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We are inexorably moving towards a gigantic water crisis, and unless definite steps are taken by all, it is a future we cannot avoid.
In the summer of 2007 I got an opportunity to attend a Summer Exchange at the College Eight of University of California, Santa Cruz. The College today is worthily called the Rachel Carson College after the conservationist and the famous author of Silent Spring, Rachel Louise Carson.
That year, I was looking at the philosophical roots of the concept of Eminent Domain and how the US has used it for the creation of more Open Spaces to address the environmental needs in the urban spectrum.
Of course, back then, it was just an academic engagement and a Californian summer that mattered. Little did I realise that my engagement with these environmental concerns will run much deeper and wider in the coming future.
When I went to work in the tribal district of Nandurbar in Maharashtra, I was entrusted with the implementation of the famous Forest Rights Act. To my surprise, I realised that the interpretation of it was quite distorted amidst the various stake holders.
I could see how this sense of entitlement was destroying the entire forest. While my boss kept on asking me to make plans to aggregate forest produce to be linked to the market so that the benefit passes on to the tribals, I could see not even a patch of what I traditionally understood by ‘the forest’. I requested him to walk along with me across the far flung villages, where he could see that the tree cover was gone, and the produce almost negligible.
This was not just it; the implementation of provision of “Rights for conversion of Pattas or leases or grants issued by any local council or any State Govt. on forest lands to titles”, was also entrusted upon me. But what we uncovered was shocking.
The total land applied for under the above provision of the Act exceeded the actual area of the tribal district itself. It was a scary situation. The tribals continued to suffer in a way that their own land couldn’t pick up the market rate, owing to the limitations of the Revenue Act on the sale of the tribal land without Government permissions. These ironies in my first stint were only a beginning, to see how the fate of everyone and not just the tribals is so enmeshed with the environment and forest.
When I got an opportunity to work in the district of Osmanabad, the situation only got worse. With the average annual precipitation of just 700mm, the district was reeling under severe drought for the third consecutive year. This was coupled with the vitiated environmental conditions, that lead to unseasonal rainfall and hail storms destroying the crops and the farm economy.
The agrarian crisis was palpable but that didn’t deter the sugarcane lobby to grow water intensive sugarcane unabated. The groundwater was running dry and rain was playing hide and seek, with no hope for the replenishment of the aquifers. However, lots of work through community participation was undertaken, to tackle this and bring water conservation consciousness amongst the dwellers, but needless to say, in many forms the problem had become irreversible.
While short term measures for the judicious use of water are still in vogue, a more holistic solution doesn’t cut edge with the stakeholders in the hunger for immediate response.
While leading the largest network of a women’s Self Help Group of Maharashtra as a CEO, it became more and more evident to me how the first casualty of the environmental upheavals is the girl child.
The girl child has to play a “fetch water role” all the time and drop out from school.
The school washrooms run out of water and most adolescent girls have to quit school in having to choose safety over education, as during the menstruation days they don’t have a safe changing place.
There have been widely reported episodes of how a few underprivileged women were married into rich families as second or third wife, just so that they can fetch water from far flung places to cater to the water needs of such family popularly earning the adage “water wives”.
The agrarian crises and farm suicides become more and more pronounce and the blight also spreads with the distress sale of livestock as the families can no longer meet the water and fodder needs of these animals.
The idea that the Third World War will be fought over water may just already be a reality in small proportions in several parts of the country.
As we ushered another Environmental Day with social media abuzz with events and interventions, it scares to read that the schools in Shimla have been shut for four days and tourists advised to not visit the Queen of hills given the acute water crisis that has only accentuated with the passage of time. Such is the condition of other hill stations too, who have to cater to a large floating population apart from its own.
This is not just it.
There are many forms of this crisis spreading its tentacles. There are whales cast ashore with tons of plastic in their stomach.
There is a whole deal of adulteration happening in the domain of food processing given the regular failure of original source and agriculture.
The teeming population has to be fed, but the environmental Gods are turning away their eyes. Glaciers are coming down, rivers are drying up, forests are catching fire, temperatures are soaring, and this isn’t a fiction. This is the planet that we live on, right now, getting from bad to worse. The clock is ticking; this isn’t just a case of pressing the alarm button and unleashing panic.
This is a call for duty. We have a duty towards our well being, which is invariably tied up with the well being of the environment and out planet. Let’s start in a small way. Perhaps Ten DIY points at a time:
And trust me, if you have done this much, you will only do better henceforth. After all, a sustainable future is in everyone’s interest.
Image source: By Tom Maisey (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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