OBITUARIES, 16 Jan 2017
Dr. T. Hanumantha Rao, former Engineer-in Chief, Andhra Pradesh Government of India, and Director-General Water & Land Management Training Research Institute, Hyderabad, passed recently. He will be widely mourned by farmers, engineers, economists, Indian patriots, and the multitude of friends he made across the world, in the long years of service rendered to humanity. In the halls of fame and memory, he will stand on the same pedestal as Sir Arthur Cotton and Dr. K.L. Rao, engineers still revered by poor Indians.
Dr. Hanumantha Rao’s unique gift was his discovery of the ‘Four Waters’ system for providing sustainable agricultural livelihoods to the majority of Indian and third world small and marginal farmers subsisting on dry rain-fed lands. His idea has the simplicity of genius. In semi-arid rain-fed lands, he discovered that more than 60% of moisture was held in the plant-root system itself. If this could be conserved by cooling soil temperatures with a green cover, hopefully a nitrogen-fixing leguminous vetch, and trees planted in the uplands, whose root systems would also help hold underground water, then with carefully dug gully scallops, properly constructed percolation tanks, weirs, bunds, and check dams, the farmers in a micro-watershed area could withstand droughts. He recommended the focused participation of the departments of agriculture, forestry, and irrigation to achieve sustainability, along with participation of the farmer community.
His brilliant ideas were field-tested under drought-prone conditions in the Telangana area of India, in the 1980’s, under the direction of the late Smarajit Ray, I.A.S., Principal Secretary Rural Development, a rare, people-friendly official, un-self-interestedly concerned with development and nation-building, who along with such great officials like the late S.R.Sankaran, and Dr. Y.V.Reddy, is an exemplar of what a public servant should be. These trials were published with full data showing that irrigation water could be made available to farmers at a fraction of the cost of larger projects.
Unfortunately, venal politicians, and their non-technocratic bureaucratic-henchmen, could not accept Dr. Hanumantha Rao’s strict incorruptible principles, for irrigation projects have been a great source of corporate profits and political kickbacks. He was allowed to retire, and his vision would have been lost to the world but for a lucky, chance event.
The Government of Mauritius had employed many expensive American and European Consultants to help the island country solve its water shortage problems. They had all advised that the country must depend on importing food from abroad. The Mauritius Government having heard of Dr. Hanumantha Rao turned to him in desperation. This humble great man was initially worried whether he could charge fees to cover his expenses! His work in Mauritius established that the island was water surplus, not water short, and now that country no longer needs to import food products as before.
His international reputation was established, and as a U.N. Consultant he helped over a dozen countries with their water problems. On return to India, he once handsomely promised his free services to his home state, but that offer was never accepted. But even at advanced age, he would freely advise any NGO or local group, traversing fields in the hot sun all day long.
Tamil Nadu state, reeling under monsoon failure, will announce itself drought-prone so that the usual loan recoveries from farmers can be delayed, and traditional food for work employment programmes can be opened to mitigate distress. Last year, the Indian Finance Minister blamed ‘the rain gods’ for country-wide drought. Solutions to agriculture crises, as provided by the late Dr. Hanumantha Rao, and other agricultural stalwart experts, such as Dr. R. Dwarkinath of Karnataka, are never considered because they benefit only the poor and not the rich. And people’s suffering can be bought off with gimmicks. While India remains uncaring, the people of Africa and Vietnam benefitted from Dr. Hanumantha Rao’s vision, experience, and dedication, and he will be long remembered in many distant countries.
Vithal Rajan, Ph.D. [L.S.E.], worked as a mediator for the church in Belfast; as faculty at The School of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, and as Executive Director, the Right Livelihood Award Foundation. He has founded several Indian NGOs, is an Officer of the Order of Canada, and a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 16 Jan 2017.
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