You already know that three-fourth of the
Water: Some facts and figures
earth's surface is covered with water, but only
* 96.5 per cent of the total volume of world's
a small proportion of it accounts for freshwater
water is estimated to exist as oceans and
that can be put to use. This freshwater is mainly
only 2.5 per cent as freshwater. Nearly
obtained from surface run off and ground water
70 per cent of this freshwater occurs as
that is continually being renewed and
ice sheets and glaciers in Antarctica,
recharged through the hydrological cycle. All
Greenland and the mountainous regions
water moves within the hydrological cycle
of the world, while a little less than 30
ensuring that water is a renewable resource.
per cent is stored as groundwater in the
You might wonder that if three-fourth of
the world is covered with water and water is a
* India receives nearly 4 per cent of the
renewable resource, then how is it that
global precipitation and ranks 133 in the
countries and regions around the globe suffer
world in terms of water availability per
from water scarcity? Why is it predicted that
person per annum.
by 2025, nearly two billion people will live in
* The total renewable water resources of India
absolute water scarcity?
are estimated at 1,897 sq km per annum.
* By 2025, it is predicted that large parts of
associate it with regions having low rainfall
India will join countries or regions having
or those that ar e dr ought pr one. We
absolute water scarcity.
instantaneously visualise the deserts of
Source: The UN World Water Development
Rajasthan and women balancing many
`matkas' (earthen pots) used for collecting and
storing water and travelling long distances to
get water. True, the availability of water
WATER SCARCITY AND THE NEED FOR WATER
resources varies over space and time, mainly
CONSERVATION AND MANAGEMENT
due to the variations in seasonal and annual
Given the abundance and renewability of
precipitation, but water scarcity in most cases
water, it is difficult to imagine that we may
is caused by over- exploitation, excessive use
suffer from water scarcity. The moment we
and unequal access to water among different
speak of water shortages, we immediately
Water, Water Everywhere, not a drop to drink:
After a heavy downpour, a boy collects drinking
water in Kolkata. Life in the city and its adjacent
districts was paralysed as incessant overnight rain,
meaning a record 180 mm, flooded vast area and
A Kashmiri earthquake survivor carries water in
the snow in a devastated village.
Fig. 3.1: Water Scarcity
CONTEMPORARY INDIA - II
requirements but have further aggravated the
According to Falken Mark, a Swedish expert,
problem. If you look into the housing
water stress occurs when water availability
societies or colonies in the cities, you would
is less than 1,000 cubic metre per person
find that most of these have their own
groundwater pumping devices to meet their
water needs. Not surprisingly, we find that
fragile water resources are being over -
Where is then water scarcity likely to
exploited and have caused their depletion in
occur? As you have read in the hydrological
several of these cities.
cycle, freshwater can be obtained directly
So far we have focused on the quantitative
from precipitation, surface run off and
aspects of water scarcity. Now, let us consider
another situation where water is sufficiently
Is it possible that an area or region may
available to meet the needs of the people,
have ample water resources but is still facing
but, the area still suffers from water scarcity.
water scarcity? Many of our cities are such
This scarcity may be due to bad quality of
examples. Thus, water scarcity may be an
water. Lately, there has been a growing
outcome of large and growing population and
concern that even if there is ample water to
consequent greater demands for water, and
meet the needs of the people, much of it may
unequal access to it. A large population means
be polluted by domestic and industrial
more water not only for domestic use but also
wastes, chemicals, pesticides and fertilisers
to produce more food. Hence, to facilitate
u s e d i n a g r i c u l t u r e , t h u s , m a k i n g i t
higher food-grain production, water resources
hazardous for human use.
are being over-exploited to expand irrigated
areas and dry-season agriculture. You may
India's rivers, especially the smaller ones,
have seen in many television advertisements
have all turned into toxic streams. And even
that most farmers have their own wells and
the big ones like the Ganga and Yamuna
tube-wells in their farms for irrigation to
are far from being pure. The assault on
increase their produce. But have you ever
India's rivers - from population growth,
wondered what this could result in? That it
agricultural modernisation, urbanisation and
may lead to falling groundwater levels,
industrialisation - is enormous and growing
adversely affecting water availability and food
by the day..... This entire life stands
security of the people.
