usable? How does the city deal with all this?

The effort is not to solve the crisis but to understand the present-day situation. So, we are transported to Tehri. Delhi’s water is supplied after submerging forty villages and many more in parts. Through interviews and discussions with local people, we are told of their problems and pain - their loss of identity by being forced out of their land. The capital’s thirst has not been quenched even after Tehri’s aching disaster. So, it is looking further away to Renukaji Dam now. A similar catastrophe is on its way. Does it hold any benefit to the already residing population like it did not to the people of Tehri? Will it satisfy Delhi’s unrelenting thirst? Or will it lead to the vicious circle of migration of the non-rehabilitated people?

The film raises these larger questions centered on politics of development. The significant question being whose development is pushed forward and in which fashion. The film attempts to investigate the sources of water taps, tanks and water bodies to decipher water crisis at hand, including how different people and institutions take part in creating water scarcity. Are we heading the right way if we are building more structures and moving towards a lifestyle that requires a lot more consumption of water? However, all does not seem lost as the community people, organisations and individuals show us some inspiring solutions.There are school children who are harvesting rainwater and participating in cleanliness drives for Yamuna. There are groups involved in satyagrah(non-violent struggle) fighting for an environmentally sound development plan for the city. There are others who are turning to the past to understand that no experts are required to deal with this created crisis. Revival of the already present baolis and de-silting lakes maybe the solution that could spread to quench Delhi's thirst!

The film ends with Manchanda installing a rooftop rainwater harvesting system on her family home’s terrace. Perhaps, learning that what she set out to learn at the beginning!