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Offbeat
Rajendra Singh - The Waterman of India
 
Author: Reji Joseph

Rajendra Singh, the 2001 Ramon Magsaysay Award winner for Community leadership is appreciated and recognized for the efforts he had made for harvesting rain water by building check dams in the Indian state of Rajasthan.

Rajendra Singh is popularly known as the ' Water man of Rajasthan'. He has been working in the Alwar district of Rajasthan, focusing on the revival of Johads, streams and rivers in the area.The nongovernmental organisation Tarun Bharat Sangh, which Rajendra Singh leads as its general secretary, has since 1985 built some 4,500 earthen check dams, or johads, to collect rainwater in 11 districts in the State.

His pioneering efforts in water harvesting and management have led to the revival of five rivers and brought water to over 1,000 villages in Rajasthan. He along with 45 full time employees and 230 part time volunteers came together to run Tarun Bharat Sangh.

They were of the opinion that without water in the region, no other significant development could take place. With the total dedication of all team members along with the cooperation of villagers, today more than 4,500 working Johads dot Alwar and surrounding districts.

River Ruparel, that went dead, has stared flowing again after a span of three decades. Even the Arvari River basin, which was once barren, became a water source due to the active participation and hard work of the team members.

In many villages people have started building Johads of their own. Now, the women need not travel to far away places to collect water, fuel wood and fodder. They educated people and made them understand the importance of water conservation.

Most parts of Alwar district had been declared a dark zone, which meant that there was very little ground water left. Rivers and ponds were drying up and most of the menfolk had left for cities in search of work. Life in the villages had come to a standstill with farming activities getting severely affected and the bovine wealth, the backbone of the rural economy, shrinking in the absence of fodder and water.

Fifteen years and many johads later, water has restored life and selfrespect in Alwar. Of late, several villages in the neighbouring districts of Jaipur, Dausa, Sawai Madhopur, Bharatpur and Karauli have been revived by the TBS. Neembi in Jamwa Ramgarh tehsil of Jaipur district is one such village which caught the fancy of planners this summer as the perennially droughtprone village had water at three feet from ground in the third consecutive drought year.

The rebirth of the Arvari was something like a miracle. In 1986, the residents of BhanotaKolyala village, with the help of the TBS, constructed a johad at its source. Soon, villages around the catchment area and along the dry river constructed tiny earthen dams. When the number of dams reached 375, the river began to flow.

For centuries rural Rajasthan had enough water for domestic consumption and to keep up its robust agricultural practice. The people of this desert state managed this by conserving rain water through a system of small check dams called johads that collected water on the surface and helped recharge groundwater.

Widespread deforestation changed that equation in the mid20th century. The rains now brought silt down denuded mountain sides, which filled up the johads. With the proliferation of tube wells that reached deeper into the earth to get ground water, people stopped maintaining the johads.


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