Post-independent India witnessed
intensive industrialisation and urbanisation,
Source: The Citizens' Fifth Report, CSE, 1999.
creating vast opportunities for us. Today,
large industrial houses are as commonplace
You may have already realised that the
as the industrial units of many MNCs
need of the hour is to conserve and manage
(Multinational Corporations). The ever -
our water resources, to safeguard ourselves
increasing number of industries has made
from health hazards, to ensure food security,
matters worse by exerting pressure on
c o n t i n u a t i o n o f o u r l i v e l i h o o d s a n d
existing freshwater resources. Industries,
productive activities and also to prevent
apart from being heavy users of water, also
degradation of our natural ecosystems. Over
require power to run them. Much of this
exploitation and mismanagement of water
energy comes from hydroelectric power.
resources will impoverish this resource and
Today, in India hydroeclectric power
cause ecological crisis that may have
contributes approximately 22 per cent of the
profound impact on our lives.
total electricity produced. Mor eover,
multiplying urban centres with large and
dense populations and urban lifestyles have
From your everyday experiences, write a short
not only added to water and energy
proposal on how you can conserve water.
MULTI-PURPOSE RIVER PROJECTS AND
What are dams and how do they help us
INTEGRATED WATER RESOURCES MANAGEMENT
in conserving and managing water? Dams
were traditionally built to impound rivers and
But, how do we conserve and manage water?
rainwater that could be used later to irrigate
Archaeological and historical records show that
agricultural fields. Today, dams are built not
from ancient times we have been constructing
just for irrigation but for electricity generation,
sophisticated hydraulic structures like dams
water supply for domestic and industrial
built of stone rubble, reservoirs or lakes,
uses, flood control, recreation, inland
embankments and canals for irrigation. Not
navigation and fish breeding. Hence, dams are
surprisingly, we have continued this tradition
now referred to as multi-purpose projects
in modern India by building dams in most of
where the many uses of the impounded water
our river basins.
are integrated with one another. For example,
in the Sutluj-Beas river basin, the Bhakra -
Hydraulic Structures in Ancient India
Nangal project water is being used both for
hydel power production and irrigation.
* In the first century B.C., Sringaverapura
Similarly, the Hirakud project in the
near Allahabad had sophisticated water
Mahanadi basin integrates conservation of
harvesting system channelling the flood
water with flood control.
water of the river Ganga.
* During the time of Chandragupta Maurya,
dams, lakes and irrigation systems were
A dam is a barrier across flowing water that
obstructs, directs or retards the flow, often
* Evidences of sophisticated irrigation works
creating a reservoir, lake or impoundment.
have also been found in Kalinga, (Orissa),
"Dam" refers to the reservoir rather than the
Nagarjunakonda (Andhra Pradesh),
structure. Most dams have a section called a
Bennur (Karnataka), Kolhapur
spillway or weir over which or through which
it is intended that water will flow either
* In the 11th Century, Bhopal Lake, one of the
intermittently or continuously. Dams are
largest artificial lakes of its time was built.
classified according to structure, intended
* In the 14th Century, the tank in Hauz Khas,
purpose or height. Based on structure and
Delhi was constructed by Iltutmish for
the materials used, dams are classified as
supplying water to Siri Fort area.
timber dams, embankment dams or masonry
dams, with several subtypes. According to
Source: Dying Wisdom, CSE, 1997.
the height, dams can be categorised as large
dams and major dams or alternatively as low
dams, medium height dams and high dams.
Multi-purpose projects, launched after
Independence with their integrated water
resources management approach, were
thought of as the vehicle that would lead the
nation to development and progress,
overcoming the handicap of its colonial past.
Jawaharlal Nehru proudly proclaimed the
dams as the `temples of modern India'; the
reason being that it would integrate
development of agriculture and the village
economy with rapid industrialisation and
Fig. 3.2: Hirakud Dam
growth of the urban economy.
CONTEMPORARY INDIA - II
Find out more about any one traditional
Narmada Bachao Andolan or Save
method of building dams and irrigation works.
Narmada Movement is a Non
Governmental Organisation (NGO) that
mobilised tribal people, farmers,
We have sown the crops in Asar
environmentalists and human rights
We will bring Bhadu in Bhadra
activists against the Sardar Sarovar Dam
Floods have swollen the Damodar
being built across the Narmada river in
Gujarat. It originally focused on the
The sailing boats cannot sail
environmental issues related to trees that
Oh! Damodar, we fall at your feet
would be submerged under the dam
Reduce the floods a little
water. Recently it has re-focused the
Bhadu will come a year later
aim to enable poor citizens, especially
the oustees (displaced people) to get
Let the boats sail on your surface
full rehabilitation facilities from
(This popular Bhadu song in the Damodar valley
region narrates the troubles faced by people
People felt that their suffering would not
owing to the flooding of Damodar river known
be in vain... accepted the trauma of
as the river of sorrow.)
