Thursday, March 31, 2016

HOW ANCIENT INDIA COPED WITH WATER ISSUES


Is it not ironic that with an estimated 400 million hectare meters (MHM) of rain, India’s annual requirement at the turn of the century was a quarter of that at 100 MHM?
With a billion plus to cater for today, corresponding demands for agriculture etc. may have gone up, but still nowhere near what is available and allowed to flow off for want of conservation.

The saddest part: 
This is a monsoon dependent country with a Hoary Experience in saving up to 66% of precipitation, on an “as is where is” basis; the antithesis of the 20 odd % in magnificently humongous dams inherited from an Occidental culture, showing off its power over Nature.
That famed 66% happened in pre-British India, testified by Major R H Sankey in 1866 when taking charge in Mysore (remember the administration of  Tipu Sultan?).  He wrote:
“…… to such an extent has the principle of storage been followed that it would now require some ingenuity to discover a site …suitable for a new tank….”.

That then was the dictum of ancient India water conservation:

Store water where it rained.
Since Time Immemorial, hundreds of thousands of reservoirs known by different names testifying their universality, dotted the countryside, from the hilltop sources down to the sea, overflow of one flowing down to the next, in natural catchment areas.
The water bodies allowed percolation, supplemented soil moisture,   reduced  soil / land  erosion and  maintained  atmospheric   humidity.       No long canals to make for seepage, siltation, salinity and evaporation that plague our modern dam canals. 
Anyone or everyone could sponsor a tank: king, commoner, even the philanthropic village prostitute.  The Arthashastra is still a mine of information. Water bodies varied in size and depth to irrigate command areas, from ten lowly acres to tens of thousands.

The creation of such massive numbers of water conservation bodies threw up an amazing range of specialized Castes, each expert in different aspects, from stone and earthworks, to reservoir and well construction, weirs, canals and channels, even distribution --- usually entrusted to traditionally landless Nirkuttis who had no stake in the water.   To this day, descendants of those castes remain the backbone of irrigation and R&B labor gangs.

Maintenance was communal before the monsoon onset. Tanks were drained and cleared; silt removed, distributed as fertilizer within the community.  Every household participated, personally or nominees … more like a village mela with all those accouterments too.

Today surveys bemoan the poor penetration of piped water in Kerala – totally overlooking their rich heritage of wells for drinking and irrigation purposes;
Bengal’s legendary prosperity was drowned in malaria and poverty, after the destruction of the 2000+ year old overflow irrigation canals (similar to those of the Nile, no one knows who learnt from whom.)  Those broad shallow canals irrigated and fertilized the soil and bred millions of fish feeding off mosquitoes’ larvae: a unique combo of health and plentitude that bred generations of Bengali artists and scientists. 

It was these developments from all over the country that powered
The India Fable. 
Desi Jugaad,  (Innovation) anyone?