For British historians and administrators, Indian villages were self-sustaining units and they termed these units as village republics. Later, this terminology was done away with by historians and sociologists. Although utopian, villages situated along the Arvari river in Alwar district, Rajasthan, have retained the basic essence of a "self-sustaining republic," -- self-reliance and the power to take decisions about their natural resources on their own.
In January 1999, gram sabhapati s (village chiefs) from 34 villages along the river Arvari met and unanimously decided to manage the river and the natural resources. In fact, the villagers, along with the Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), had revived the dead Arvari through traditional water harvesting structures like johad s, and building new ones like check dams and anicuts. They met in January and formed a parliament to control these resources, while the government tried to impose its own hold.
At the first parliament, the villagers adopted a constitution to regulate their activities. "It was a tribute to Gandhi's gram swaraj and the triumph of the people over an insensitive government," said Jedu Ram, who was elected to the parliament by the gathering. Believed to be the first of its kind in the country, it was a final expression of people who were disillusioned with the government.
The foundation of this parliament was laid in a mock public hearing, organised by TBS, on the bank of Arvari in December 1998. There was no concrete plans on how to manage the river. At this juncture, Anil Agarwal, director of Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment and a judge at the meeting, proposed the idea for a water parliament. This was accepted by TBS and the villagers.
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