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«(Akil AMIRALY1, Nathalie PRIME2, Joginder P. SINGH3) ABSTRACT Water scarcity is a characteristic of north-western states of India, such as Gujarat. ...»

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RAINWATER HARVESTING, ALTERNATIVE TO THE WATER SUPPLY

IN INDIAN URBAN AREAS: THE CASE OF AHMEDABAD IN GUJARAT

(Akil AMIRALY1, Nathalie PRIME2, Joginder P. SINGH3)

ABSTRACT

Water scarcity is a characteristic of north-western states of India, such as Gujarat. Over

time, the continuous increase of the population as well as the financial, administrative and

technical deficiencies of the new supply system have lead to the deterioration of the water service in the city. In the meantime, the water demand has considerably increased due to the improvement of standards of living. This has resulted in an increasing pressure on underground water resources, which has lead to an alarming depletion of aquifers. From this overall situation arises the question of the use of complementary alternative sources of water in Ahmedabad and more particularly of the rehabilitation of the rainwater harvesting structures still existing in its old city area.

The objective of the research is to evaluate to what extent this traditional system may constitute an additional source of water within the Old city of Ahmedabad and may locally reduce the pressure on water demand, assuming that the existing supply system does not fulfil the needs of the users. The results of an exploratory field study conducted in the Old city in 2001-02, which combined quantitative and qualitative aspects, give an outlook on people’s opinions and behaviors regarding both systems. Finally, the rehabilitation of rainwater harvesting structures in the Old city of Ahmedabad suggests the necessity of empowering local structures of water management (households, non governmental association) in semi-arid urban areas to create the conditions for a sustainable implementation.

1 Ph. D student, Centre de Recherche en Gestion (CRG), Ecole Polytechnique, Paris, France.

2 Associate Professor of International Management at the European School of Management (ESCP-EAP) in Paris, France.

INTRODUCTION

Water scarcity is a characteristic of north-western states of India, such as Gujarat. In that context, people have developed, over the time, techniques to meet their water requirements.

Rainwater harvesting is one of them. It was functioning in the Old city of Ahmedabad before the extension of the modern water supply system to the entire town till the middle of the 20th century. The continuous increase of the population in the following decades as well as the financial, administrative and technical deficiencies of the new supply system have lead to the deterioration of the water service in the city. In the meantime, the water demand has considerably increased due to the improvement of standards of living. This has resulted in an increasing pressure on underground water resources, which has lead to an alarming depletion of aquifers. The growing water demand in both rural and urban areas has prompted the successive governments of Gujarat to bring water from far away which is economically, socially and environmentally unsustainable on the long run. From this overall situation arises the question of the use of alternative sources of water in Ahmedabad and more particularly of the rehabilitation of the rainwater harvesting structures still existing in its old city area.

1. OBJECTIVES AND FOCUS OF THE RESEARCH

The issue raised here relates to the search for complementarities between the present system of water supply and the alternative system of rainwater harvesting, in a context of water scarcity. The objective of the research is to evaluate to what extent this traditional system may constitute an additional source of water within the Old city and may locally reduce the pressure on water demand, assuming that the existing supply system does not fulfil the needs of the users.

3 Professor of International Management at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), India.

2 From that perspective, the results of an exploratory field study was conducted in the Old city in 2001-02, which combined quantitative and qualitative aspects, that gives an outlook on people’s opinions and behaviors regarding both systems. Finally, the rehabilitation of rainwater harvesting structures in the Old city of Ahmedabad suggests the necessity of empowering local structures of water management (households, non governmental association) in semi-arid urban areas to create the conditions for a sustainable implementation.

2. LITERATURE REVIEW

2.1 The Development and the Decline of Traditional Water Management Systems The monsoon season. “In Indian literature, it is literally depicted as the season of love – a time when Mother Nature renews herself and gives everybody a precious new lease of life, and young girls hang swings on tree boughs and sing love songs. Once the rains disappear, the land becomes as dry as a desert, life is difficult and water scarce to find. The gushing streams which overflow their banks in the monsoon months soon become tame or dead” (Agarwal and Narain, 1997, p.25).

2.1.1 The general context: water and people

If Indian literature casts so much light on the monsoon, it is because this climatic phenomena is at the heart of people’s life in the Indian subcontinent. Since the Indus Valley civilisation (2500-1500 before Christ) that gave birth to the first urban centres, Man has appropriated this source of water. The reason is simple: most of the rainfalls occur within few days or within some hours of heavy rains. Therefore, over the years Man has developed indigenous techniques to collect and store water during the dry season until the following monsoon.





Due to the diversity of climates, the concept of water harvesting is materialized by a variety of techniques over the territory, in relation with physical situations, existing materials and

–  –  –

Due to the colonization and the subsequent introduction of new technologies, most of these traditional systems had been broken down during the last century. Along with their liquidation, most of the knowledge on these techniques has also disappeared: their use has declined as also the confidence of the people in these systems. Nowadays, the deficiencies of the water management by Public authorities and the economic, social and environmental costs of large infrastructure projects pushes the civil society, under the impulsion of the NGOs into claiming the valorization of these techniques and their re-appropriation.

Moreover, the successive droughts in arid and semi arid areas in north-west India results in a growing number of rural communities to go for alternative solutions such as rainwater harvesting in underground cisterns or artificial ponds.

