My journey – Dr Rajendra Singh
I, Rajendra Singh, have chosen to devote my life to the cause of water, which is one of the most important elements for the survival of life on our planet. Water is an element that humanity has taken for granted for many generations, and its natural and pure existence is now under threat all over the world.
When I was a child and living in the small village of Daula in Uttar Pradesh, India, where there was never a shortage of water, I never dreamed that the issue of water would come to play such a significant role in my adult life. In the early 1980s, I began working in Jaipur, Rajasthan, at Nehru Yuvak Kendra as a Project Officer for the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. In order to satisfy my desire to live a life that is beneficial to the community, I signed up for the Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), which is a non-profit social organization that was established by the students and faculty of the University of Rajasthan. I joined TBS. During the time that I spent in Jaipur, I became more and more interested in Gandhi's philosophy of 'Gram-Swaraj,' also known as village self-governance. At the same time, I felt hopelessly tethered to my job in the city, which was located a great distance from the real pulse of India, which is found in its villages. In 1984, I decided to follow my hunches and quit my job. I then boarded a bus in Jaipur and traveled to Kishori, a small village in the Alwar District of Rajasthan. It was there that the true adventure of my life began.
I. Going back to the past for a better future: Beginning work in water deficient Gopalpura (Rajasthan), 1985
I was a young educated man when I had the misconception that education and medicine were what my country required for its development. However, a sage old man from the village soon opened my eyes and showed me how a lack of water had robbed the poor villagers of their lives, livelihoods, and dignity. I couldn't help but wonder how previous generations of these communities had managed to live in such severe environments. During the course of my search for an answer, I came across a remarkable treasure in the form of traditional knowledge concerning water management. This knowledge had been the foundation of these communities' capacity for self-sufficiency and prosperity; however, it has since been lost in the rat race of modernization, which infests dependencies and creates vulnerability.
I started digging a traditional earthen check-dam called a 'johad' by picking up the shovel and relying on the knowledge and experience of the more senior members of the community. The first johad was constructed in Gopalpura village, within a span of three years with the assistance of a few local villagers. I had no idea that this experiment would end up being so life-changing, not only for me but also for the thousands of other villagers who were suffering from drought. They finally had access to water in their rural community! During the very first wet season, not only did the johad begin to fill up, but the water level in the wells that were located all around it also began to rise. We were overjoyed by these results, and as a result, we worked very hard to build 24 additional structures in the village. Withen a span of just a few short years, Gopalpura developed into an oasis in the middle of the desert.
People from many vulnerable neighboring villages were drawn to Gopalpura because of the visual impact of its waterbodies, which had resulted in green fields, pastures, and trees. These people looked around in amazement as they explored the area. I encouraged them by saying, "Even you can do it!" I went wherever they took me, walking from one village to another, organizing people, and instructing them to harvest rainwater collectively and manage it. It was gratifying to see that each community had its own water-warriors who were simply waiting for motivation or for someone to instill confidence in them so that they could put to use the innate and indigenous knowledge that they possessed in order to conserve water. I concentrated all of my efforts on locating people who could fulfill this role. The young men of the villages who had left in search of a better way of life eventually made their way back to the fields and pastures they had left behind. We now had young and strong hands to help us construct an increasing number of johads.
The sight that broke people's hearts the most during those times was seeing women and children carrying heavy loads of water on their heads as they walked for miles and miles in the scorching heat. I really wanted there to be participation from women as well, but back then it was difficult for a man like me to even start a conversation with a woman in the village. However, when they witnessed the massive impacts that water conservation had on their lives and the lives of their families, they started to join-in in large numbers, in the hope of leaving behind the life that was an endless back-breaking struggle of fetching water from miles away. When they saw the massive impacts that water conservation had on their lives and the lives of their families, they started to join-in in large numbers. I came to the conclusion that including women in any process that involved decision-making resulted in decisions that were more viable over the long term. Therefore, whenever I went somewhere new, I made it a point to tell the locals that the only way I'll work in their communities is if the women there are active participants.
I believe that the reason I was able to win the support of the people is because I made an effort to comprehend the genuine requirements of the people. I integrated myself into their culture and encouraged them to search internally for answers to their problems. I involved each of them individually and made water conservation their responsibility. The structures are based on their traditional understanding of the ecology and the land. They were responsible for the construction of the structure as well as its ongoing maintenance. After all, they were the ones who stood to benefit from it the most. The process of delivering water to the villages also brought the residents of the villages closer to one another, resulting in the formation of communities that are cohesive.
In the beginning, I was able to support myself and the work with the meager savings I had accrued from my previous employment, and the villagers were kind enough to provide some food and shelter for me as well. But as the work started to expand in all directions, there was a need to gather additional resources, so that was something that had to be done. During this time, my previous affiliation with the Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS) proved to be useful, and I made the decision in 1985 to steer the work toward water conservation while it was still under its banner. We had come together to form a group of people who were dedicated to addressing the water shortage.
II. Seeking judicial intervention against illegal mining, 1991
The area known as Alwar is located in the folds of the ancient Aravalli Mountain ranges, which are known for their abundance of mineral resources and lucrative opportunities for miners. We were doing our work in the Tilwari village, which is located in the Aravalli ranges, close to the Sariska Tiger Reserve. The village now has two johads, and much to our astonishment, the wells in the village have not been refilled with water as a result. On the other hand, the illegal mining pits in the village became flooded, and the miners were required to pump the water out on a daily basis. After some time, it finally occurred to us that the hydrology of the region was directing the collected rainwater to the mining area, which meant that all of our efforts were for naught. Mining in the ranges not only caused extensive damage to the mountains, but also to the trees and wildlife in the area, and it had a significant negative impact on the way of life and the health of the local communities.
