Meet Rajendra Singh, India’s Waterman Who Left a Government Job to Conserve Water Bodies


India, like most countries in the world, is facing a growing water crisis. The unregulated exploitation of groundwater for agriculture and the contamination of water sources by the dumping of industrial and non-industrial waste threaten water bodies across the country and impact the lives of communities that are affected by it. depend.

Waterman Rajendra Singh

Rajendra Singh, the boatman of India

Rajendra Singh, a resident of Alwar district in the desert state of Rajasthan understands the impending water crisis and can be better than anyone else in this country.

Popularly known as the Waterman of India, Singh has dedicated his life to the conservation of bodies of water.

Born in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, Singh, who is also a trained Ayurvedic medicine practitioner, started his career at the Department of Education in Jaipur, Rajasthan in 1980.

Waterman Rajendra SinghWaterman Rajendra Singh

Left work to work for rural people

In Jaipur, he also started working with Tarun Bharat Sangha, an NGO formed by officers and students from the University.

During his work with TBS, Singh learned about the struggles of people in rural Rajasthan, and in 1984 decided to quit his government job to work on improving their lives.

In 1985, he became Secretary General of TBS and remains President of the NGO to this day.

Waterman Rajendra Singh
BCCL

During his interaction with the villagers of Alwar, Singh learned how water scarcity was affecting their lives.

How Boreholes Killed Traditional Water Harvesting

One of his first lessons was the negative impact of boreholes on the water cycle. As people began to rely more and more on drilled wells to irrigate their land instead of traditional methods jhadwhich were used to collect rainwater and then to recharge the water table, the water tables have dropped.

Waterman Rajendra Singh
Wikimedia

Revive the johads

After some research on johads which are concave structures that collect and store water throughout the year, Singh, with the help of some villagers, managed to revive one such facility in Gopalpura, which was practically dry due to neglect.

Since then, over the years, Singh and TBS managed to revive some 3,000 johads spread over more than 650 villages in Alwar district.

Singh’s message of water conservation using traditional techniques has since spread beyond Alwar and Rajasthan across the world.

Waterman Rajendra Singh
International River Archives

Traditional techniques for modern problems

“It is a community system of decentralized water management. Ponds in desert areas are constructed in such a way as to minimize evaporation. The maintenance of such johads is done by the community, which they traditionally did,” Singh said. India time.

“To revive any lost body of water, it is important to know the local rainfall pattern and the inlets that bring water into it. It is important to separate clean and polluted water before it enters in the body of water,” Singh said.

Large dams are not good for the ecology

Over the years, Singh has also led campaigns to save the Ganga River and against the construction of large dams on it.

“Large dams will always have an impact on the local ecology. As in the case of the Tehri dam, its construction led to large-scale siltation of the Ganges and the subsequent growth of algae in it, which altered the composition of the water. ,” he said.

Waterman Rajendra Singh
Waterman Rajendra Singh

World recognition for water conservation

India’s waterman has been recognized worldwide for his work with accolades including the 2001 Ramon Magsaysay Prize for Community Leadership and the 2015 Stockholm Water Prize, known as the ‘Nobel Prize for the water”. to name a few.

How the water crisis in Marathwada was created

According to Singh, unscientific exploitation and commercial farming have played a key role in the growing water crisis, especially in areas like the Marathwada region of Maharashtra.

“42 of the largest dams in India are in Maharashtra and despite this there is a severe water crisis in the state. Sugar cane and cotton are the most common cash crops in Marathwada “The water needs of these two crops are not in sync with the local agro-ecological climatic zone. The current crisis would not have been there if we had respected the local ecological conditions,” he explained.

Marathwada sugar cane plantation
BCCL

He pointed out that only parts of Rajasthan and Bijapur in Karnataka faced water scarcity at the time of independence, but Marathwada was pushed into water crisis due to excessive flow, without adequate charging.

Climate refugees, a new reality in India

“When your groundwater consumption is exposed and there is no recharge, it becomes a permanent crisis, which is what Marathwada is currently experiencing,” he said.

It is not a problem that is confined to Marathwada or Maharashtra, but is now experienced by most of India.

“When we gained independence, only 3% of the country was prone to flooding and 6% of the land faced drought. This figure has now risen to 30 and 60%. similar and that people flee to Europe, they are called climate refugees, this could soon become a reality in India too,” he warned.

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