Springs of life India's water resources

By R K Srinivasan
Published: Monday 15 January 2007

-- 'Springs of Life India's Water Resources' by Ganesh Pangare, Vasudha Pangare, Binayak Das Academic Foundation New Delhi

Springs of Life deals with the issue of water and its management in India in a terrible manner. The book suffers from factual errors, lacks depth in its analysis on groundwater issues and community programmes, and does not quite comprehend river issues, besides offering generic solutions, which obviously are not good enough.
The book is an outcome of two decades of observation and 25,000 km of travel by the authors across the country in a jeep. But the authors' sojourns include dialogues only with local people and not bureaucrats or ngos. In fact, the authors have taken a rather narrow view of ngos.According to them, visiting an ngo is like visiting a zoo because ngos can only innovate and not upscale the way a government can. The book advocates communities working with government as the best combination for rural water management. Having said that, a lot of effort and initiatives taken by ngos and community leaders across the country are listed in the book.

But what one fails to comprehend is while the authors talk about community leaders and community organisations, they support corporates instead. It would be too incredulous to just accept a comparison between a dam built by corporates in Chhattisgarh and a dam built by people on their own money in Rajasthan followed by a judgement thereafter saying the dam in Rajasthan isn't good enough because it has been built without the government's permission.

The book attributes the failure of the Ganga Action Plan (gap) to shortage of funds--clearly showing a lack of understanding. It says, "Untreated sewage water in Norway is cleaner than the water of Ganga." The fact, however, is that water not being treated is the problem. Which is why, neither gap i, nor gap ii, has met the targets for reducing pollution in the Ganga and its tributaries. The book also says that river systems like the Indus and the Ganges and Brahmaputra are regularly replenished by two monsoonal patterns, the southwest and the northeast monsoons. The fact is they depend purely on glaciers. Even the groundwater table of states mentioned are wildly mistaken.
Contradictory figures The book differs on Delhi's water supply. While in one part it says that the city's water supply is 2,950 million litres per day (mld), in another, it puts the supply at 880 mld. Such blatant contradictions can put a reader off easily. Also, there is no uniformity in units, with the authors using a 'million gallons litres per day', which is unheard of. The authors give a new definition to "unaccounted water", which is an unsolved mystery for water supply agencies all over the world. For such agencies, to unplug the 'how' behind leakage loss is a tough task, but Springs of Life says that since leaked water is used by people who live outside the distribution network, it is actually the people who are "unaccounted for". But in most cases in India, this loss goes to sewer drains, and is not utilised. Also, the book says that India is counted among the top 10 water-rich countries in the world, which is not true.

The reverse osmosis technique has been recommended to purify water. It is a complicated process, besides being expensive. It rejects 60 per cent of water thus leading to a lot of wastage. Use of traditional and cost-effective methods--such as boiling, filtering with a cloth--to purify water have not even been mentioned. On the other hand, the authors give generic and basic solutions such as "common sense" and "fair and just means" for solving issues.
The breather But what the book does offer, and pleasantly so, is a broad coverage of urban and rural drinking water-supply programmes in India. And, the explanation of water conflicts, both at the national and international level. The authors feel that the Punjab Termination Act 2004 has set a bad example, when Punjab refused to share water with neighbouring states, despite court orders. It is interesting to read how India refused to share its water with neighbours and how the matter was settled with the World Bank's mediation.

The water voice chapter has views of well-known people from the field of academics, politics, industry, journalism and wildlife. The contributions contain their personal experiences, thoughts and opinions on what water means to them and what they feel is the future of water in India. The book concludes by stressing the importance of reviving our traditional water harvesting structures and the importance of studying the technology and the management of such systems. We need to go back to our roots and re-educate ourselves. A lot of unlearning and relearning is required. Indeed.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.