displacement believing in the promise of
irrigated fields and plentiful harvests. So,
often the survivors of Rihand told us that they
In recent years, multi-purpose projects and
accepted their sufferings as sacrifice for the
large dams have come under great scrutiny
sake of their nation. But now, after thirty bitter
and opposition for a variety of reasons.
years of being adrift, their livelihood having
Regulating and damming of rivers affect their
even being more precarious, they keep
natural flow causing poor sediment flow and
asking: "Are we the only ones chosen to
excessive sedimentation at the bottom of the
make sacrifices for the nation?"
reservoir, resulting in rockier stream beds and
poorer habitats for the rivers' aquatic life. Dams
Source: S. Sharma, quoted in In the Belly of the
also fragment rivers making it difficult for
River. Tribal conflicts over development in Narmada
valley, A. Baviskar, 1995.
aquatic fauna to migrate, especially for
spawning. The reservoirs that are created on
the floodplains also submerge the existing
Irrigation has also changed the cropping
vegetation and soil leading to its decomposition
pattern of many regions with farmers shifting
over a period of time.
to water intensive and commercial crops. This
Multi-purpose projects and large dams
has great ecological consequences like
have also been the cause of many new social
salinisation of the soil. At the same time, it has
movements like the `Narmada Bachao Andolan'
transformed the social landscape i.e.
and the `Tehri Dam Andolan' etc. Resistance
increasing the social gap between the richer
to these projects has primarily been due to the
landowners and the landless poor. As we can
large-scale displacement of local communities.
see, the dams did create conflicts between
Local people often had to give up their land,
people wanting different uses and benefits from
livelihood and their meagre access and control
the same water resources. In Gujarat, the
over resources for the greater good of the
Sabarmati-basin farmers were agitated and
nation. So, if the local people are not benefiting
almost caused a riot over the higher priority
from such projects then who is benefited?
given to water supply in urban areas,
Perhaps, the landowners and large farmers,
particularly during droughts. Inter-state water
industrialists and few urban centres. Take the
disputes are also becoming common with
case of the landless in a village - does he really
regard to sharing the costs and benefits of the
gain from such a project?
India: Major Rivers and Dams
CONTEMPORARY INDIA - II
triggered floods due to sedimentation in the
reservoir. Moreover, the big dams have mostly
Do you know that the Krishna-Godavari
been unsuccessful in controlling floods at the
dispute is due to the objections raised by
time of excessive rainfall. You may have seen
Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh
or read how the release of water from dams
governments? It is regarding the diversion
during heavy rains aggravated the flood
of more water at Koyna by the Maharashtra
situation in Maharashtra and Gujarat in 2006.
government for a multipurpose project. This
The floods have not only devastated life and
would reduce downstream flow in their
property but also caused extensive soil erosion.
states with adverse consequences for
Sedimentation also meant that the flood plains
agriculture and industry.
were deprived of silt, a natural fertiliser, further
adding on to the problem of land degradation.
It was also observed that the multi-purpose
projects induced earthquakes, caused water-
Make a list of inter-state water disputes.
borne diseases and pests and pollution
resulting from excessive use of water.
Most of the objections to the projects arose
due to their failure to achieve the purposes for
which they were built. Ironically, the dams that
Many thought that given the disadvantages
were constructed to control floods have
and rising resistance against the multi-
Collect information about flood prone areas of the country
purpose projects, water harvesting system
was a viable alternative, both socio-
economically and environmentally. In ancient
India, along with the sophisticated hydraulic
structures, there existed an extraordinary
tradition of water-harvesting system. People
had in-depth knowledge of rainfall regimes
and soil types and developed wide ranging
techniques to harvest rainwater, groundwater,
river water and flood water in keeping with
the local ecological conditions and their water
needs. In hill and mountainous regions,
people built diversion channels like the `guls'
or `kuls' of the Western Himalayas for
agriculture. `Rooftop rain water harvesting'
was commonly practised to store drinking
water, particularly in Rajasthan. In the flood
plains of Bengal, people developed inundation
channels to irrigate their fields. In arid and
(a) Recharge through Hand Pump
semi-arid regions, agricultural fields were
converted into rain fed storage structures that
allowed the water to stand and moisten the
soil like the `khadins' in Jaisalmer and `Johads'
in other parts of Rajasthan.
