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Water Campaign Alert in Rajasthan, India (concluded)

Lava ka Baas structure declared safe by team of experts
On July 19, a group of eminent persons visited the johad constructed by the villagers of Lava ka Baas in Alwar district. The johad has been constructed over a small nala that feeds into the river Ruparel along with several other nalas. Later the group met Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot to present their views about the issue of demolition of the Lava ka Baas water harvesting recharge structure.

Jal Swaraj
A report on the technical, legal and administrative issues concerning the johad in Lava ka Baas. Available on the web in the form of .pdf and .doc.

Rajendra Singh of the Tarun Bhagat Sangh has won the Magsaysay award for his efforts in water conservation, vindicating the villagers efforts to control their own resources.

Even as the Rajasthan irrigation department tried to demolish a people's johad, villagers in MP and Gujarat were scripting success stories in water management with government support.

At last, more official respect for water in India
For the first time in 50 years, several state governments in India are moving away from drought relief to drought mitigation. Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have actively pursued major rainwater harvesting programmes. The benefits have come quickly. The rains of June and July have already filled up tanks, ponds, earthen check dams and other structures.

The message of community based water harvesting is spreading - not just in India but also globally. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) now sees "increasing water harvesting and water conservation" as a key challenge for ensuring food security.

We received the background information below in an e-mail from the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, and are reproducing it for your information.

The ultimate tyranny: The government claims it owns the rain


What do you say when the state declares that it has a right over every drop of rain? That every nallah(drain), dry or otherwise belongs to the state? That you can be arrested without a warrant if you so much as capture a raindrop that may fall in the catchment of a nallah?



The Rajasthan state government is bent on destroying the earthen check dam built on the river Ruparel by the villagers to capture the rain. Their strategy is simple: Rather than risk the backlash of actually demolishing the structure, the irrigation department engineers are forcing the villagers to reduce the height of the spillway to an extent that it will effectively render the structure redundant.

Terming the efforts of the villagers as illegal, the state irrigation minister, Kamla Beniwal, has gone so far as to declare that every drop of rain belongs to the government.

As recent as March, Lava ka Baas village in Thanagazi tehsil of Rajasthan was like many other water-scarce villages in the country: facing the devastation caused by drought for the third year. With a population of about 500 and only one water source, agriculture was a distant dream. Many hectares of farmland lay bare.

But on March 12, 2001, the villagers started work on what they thought would change their destiny. They began constructing a johad. The villagers were optimistic and united in their intent. They had been convinced of the wisdom of building a johad or check dam on a tributary of the Ruparel right on the top of its watershed by the workers of Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), a non-governmental organisation based in Alwar.

It is because of this faith that the poor villagers contributed Rs 3 lakh of the Rs 8 lakh that was required for johad construction purposes. The remaining Rs 5 lakh was donated by a businessperson from Churu district. The johad was completed in a record time of less than four months. Gopal Singh of TBS, a veteran gajdhar or rural enginneer, with many johads to his credit helped design the johad.

And then the irrigation department landed up at the johad site with the objective of demolishing the structure. Why? Because the johad violated an agreement on water sharing signed between the princely states of Alwar and Bharatpur in 1910. The modus operandi: That the structure is unsafe.

The villagers were up in arms and gathered at the site determined not to let the government destroy what had given them something so precious as water. Sensing the mood, the officials changed their tactics. They declared the structure unsafe and asked the villagers to reduce the height of the spillway to a point that would make the structure redundant. The villagers are standing vigil over their structure.

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has been consistently promoting the paradigm of community rainwater harvesting as the paradigm to fight drought and alleviate poverty. So when on July 1, a disturbed Rajendra Singh of Tarun Bharat Sangh called up, CSE chairperson Anil Agarwal and director Sunita Narain, CSE decided to intervene.

Attempts were made to reach chief minister Ashok Gehlot and send newspaper and TV journalists to the site and CSE staffers to get a first hand account. The story has also been covered in the 31st July issue of Down to Earth.

