Conserving Our Water Systems


Dr Ravi Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

28 Mar 2018 – The United Nations celebrate many significant issues and problems the world faces — Violence, degradation of the environment, drying up of water sources etc. by specifying particulate days of the year to highlight these issues and to discuss what could be done to reduce the severe adverse implications of these problems. In addition a few years back it was decided by the UN to designate 21 June as International Day of Yoga to stress the importance of this activity for the physical and mental health of all peoples.

Recently the issue of water and its increasing scarcity the world over was highlighted on 22 March which appropriately is now termed as World Water Day (WWD). On one hand, due to global warming and climate change, we are witnessing rising sea levels that are threatening to submerge several small islands and atolls; on the other, we are facing drying up of some rivers and water bodies as glaciers melt faster.

The latter problem is being faced by several glaciers — in the Arctic region, in Greenland, in the Himalayas in the Indo Nepal border and elsewhere. Surprisingly, it is being predicted that England — a country surrounded by seas or an ocean, may face acute shortage of water as its rivers dry up by the next forty or fifty years. Not surprisingly India is also facing water concerns as there are floods in some seasons and river water scarcity at other times. In addition the rivers have become polluted due to industrial or domestic garbage that flows into them. The River Ganges (Ganga) which has great spiritual significance in India from Vedic times, in addition to supplying water for agriculture, horticulture and for animals besides domestic use,  has become highly polluted. Several efforts are being made by government agencies to cleanse it and restore it to its spiritual well-being. It is even suggested by many believers that drinking a few drops of Ganga Jal (river water) is desirable like nectar.

Like other countries that had various water bodies — lakes, ponds, rivulets, wells, India also had and to a lesser extent still have these and other sources of water — baolies, waterfalls and what is called talaab (ponds) that supplied water to people, animals and for cropping. A well written book on the problems of drying up of ponds and lakes simply called Taalab was written by a well-known Gandhian scholar named Anupam  Mishra of  Gandhi Peace Foundation, a few years ago. The book was translated from Hindi to many other languages and received wide acclaim for highlighting the drying up of hundreds of water bodies in India due to developmental activities and increasing populations who were indifferent to and largely unaware of water conservation . The author died a few years ago but the issues he raised about depletion of water bodies continue to be a major problem today not only in India but worldwide.

Incidentally, Mahatma Gandhi was aware of this and other issues related to over exploitation of nature. He used to occasionally live in Anand Bhawan which was a property of Jawaharlal Nehru and his father. The Bhawan was situated next to another well known river — Jamuna of North India and as such there was no shortage of water. But Gandhi was very economical in the use of water for taking a bath and for washing his clothes.

Another water body that is partially man made is termed Baoli in which water was stored for drinking and domestic use. There were several baolis in India and also in Delhi. Several of them have been damaged and exist no more except in historical records. One such is called Khari Baoli in an older part of Delhi. It is now a commercial and business centre and hardly any resident living there is aware of the baoli. There is another one called Arab ki Sarai (living space for Arabs) that was built in 1560 AD near the heritage site of Humayun Tomb. This baoli as well as several others that were used for storing rain water, is in a state of collapse. Fortunately the Aga Khan Trust for Culture as well as the Germany embassy in India are providing funds and other resources for rebuilding and conservation of this baoli.

On the Water Day of 22 March, a Delhi based institution INTACH that focuses on conservation of architectural institutions and practices arranged a talk by a well known water conservationist Krishna Gopal Vyas. He talked about the dozens of water bodies called step wells that had been built more than 500 years ago in central India near a city known as Jubalpur. These wells had been built keeping the local soil and geological conditions of that region. Some of them had been built on top of local hills which helped collect and conserve rain water. These wells had been serving the local populations including some tribal people known as Gonds.

These step wells of various sizes and construction reflect the ancient knowledge systems of the local populations. They did not know the modern subject of geology or geography but the speaker — an eighty year old man spoke admiringly of their understanding of geological principles of construction of these wells that have remained intact over these centuries although they need extensive repair work now.

Unfortunately they are no longer used for drinking water by local people or for other uses. Modern development activities and a disregard of our heritage have made these wells redundant except as historical show pieces. What a pity.

Today more than anything else, we need to understand and appreciate the issues of conservation of water and protection of our environment. Some people are saying it is already too late since we have shown a total disregard towards these concerns. But better late than never.


Dr ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 1 Apr 2019.

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