The water bearer

ANNA HAZARE bids a heavy-hearted farewell to the late Vilasrao Salunkhe, better known as 'pani baba'. Salunkhe's revolutionary concept of 'pani panchayats' worked on one simple precept: water is a common property resource and must, therefore, be accessible to all. Moved by the plight of the people due to water scarcity, Salunkhe mobilised water conservation through collectives. His experiment started with Naigaon village in Pune District, one of the most drought prone areas of Maharashtra. The pani panchayats transformed the village completely; where once there was poverty, despair and barren lands, there now stands a prosperous and plentiful village. Vilasrao Salunkhe passed away on April 23, 2002

Published: Friday 31 May 2002

The water bearer

VILASRAO SALUNKHEThe passing of away of Vilasrao Salunkhe is not a loss for the state of Maharashtra alone. It is a loss shared by all of India. I am reminded of a lighthouse that guides ships to safety in stormy waters. Vilasrao was that constant lighthouse, giving hope and direction to countless functionaries like us.

Vilasrao Salunkhe exemplified all he preached. He lent amazing clarity to the seemingly simple concept of equitable distribution of water. Striving as he did to promote education and mass awareness, Salunkhe was never a one-man, one-institution show. He supported the initiatives of those who came to be in touch with him. He also provided guidance to the state on issues related to water. And in this equation, Salunkhe did not flinch from opposing the state's policies where they went contrary to his sense of right and justice. He believed that struggle, as much as proactive work, was essential for those seeking to serve the society and the nation.

Today, as we remember Salunkhe, water poses one of the gravest national emergencies. Drought is becoming a regular feature, with every year bringing news of fresh horrors. The time has come to mobilise a people's movement on water harvesting and management. Now, more than ever, we need Salunkhe. We need him to continue as the torchbearer, a pillar of strength to countless volunteers.

Adding to the gravity of the present situation is the problem of population explosion, which presents itself like the turbulent and unchained waters of high tide. At such a time, the sudden absence of people like Vilasrao creates a chasm that is difficult to bridge. A person born today has to die tomorrow, and this is nature's rule. However, during his lifetime, Vilasrao showed us the way to lead a responsible human life: how to work as a voluntary organisation, and most importantly to be an ideal worker or volunteer.

God's wish has prevailed. God chose Vilasrao, the man who was as dear to those of us left behind as he would be to God. I pray that his soul rests in peace. It is only our efforts in addressing the unfinished task of resolving water issues that will prove to be a true reflection of our deepest respect.

Anna Hazare is the man behind Ralegan Siddhi, the village that fulfils Mahatma Gandhi's vision of an Indian village: self-sufficient, prosperous and peaceful

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