On July 2, 2001, the chief minister called a meeting of his irrigation officials and district magistrate, where the chief minister told his officers not to break the johad. CSE then issued a press release.

On July 4, Rajasthan Patrika reported that Rajasthan irrigation minister, Kamla Beniwal, had told a meeting of MLAs that "the irrigation department has the authority over every drop of water" and that anybody who transgresses this right of the state will be severely dealt with.

The issue is gathering support. 102 year old Balwant Singh Mehta of Udaipur has written to Chief Minister Gehlot that he will sit on the johad even at his age if the government were to try and destroy the structure. The future of the recharge structure built by the villagers is still uncertain. There is a major battle ahead of us since these developments can jeopardise community-based rainwater harvesting across the country.

There already exist examples from other parts of India also wherein the government has stepped in and tried its utmost to prevent people from meeting their water demands themselves. Deeply concerned at these developments, the Centre for Science and Environment is taking a group of eminent persons to Rajasthan to see the efforts of the villagers in Rajasthan, to meet chief minister Ashok Gehlot and to address a press conference on the 19th July.

These people include Dr M S Swaminathan of the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai; N C Saxena, secretary to the government of India, New Delhi; Om Thanvi, chief editor of Jansatta; Anna Hazare, social activist from Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra; and , Mohan Gopal, director of the National Law School University, Bangalore.

We need your support to fight a bureaucracy that stakes claim over the rain that falls in your backyard. That makes rainwater-harvesting illegal.

For more information, visit:

Shri Ashok Gehlot,
CM of Rajasthan

Lend your support to the campaign and tell the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, to protect the people's rights to their water resources. You can help by signing this petition.

Please follow this link:

Note: If the above link does not work, copy and paste it into your browser.

Then pass this on to everyone you think will help sign.

Text of the Petition:

Respected Sir,

It has come to our notice that your government plans to demolish a johad in the village of Lava-ka-Baas, in Alwar district. This traditional water harvesting structure has, for the first time in many years, provided the residents with water for cultivation in this drought-prone district, a feat that no government in recent years, including your own, has been able to accomplish.

The irrigation department of your government claims that the structure is unsafe. But not one of the 4,500 water harvesting structures built in 850 villages, by the Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), has broken in the last 15 years.

Shrimati Kamla Beniwal, Minister for Irrigation, has gone so far as to declare that every drop of rain belongs to the government, and that anybody who transgresses this right of the state will be severely dealt with.

We find these statements objectionable, as also the irrigation department's assertion that the construction of water harvesting structures by the people is illegal.

Community-based water harvesting is a major solution to the problem of thirst, drought, poor productivity of rain-fed agriculture, and ultimately for India's rural poverty itself. Allowing the dam to be demolished would not only be a major setback for the efforts of the villagers, who have built it at a cost of Rupees 8 lakh, but a setback for democracy itself.

Water is everybody's right, as is the right of communities to harvest it locally and use it for their survival. No government can afford to assert its autocracy over every raindrop that falls within its geographical boundaries. To do so would be unlawful and anti-people. The government is meant to serve people, and to ensure, not usurp, their rights to natural resources.

We support the rights of the villagers of Lava-ka-Baas to their water resources, and ask that your government do the same for them, and for the thousands of villages in Rajasthan, which have decided to take steps to ensure their survival. We also request you to ensure that these rights will be protected by future governments.

The Undersigned

More on water harvesting:

CATCHWATER June 2001 - The CSE's new bimonthly issue of CATCHWATER Newsletter.It contains details of different campaigns, water harvesting news, networking etc.

Join CSE's Paani Yatra - The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) offers you an invaluable opportunity to witness the dramatic impact of community-based rainwater harvesting efforts done by water warriors, through a paani yatra to the villages in Alwar and Jaipur districts of Rajasthan.

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