So far many leaders and columnists have expressed their grave concerns regarding the depletion and pollution of one of our most important natural resources—water. It is essential for our survival and its conservation would not be possible without the involvement of the masses. But how much has the perception of this threat percolated down to the average Indian? How much have they amended their ways to move towards sustainable development? Confronted by these questions, Abhay Kumar Sinha, a former employee with a public sector bank in Patna, rose to the challenge.
It started when he discovered the dilapidated irrigation system in his village. Most of the irrigation in Nalanda districts, counted among one of the most backward in the country, are rain-fed and are important for a large number of people who depend on farming as their primary source of income. South Bihar is known for its ancient ahar-pyne irrigation structure. It is key to Project Jal Sanchay, for which the authorities of Nalanda recently received the national award for excellence in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Program (MGNREGP). Ahars are water reservoirs embanked from three sides. They are fed through channels called pynes, during the rainy season, with water from several streams and rivulets, taking advantage of sloping land. This stored water is fed to fields during dry seasons through minor channels. Thus the economy of the village is not affected by the vagaries of the monsoon. The best part is that no power is consumed in the entire process.
Due to the presence of these structures, the farmers of this region are able to grow water-intensive crops, like paddy, despite low rainfall in the region. The cost of input is reduced, there is nil environmental pollution, no strain on groundwater, and no rainwater is wasted as surface run-off. Of course, when the water level is very low, there are pumps that can be used.
During his visit to his village, Sinha says that he was shocked to see that most of the ahars were silted up. That’s not all. A part of the large pond (pokhar) from which water for oil-seeds was procured had been encroached by houses. Small bridges over the pynes were in need of urgent repair, and part of the dried up pynes were occupied by adjoining fields. Groundwater was rampantly extracted using diesel-generators and flood irrigation. He was astonished to see how people could ignore the know-how passed down by their ancestors (right from the era of the Mauryas) for marginal benefit.
As fate would have it, he got in touch with a like-minded person from the village, Hari Nandan Prasad Akela. They took on the task to rejuvenate those structures.
It was painstaking and necessitated the involvement of government. They created consensus in the village about the need for changes. They made them realise the necessity of the structures. Sadly, they couldn’t get everyone on the same page for many months. Only a few agreed to sign their petition. But they persisted.
The next phase involved getting in touch with various government officials, starting with the Chief Minister himself. After several rounds of personal visits, phone calls, and emails, Sinha and Prasad’s project was approved, and work is expected to begin by next year.
But what is in it for Sinha? What is the personal gain? When I ask him, he smiles and says only this: that his ancestors had gifted the people of his village with technology so marvelous it would take care of several problems of our time. He adds that it is his duty to pass on this gift to the generations to come. Given a chance, he would encourage rejuvenation of ancient water harvesting structures in other parts of the country as well.
All of these methods can create resilience against the on-coming Day Zero—the day all our taps will run dry. The threat is soon becoming a reality all across the world. Cape Town in South Africa recently pushed back the date for the Day Zero crisis. And without action, India might have to follow suit.
Large parts of Bihar suffer from arsenic contamination in drinking water which is poisoning our children. It has to be countered through ample recharge of aquifers and providing villages with solar powered RO purifiers. Our greed has severely reduced the natural rate of aquifer recharge. We have chopped down green areas and have concretised every nook and corner of land, thus not allowing the water to percolate down to aquifers. He approached several builders in the city, requesting them to begin rain water harvesting, but they ignored him.
“It seems they are feigning their understanding of simple natural processes. They are under the misunderstanding that proximity to the Ganga is sufficient enough for all the water needs of Patna and there is no necessity of going the extra mile for any conservation despite Bihar Building Bylaws 2013 mandating provision of rainwater harvesting for all sizes of plots“, he says. He further adds that Bihar will not receive a part of the ₹6,000 crores approved by The World Bank for the Central Sector Scheme Atal Bhujal Yojana. But Sinha hopes that the state government will come up with a similar program on its own and make communities realise the necessity for the same.
When asked about his future programs, he says that he wants to focus on inspiring people to practice agro-forestry, which has multiple environmental and economic benefits.
Since ‘the common man’ has taken up the task of making amends for the mistakes conducted in the past, we can say that this fire is sure to spread and many more would join his efforts at conservation.