Yours or Mine?7.30 a.m.
"Thud! Clank! Thump!"
A cacophony breaks out at the corner of the streetmaking young Chandru, who was
dozing peacefully as he waited for his school bus to arrivejump out of his skin! As
if this was not enoughthere is a burst of screaming voices hurling the most
colourful gaalis at each other. "Ooff...the water tanker has entered Phoolrani
its early today", he mumbles to himself.
It happens everyday. Phoolrani ki
Basti is a slum cluster next to the high rise building where Chandru lives. Every
morning a tanker bearing water arrivesand triggers off a mini riot among the people
who live here. Women, children, menyoung and oldcarrying pots, buckets, cans
(just about any container available!) make a beeline for the vehicle, pushing and abusing
each other. Yet, not all of them manage to get their share. Chandru has watched the crowd
from his balcony on many Sundays. He has seen the tanker drive out
empty pots and angry women. The amount that the tanker brings in is obviously not enough
for the people of Phoolrani ki Basti. So the race to get to the tanker
first takes place everyday. Its more like a battle, really. A bitter one,
sometimes leading to broken limbs and bloodied faces.
But today, as Chandru stepped into the school bus, a thought crossed his mind.
Didnt his father call in a water tanker to fill up the underground reservoir in his
building the other day? He had heard his mother complain about the money they had had to
pay for that. "We pay the government every month for water, and we still need to
cough up an extra amount for tankers!" she had said. "Why is the municipal
supply so erratic?".
Right to water is actually right to life
and livelihood. Of course, we cannot live without drinking it. You already knew that. But
did you also know that water is the driving force in the economic growth of a nation?
Farmers, industrialists, professionals and traders in every field need water to survive.
No wonder water rights is the most hotly debated topic in the world today.
Lets see where India stands on this front
Our ancestors realised the importance of managing water wisely much ahead of the rest of
the civilised societies. You see, in India it was critical to get the water equation
absolutely right. Why? Because rainfall in India is seasonal. In most parts of our country
it rains for about 200 hours in a year! And our lands are made of hilly terrains or large
tracts of arid plains or heavily flood-prone regions. A huge amount of rainwater flows off
unused during the monsoon and once the season ends, the land becomes dry. So the people
who first inhabited the Indian subcontinent learnt that they needed a very finely balanced
system of water supply and distribution to run a healthy economy. And that rainfall had to
be captured where it fell...locally.
They prospered. Throughout the first
millennium, India was the richest country in the world
and the Europeans were making
desperate attempts to reach its shores.
Who owned water then? Well, the kings
knew that agricultural prosperity would earn them revenue. So they built tanks, wells and
canals. But they encouraged local communitiesordinary peopleto manage the
structures. Every village functioned like a little republic. The village assembly set down
rules for sharing and distributing water, and also had the authority to punish anyone who
dared to defy. History proves that very efficient local water management systems were set
up in various parts of India in as early as the 4th century BC.