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By: Mihir Kulkarni, Harshit Sahay

We interviewed Dr. Rajendra Singh, the Waterman of India, who was Chief Guest for the 54th Convocation Ceremony of IIT Bombay. Here’s a transcript of the interview.

Q: Good Morning! We’re very honoured to have you here 🙂
My first question is: What motivated you to work in this field? Why water conservation?

A: So I was involved in Ayurveda first. When I was in Jaipur, and saw people in districts such as Alwar struck by the water scarcity, I found the serious problem of helping them a very challenging one. Being an Ayurvedic my initial work usually revolved around giving medical care to the ill and helping out a bit with educating their children. When cured, my patients would often say to me that their real problem wasn’t healthcare. We’ll get doctors, but who will solve the problem of water? – was their refrain. They urged me to give up teaching and medicine and work for conserving water. This was pretty challenging for me, since I was not an expert in water engineering. But, this old man made me realise that this was something that I could do. Once you make up your mind to do something, it happens. So, I began doing work for water conservation. I felt that this was something important, and that this was a good decision at the right time. It’s difficult after a certain age to be able to be involved in good, important work, and this decision was a great one in that respect.

Q: We are all aware of the work you’ve done in Rajasthan. With that as the basis, what do you can be done in Maharashtra?

A: So if we do the same things in Maharashtra as we did in Rajasthan, the state can become water surplus. In fact, of all the states, Maharashtra has seen the most amount of work done towards water resources. About 40% of the country’s dams are here, and yet the state is facing a water shortage. The number of people committing suicide due to water scarcity is also the highest in Maharashtra.

Why did such a situation arise? That’s because they never thought about using their monsoons, their water resources, in an efficient manner. The crop cycle and the rain cycle became different.

Plus, they invested heavily in the technology of extraction. Maharashtra has a number of engineers, like you, who have studied the principles of extraction. Now, such an engineer has studied only extraction, and espouses that, at maximum use of natural resources, that’s what they’re involved in. Maharashtra used this extraction technology heavily, and extracted all the ground water, leaving people with no water. This is why, in 2016, the drought’s effect hit Maharashtra worst, since the underground aquifers had all been exploited.

So if Maharashtra wants to become a water rich state, it needs to work on community driven decentralized water management programs, like we did in Rajasthan. What did we do?

We caught rainwater, and at such a position where it could naturally recharge the underground aquifer. Once the aquifer was recharged, the water level came up and our dried rivers started flowing again. Thus, community driver decentralized water management programs are the only model for India , for Maharashtra, for everyone to become water rich. It involves on the one hand, water conservation, and on the other, disciplined use of water. And when one uses resources efficiently, they can manage their life well even with lesser consumption. So this is what Maharashtra should do, and in this direction, the Jalyukt-Shivar plan that has been introduced in the state, which plans to stop the water in small aquifers and recharge the ground level. All that must be done is to keep it away from vested interests and contractors, and make it community driver and of the people. If this is done, Maharashtra will become a water rich state. The people will keep conserving water, the level will get recharged, and the erosion and silting will decline. The problem of erosion and silting in Maharashtra, which drives climate change and global warming issues in Maharashtra, will be changed to climate change adaptation. So if community driven water management programs are adopted, and the crop change is matched with the monsoon cycle, then we can change the problem of climate change to climate change adaptation in Maharashtra. That is what is needed.

Q: You’ve talked a lot about rural areas. In urban areas, for example taking the case of IITs, we often see apathy towards water. Taps are left open, leaks and broken showers are not reported, and not much credence is given to problems of water conservation. No one asks why this water is being wasted, or what to do about it. So how do we change this attitude of the community?

A: See, kids like you studying in prestigious institutions of the countries like IITs, and the people of Mumbai are god’s favoured children. You get easy access to water, and that spoils you. Due to this, your conscience doesn’t drive you to stop water wastage. If you had seen the crisis that we experienced in Rajasthan, you’d have felt like us, unable to withstand the wastage of a single drop. So my appeal to the students at IIT Bombay is : Please don’t let water get wasted in your hostels. Don’t let it flow unchecked in your institutes, and don’t let potable water get mixed with dirty water. All your waste water from hostels and guesthouses goes to the Powai lake. The lake is fed by rainwater, which is safe. Now when your waste water is mixed to this, the entire lake is polluted. This is why good institutes like this with educated students need to keep these important things in mind. This is being in line with your basics. And that is being oriented towards nature. Once we increase our love, affection and respect for nature, makes us prosperous and peaceful. Which is why I want to ask the students here, the future of the country to love water. If you love water, it loves you back. And you stay healthy. Do you know how strongly our health is correlated with say the health of the water in Powai lake? It’s extremely strong, but we pay little attention to it. If we want to keep ourselves healthy, we must keep the water resources around us healthy too.

Q: Since you mentioned the Powai lake; there have been attempts to restore the lake. One of our professors, Prof. Asolekar has been involved in efforts to conserve the lake, save it. According to you, what’s the best way to protect the Powai lake?

A: Prof. Asolekar has been doing some good work, which needs to be taken up by more people, including the students. Different types of techniques, like using bio sanitizers for example, should also be taken up. Other methods that are done keeping nature in mind, which often do not use electricity, need to be tried to. These methods can be replicated in villages as well. More work needs to be done in this area. I would want the students at IIT Bombay to be able to say in the next three years that they have successfully cleaned the Powai lake. Such a statement would surprise the world, and make them acknowledge how good the students here are.

Q: Being the chief guest for the convocation, what would be you key message for the graduating students?

A: I would tell all these students; you have studied at a good institute, and students at a good institute are good people. And good people are those who move from the common sensical science towards truth. And key elements of such a science is love, affection and respect towards the nature, and the five elements that create us. I would like to congratulate all of them for what they have achieved, and would urge them to turn towards this common sensical science which is the path towards truth. This is what is possible and required for India, for everyone. I’m confident that students at IIT Bombay will come front and deliver.

Q: One last question. We’ve heard multiple times that the third world war will not be fought for oil or money, but for water. Would you want to comment?

A: See I’ve been travelling across the world for the past 1.5 years for this. I’ve visited 27 countries in the Middle East, and Africa, where people are being displaced due to the lack of water. The countries they often are displaced to are Germany, Sweden and France. There is an atmosphere of trouble and war in all of these places struck. The new World Water War is actually pretty serious. If young people like you don’t work keeping this in mind, then we won’t be able to stop this. To try to stop this, the visits we’ve made to the countries in the Middle East, such as Syria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, and others such as Zimbabwe, Sudan etc. are important. To save these countries from the water crisis we need to move towards community driven water management programs and need to use it efficiently, grow crops and establish industries according to the water availability pattern.