The last lesson

Tuesday 31 October 2000

There is a need to learn from the rainwater harvesting drive that has been carried out in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat

Now that drought is staring us again in the face, there is a need to learn from what the states of Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat have done to harvest the raindrop. There have been problems in the implementation of these schemes but at least these two states have been bold enough to implement them. This is an appreciable shift, because governments in India have always gone in for high-cost, high technology solutions to our water crisis. Ignoring the fact that rainwater has helped India survive through millennia.

Both state governments have gone ahead with a crash programme to install water harvesting structures. In some cases capacity building has been compromised. In others there was lack of coordination and charges of corruption have been leveled in certain areas. But this problem has been generated more by the bureaucracy-driven approach of the government in implementing these programmes. All this only goes to show that water harvesting, water conservation and watershed management are more of social movements than a movement of structures. The future of these schemes depend on how the Indian administrative set up takes to it. If water harvesting falls victim to corruption and bureaucratic incompetence, India's future will be much poorer.

The lessons of the drive in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh to promote water harvesting are very clear. There is a greater need to involve the stakeholders. The process of decentralisation should be taken seriously. While water harvesting is a crucial component of solving the water crisis, crash programmes to capture rain are not the answer. Better planning and decentralisation is the call of the day.

Not only did the Gujarat government learn from its past mistakes in water management but it also learnt from the successes of village and civil society groups. Despite the fact that the rains were very poor in the year 2000 monsoon, there are claims that water is overflowing in more than three-fourths of the 10,000 checkdams built in Gujarat. If this effort is sustained for a few years more the state will soon find itself capable of withstanding drought.

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