Ancient wisdom


Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

THIS book is an interesting collection of twelve papers on traditional water harvest ing systems, a much neglected issue in the water policy. The list of authors contribut ing papers to the book is impressive, featuring many well-known names in this field.

The first three sections of the book focus on three broad ways of harvesting water. The first section 'Ancient water storage and decline of water harvesting systems' is about south India, while the second and third sections talk about flood plain systems (south Bihar and Rajasthan) and diversion/distribution sys- tems (Garhwal and western Maharashtra), respectively. The fourth section on man- agement of water harvesting systems has only one chapter on the water management PoM tanks and pynes last section on ancient drink- ing water system has only a four-page paper regarding Chittaur (Rajasthan). Thus th@se last two sections are limited in scope.

The reasons why the agricultural community in south Bihar passed through alternate phases of pros perity and decline as its sys tems of ahars and pynes were stabilised and deteriorated, is insightfully d1ribed by Nirmal Sei In what he describes as a "barely intro ductory note". The chapter" on kudimaramat argues that irrigation tanks in the former Madras Presidency were neglected by the colonial government in favour of a river-based canal system, but claiming at the same time a water-rate or cess from the tank irrigated lands. kudimaramat is an institution of repair and maintenance of tanks and other irrigation works in the Presidency of Madras. Another noteworthy chapter on eri (tanks in Tamil) systems of south India identifies a reliable database as one of the basic missing requirements for the revival of the system. Significantly, the editor argues that in spite of the major role played by the so-called Iminor' systems, which includes traditional water harvesting sys- tems, the state policy and programme have allocat- ed major resources to the large irrigation projects (read big dams) at the cost of local water harvesting systems.

However, the book somehow fails to emphasise that these systems vested where it falls and that our national water po@icy and programme have failed to take note of this.

I it seems the book is a hurriedly brought together collection of papers by different authors and lacks cohesive and integrated characteristics, necessary in a volume like this. Even though six of the 12 chapters are only about south Indian systems, there is no mention of systems of Kerala. Major areas like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh (except Garhwal), Jammu and Kashmir, north Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal and the whole of the northeast are completely neglected. This makes the book incomplete immany respects. The collection also does not attempt to analyse, in spite of its sub-title, 'An Ecological Economic Survey', the differing agro-climatic situations of the different water harvesting systems.

For example, the book fails to describe how even in south India, the systems prevalent in the Deccan plateau were different from the Systems in the Western and Eastern Ghats or the western and eastern coastal plains. Another drawback is that even while advocating the revival of traditional systems, the editor fails to indicate the key policy changes necessary for such a revival. The book would have benefited from the inclusion of maps, AZures and photographs.

In spite of these limitations, this is a noteworthy addition to the limited litera ture on traditional water harvesting systems.

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