India's Farmers in Fear of a Future Without Water
The Telegraph (UK)
June 12, 2006

Sitting on the veranda of his house watching the newly- seeded wheat swaying in the breeze while this year's buffalo calves munch contentedly nearby, it is hard to believe this Indian farmer could have a care in the world.

Mohan Sharma's family have farmed this fertile patch of land in Kaladera, 30 miles outside the Rajasthani city of Jaipur, for more than a century, but for the next generation, he says, "the future is dark".

The source of Mr Sharma's gloom comes out in a single word - "paani", or water.

Over the last five years the water table beneath Mr Sharma's fields has dropped by 60ft as local farmers and a nearby industrial park suck up the groundwater.

"I cannot say what future my sons will have on this farm," he said. "The water is disappearing so fast that the future is dark, very dark."

Farmers like Mr Sharma put the blame squarely on industry - a Coca-Cola bottling plant was installed nearby in 1999 - but the water crisis is in reality a three-way fight between farmers, industry and ordinary people.

Since independence in 1947 the population has grown from 350 million to almost 1.1 billion with industry and agriculture using ever more greedy methods to extract groundwater.

Industry plays its part, but a World Bank report in January this year identified farmers using electric pumps for irrigation as the prime culprit.

A 100-mile drive north of Mr Sharma's farm, around the tourist mecca of Shekhawati, lies the "dark zone" of Rajasthan, where villagers are now facing the bitter consequences of over-extraction of water.

In 1961 a survey by the Hindustan Copper Company showed groundwater levels at an average of 2-4ft. Today the level in many villages has dropped to 400-600ft.

"Traditionally the people here would survive on the rain water collected in check-dams and talab (ponds), but when electricity came to the villages in the 1970s they started using pumps and the old structures fell into disrepair," said Niranjan Singh, head of SVS, a local water conservation group.

The use of mechanically extracted water for drinking has had unforeseen health consequences as Rajasthan's groundwater naturally contains fluoride levels up to nine times the World Health Organisation's limits.

"The result of drinking this water is stomach pain, deformed bones, yellowed and cracking teeth and constant joint pain in knees, wrists and elbows," said Mr Singh.

The chronic water shortage also causes social problems. In extreme cases, villagers have to stand guard over the ponds and keep potable water, a commodity now as precious as gold, under lock and key.

The solutions are both low and high-tech. Last year, with help of a government grant, the village of Kisari, 100 miles north of Jaipur, installed a reverse-osmosis filtration plant to purify the water.

"The long-term solution must be in re-building the low-tech check-dams, ponds and reservoirs that worked for centuries," said Mr Singh.

FAIR USE NOTICE. This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. India Resource Center is making this article available in our efforts to advance the understanding of corporate accountability, human rights, labor rights, social and environmental justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.




Home | About | How to Use this Site | Sitemap | Privacy Policy

India Resource Center (IRC) is a project of Global Resistance -- "Building Global Links for Justice"
URL: http://www.IndiaResource.org Email:IndiaResource (AT) igc.org