(b) Recharge through Abandoned Dugwell
Fig 3.4: Rooftop Rainwater Harvesting
* Roof top rain water is collected using a PVC pipe
* Filtered using sand and bricks
* Underground pipe takes water to sump for
* Excess water from the sump is taken to the well
* Water from the well recharges the underground
* Take water from the well (later)
CONTEMPORARY INDIA - II
rainfall in the world, yet the state capital
Shillong faces acute shortage of water.
Nearly every household in the city has a
roof top rain water harvesting structure.
Nearly 15-25 per cent of the total water
requirement of the household comes from
roof top water harvesting.
Find out other rainwater harvesting systems
A kul leads to a circular village tank, as the above
existing in and around your locality.
in the Kaza village, from which water is released as
and when required.
Today, in western Rajasthan, sadly the
Fig 3.5: Traditional method of rain water harvesting
practice of rooftop rainwater harvesting is on the
decline as plenty of water is available due to the
In the semi-arid and arid regions of
perennial Rajasthan Canal, though some houses
Rajasthan, particularly in Bikaner, Phalodi and
still maintain the tankas since they do not like
Barmer, almost all the houses traditionally had
the taste of tap water. Fortunately, in many parts
underground tanks or tankas for storing
of rural and urban India, rooftop rainwater
drinking water. The tanks could be as large as
harvesting is being successfully adapted to store
a big room; one household in Phalodi had a tank
and conserve water. In Gendathur, a remote
that was 6.1 metres deep, 4.27 metres long and
backward village in Mysore, Karnataka, villagers
2.44 metres wide. The tankas were part of the
have installed, in their household's rooftop,
well-developed rooftop rainwater harvesting
rainwater harvesting system to meet their water
system and were built inside the main house or
needs. Nearly 200 households have installed this
the courtyard. They were connected to the
system and the village has earned the rare
sloping roofs of the houses through a pipe. Rain
distinction of being rich in rainwater. See Fig. 3.6
falling on the rooftops would travel down the
for a better understanding of the rooftop
pipe and was stored in these underground
`tankas'. The first spell of rain was usually not
collected as this would clean the roofs and the
pipes. The rainwater from the subsequent
showers was then collected.
The rainwater can be stored in the tankas
till the next rainfall making it an extremely
reliable source of drinking water when all other
sources are dried up, particularly in the
summers. Rainwater, or palar pani, as
commonly referred to in these parts, is
considered the purest form of natural water.
Many houses constructed underground rooms
Rooftop harvesting was common across the towns
adjoining the `tanka' to beat the summer heat
and villages of the Thar. Rainwater that falls on
as it would keep the room cool.
the sloping roofs of houses is taken through a pipe
into an underground tanka (circular holes in the
ground). built in the main house or in the courtyard.
The picture above shows water being form a
Roof top rain water harvesting is the most
neighbour's roof through a long pipe. Here the
common practice in Shillong, Meghalaya.
neighbour's rooftop has been used for collection of
It is interesting because Cherapunjee and
rainwater. The picture shows a hole through which
rainwater flows down into an underground tanka.
Mawsynram situated at a distance of 55
km. from Shillong receive the highest
BAMBOO DRIP IRRIGATION SYSTEM
In Meghalaya, a 200-year-old system of tapping stream
and spring wate by using bamboo pipes, is prevalent. About
18-20 litres of water enters the bamboo pipe system, gets
transported over hundreds of metres, and finally reduces
to 20-80 drops per minute ate the site of the plant.
Picture 1: Bamboo pipes are used to divert perennial springs on
the hilltops to the lower reaches by gravity.
Picture 2 and 3: The channel sections, made of bamboo, divert water
Picture 4: If the pipes pass a road,
to the plant site where it is distributed into branches, again made and
they are taken high above the land.
laid out with different forms of bamboo pipes. The flow of water into
the pipes is controlled by manipulating the pipe positions.
Picture 5 and 6
Reduced channel sections
and diversion units are
used at the last stage of
water application. The last
channel section enables
water to be dropped near
the roots of the plant.
rainwater harvesting system which is adapted
here. Gendathur receives an annual precipitation
of 1,000 mm, and with 80 per cent of collection
Tamil Nadu is the first and the only state
efficiency and of about 10 fillings, every house
in India which has made roof top rainwater
can collect and use about 50,000 litres of water
harvesting structure compulsory to all the
annually. From the 20 houses, the net amount
houses across the state. There are legal
of rainwater harvested annually amounts to
provisions to punish the defaulters.
CONTEMPORARY INDIA - II