We need to connect with the monsoon

Updated: Apr 30 2006, 06:07am hrs
Magsaysay Award winner Rajendra Singh is also called Rain Man. He and his team at Tarun Bharat Sangh have helped villagers in Alwar, Rajasthan build traditional water-harvesting structures called johads to tap rainwater and recharge groundwater. So far, more than 4,000 such structures in 750 villages over 6,500 sq km have been built, helping tackle drought and water scarcity in the region. Besides, five rivulets running dry for the last 50 years have become alive. Excerpts from an interview with Rajiv Tikoo:

What do you think of monsoon predictions in India

Many organisations improve over time. But our metrological offices have not. Our predictions are not practical. They have not been useful either for agriculture or industry. We have been spending thousands of crores of rupees on water without solving the scarcity problem.

Why is it so

Modern science has not been able to correlate correctly with our indigenous knowledge system. We need to connect with time-tested things, even if there are contradictions. But we have not been able to do that. Modern system is not particularly effective because the agro-ecological climatic diversity in India is so vast that it calls for respecting that diversity and having separate systems for different agro-ecological climatic zones so that predictions are accurate.

Was the old system really that good

It was practical. Indian civil society was connected with it. In June, before monsoons, they would get together. They couldnt predict accurately. They would do the guesswork, decide on the crop cycle, announce it, and also decide on the direction of the migration of cattle.

Now there is a disconnect between the modern system and civil society. They say that radio keeps on blaring about rains every day, but nothing happens. The predictions dont come true. People dont have faith in the system. What are the reasons Firstly, they have not been able to connect. Secondly, they are not able to predict correctly. Both these factors lead into each other.

Should we depend so much on the monsoon in the first place

The question is not whether we should be dependent. We need to understand the monsoon and go along with it. Its at least important in my country. About 65% of our population depends on agriculture. And it will have to remain dependent on monsoons. There are no options. If we were predominantly an industrial society, we could think of it.

Should the country look at a non-agriculture growth model

As I said, the issue is not of being less dependent, but of connecting with it. We need to connect with the monsoon, then only can we avert droughts and floods. Even if there are no rains and no water, we should be able to manage for three-four years. We have been able to manage for up to five years without rains in Rajasthan. Apart from Rajasthan, we have shown it in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.

Having said that, I would like to add that agriculture alone cant be enough. We need to look beyond, too.

If we dont do so, what can be the repercussions

Water wars are already a reality. Water riots have already killed 17 people in Rajasthan. There are conflicts between states and civil society, states and states, civil society and civil society, people living upstream and downstream and so on. Wars will only increase as the number of issues increase. In the process, reuse and recycle opportunities get compromised.

Its also happening because we have gone for centralised management, centralised irrigation and centralised supply system.

How do you assess industrys role

Industry has moral responsibility. There are not too many good examples worth quoting. Whatever industry takes from nature, it should pay back in some way. Its important for the long-term sustainability of industry and all of us.

Is there anything that we can learn from the West

I am not sure. We have a separate darshan (philosophy) about water and rains. So, we can do it ourselves. But neither the government nor the civil society can do it alone. Both need to join hands to do it. Both of them should put responsibility before rights and it can be done.