In such a context many authors have focused on the issue of alternative systems of water supply. Most of the sources of this literature has been written during the last decade and it highlights two phenomena: the growing dissatisfaction of the civil society concerning current water management systems and the increasing movements for the rehabilitation of alternative management systems. In the next section, we will analyse the growth and the decline of alternative water management systems, emphasizing the links between their development and the people’s participation.

2.1.2 The development of traditional water management systems The development and decline of these systems has not been very much explored, except by historians whose contribution should be appreciable, since sources on the subject are scarce.

4 Role of individuals in the development of these traditional systems The major role of individuals, notably, philanthropists and communities in the construction and the maintenance of traditional water management systems is a permanent feature.

Actually, there is a religious benefits associated to the infrastructure construction related to water. “To the orthodox Hindus, among different forms of charity, one of the most important was the provision of water” (Agarwal and Narain, 1997, p.281).

Reflection of the social stratification The political power, represented by the monarch or the local chief financed or encouraged the large irrigation projects. Once constructed, the management and maintenance of these infrastructures depended on the populations. Nevertheless, “innumerable smaller works were constructed at the initiative of individuals and local communities” (Shankari and Shah, 1993, p.19).

The construction was probably in the hand of families specialized in the construction of such specific structures. Nowadays, some families are still perpetuating the know-how of the construction of underground rainwater harvesting cisterns, in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh or in Diu in Gujarat. “There were caste communities specialised in earth and stone work called wadders and boyis. They undertook the construction of tanks, wells, roads and works where earth and stone was involved. Even today they are the main source of labour for Irrigation and Roads and Buildings Departments” (Shankari and Shah, op.cit., p.27).

One deficiency remains : none of the sources give any information on the cost of construction and the repartition of the resources between the inhabitants.

Role of the family in the timelessness of the system The information related to the management and maintenance practices are limited and incomplete. In the southern part of the country, the maintenance of supply channels and fields channels was shared out among the members of the communities using it. “Known as kudi maramath in the south, it was a widely prevalent practice all over India. Wherever, a repair work needed to be attended to, such as cleaning of the supply channel, each family

–  –  –

Circulation of know-how In water management, the technology transfers from the Middle East and Persia (in particular) to South Asia are historically acknowledged. “The technology of qanat was adopted by the people of the Malabar Coast to build surangams to meet their drinking water needs”. Another example is the building of “the qanat based water supply system of the town of Burhanpur in Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh”(Agarwal and Narain, 1997, p.29).

It is reasonably sure to assume that the concept of rainwater harvesting in underground cisterns was imported from regions situated in the Western part of the subcontinent. This system already existed in the 16th century in Herat, an Afghan city in the Khorasan region or even further west, in Constantinople (Minor Asia). Earlier, archaeological evidence of rainwater harvesting in over-ground tanks is available at Dhola Vira structure in Gujarat.

2.1.3 The decline of traditional water management systems

Resources repartition and prosperity When the British arrived on the subcontinent in the 17th century, the patchwork of kingdoms that later gave birth to India was the richest region highly urbanised in that time.

The development of towns and the opulence of Indian courts were based on the surplus of wealth generated in the villages that produced a large quantity of goods. The Indian courts encouraged the production and the mass export of luxury products such as textile and jewellery. An ingenious water management system was to some extent at the origin of the economic growth.

The short monsoon season required an equitable repartition of resources between the rural and urban areas. “There were hundreds thousands of tanks across the country. Locally

–  –  –

Local strategies and sustainability Leyes Ferrouki (1997) underlines that “even though these traditional rainwater harvesting systems can look precarious and casual in the eyes of modern technologists, they have been perfectly suitable for centuries. The reason for this is that they are compatible with local lifestyles, institutional patterns and social systems. They represent a fund of solid

experience gained through generations of observations, trials and errors”. This author adds:

“the often forgotten relationship between regions of high biodiversity and high poverty is often very clear in India (…). This combination has allowed the development of numerous sustainable indigenous survival strategies. The diversity of rainwater harvesting techniques in the arid region of Kutch affected by the high water salinity illustrates this situation”.

Ferrouki regrets that “many of these techniques have disappeared or are disappearing along with their innovators, since the modern civilisation is forcing them to abandon their land and ways of living”.

These know-how constitute a major cultural and technical heritage because, in a general context of scarcity (of water and financial resources), they highly contrast with programs involving high cost technologies and leading to questionable results. It is therefore relevant to identify the historical factors that have generated and accelerated the disinterest of Indians for their own water management system.

Destabilisation of the economy and of the social institutions The Cipayes mutiny in 1857 has marked the ascendancy of the British Crown over the Indian subcontinent. “The British neglected systematically the resources they could not own or earn money from”(Agarwal and Narain, 1997, p.309). The production system formerly designed for the satisfaction of the local demand was turned around to produce goods for the metropolitan market of the colonizing power. The pattern of agriculture evolved from subsistence farming to cash crops for the colonial market.

7 These successive choices have destabilized the local political institutions which had previously managed local water infrastructures, such as the panch or local committee.

Without sufficient incomes, the lands and renewable resources that belonged to the community could be used by anybody without any constraint: “What were once community managed commons turned into free access resources” (Agarwal and Narain, op.cit., p.309).

The traditional system of maintenance had collapsed. The newly bureaucratic and centralized system set up by the colonizers was not designed to maintain the innumerable water works scattered over a vast territory. The British’ taking over of the local administration was the beginning of the collapse of the village communities run by its inhabitants.



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