We communicated with the district collectors, ministers, and the Chief Minister of the state through a number of letters and memoranda. The mining mafia made an effort to silence us and our voices. They brought fabricated charges against us in conjunction with the local law enforcement. I found myself in such a hopeless situation that I decided to file a petition with the Supreme Court in 1991 demanding that 470 illegal mining sites be shut down. During this stage, they went so far as to attempt to take my life. On November 26, 1992, my vehicle was one of several that formed a convoy that accompanied a commission that had been appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate the mining leases in the Sariska forest. Even though my vehicle was attacked and smashed, the injuries I sustained were relatively minor. I believe that the grace of providence is what allowed us to survive.
In 1992, for the very first time, the Supreme Court issued an order that all illegal mining activities in the Aravallis must cease immediately. Despite repeated attempts, the State Government was unable to carry out the order. Therefore, in 1993, we embarked on the "Aravalli Bachao padyatra," also known as the "Save the Aravallis Walkathon," which spanned all four states in which the Aravallis are located. It was the longest foot-march of 800 kilometers in the history of India at the time, and its purpose was to inform local communities and raise awareness about the negative effects of mining on their health, environment, and means of subsistence.
Since that time, I have also been advocating for the land and forest rights of socially and economically disadvantaged tribal communities, the majority of whose lives and means of subsistence are reliant on the resources provided by forests. At the moment, I am arguing against the government's decision to allot 41 coal blocks for commercial mining in forested areas across the states of Maharashtra, Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh. These states are located in India. We have been working to organize forest-dwelling indigenous communities so that they can take a unified stand for their land rights. We were able to successfully secure the land rights of 26 tribal families in Jharkhand on February 21, 2021 by organizing the tribal communities and maintaining constant engagement with the government through dialogues and discussions. The date was chosen as the 21st of February.
III. A River is Reborn, 1994
On the one hand, efforts were being made to preserve the Aravalli Mountains, and on the other hand, more and more johads were being built in 500 different villages. At first, we were unaware that we were bringing rivers back up to their normal levels. Our only goal was to collect the surface water and direct it deeper into the ground, where it would eventually be accessible to farmers through wells. My understanding of the science improved when I noticed that there were little streams flowing here and there. River Arvari, which is 45 kilometers long and had been dormant for the preceding 60 years, came back to life in the span of just eight years, in the year 1994. The flow of water was gradually restored to a large number of the region's other rivers, streams, and rivulets. The regions rivers Ruparel, Sabi, Bhagani-Tildah, Jahajwali, and Maheshwari have all been restored to their former glory.
Up to this point, we have constructed 12,000 RWHS with the goal of collecting 25 billion liters of rainwater and restocking the womb of Mother Earth annually. The amount of carbon that can be sequestered by forests has increased thanks to a 30 percent increase in forest cover across 16000 square kilometers. Arid land covering 150,000 hectares has been transformed into fertile soil that can sustainably support twice as much agricultural output. People who moved away in search of employment are now moving back home in order to start their own businesses and become employers. The number of people leaving their jobs frustrated is now only 30 percent, down from 80 percent earlier. Fifty outlaws have laid down their weapons and are now working the land, providing a better life for their families. There has been a decrease in the amount of water needed to irrigate fields by fifty percent thanks to the efforts of five thousand farmers. The annual average income of those who benefitted from the program has increased by up to 500 percent.
These shining replications of the Arvari model can be found in Karnataka's Ichallahalla and Agrani Watershed, Maharashtra's Mahakali and Agrani Watershed, Uttar Pradesh's Sai and Bakulahi, Rajasthan's Sairni and Tevar, and Madhya Pradesh's Water Sector Restructuring Project. The Model is also being utilized in Afghanistan, Kenya, Myanmar, and Iran in order to establish water security and revitalize their rivers.
IV. Setting up of People's own parliament: the Arvari River Parliament, 1999
Rivers Arvari and Ruparel began to see the return of aquatic life once they were provided with a constant supply of water. Because of this, the Fisheries Department took notice of the situation in order to determine who had the right to fish in the area. In 1996, the department disregarded the rights of the local population when it awarded fishing tenders to private companies. It took widespread demonstrations by the villagers to coerce the government into canceling the contracts and transferring ownership of the water resources to the local communities. Remarkably, the communities of the villages came together and took a stand to protect their water resources and their way of life from being exploited by private companies.
I organized the people of the 72 villages to form the Arvari River Parliament in January 1999 in order to manage the river and to observe self-discipline while using the water from the river. My goal was to make sure that this spirit of communal harmony and collective responsibility would endure for future generations. The Arvari River Parliament is an example of what is known in modern politics and history as a parliament, which is essentially a legislative and representative body. This definition describes the Arvari River Parliament perfectly. One person from each of the settlements in the Arvari River Basin is a part of this organization. Over the course of its existence, the River Parliament has developed its very own set of customary laws governing crop pattern, fishing, and other issues pertaining to the equitable and sustainable use of the river.
The revitalization of the River Arvari and other rivers demonstrated not only how straightforward, nature-based solutions have the potential to reverse the negative effects of climate change, but also how water is an essential component in the maintenance of life and the ability to make a living. The story of the revitalization of the Arvari basin, with its emphasis on the importance of water security and the valiant efforts made by indigenous communities, has reverberated not only throughout the country but also beyond its borders. Johads is referred to as a "Best Practise" in the report that was compiled by the UN-Inter Agency working group on water and environmental sanitation.
Visit by then President of India, late K R Narayanan, 2000 and Prince Charles, 2003
In the year 2000, K.R. Narayanan, who was serving as President of India at the time, and Prince Charles, who was serving as Prince of Britain at the time, both traveled to the Arvari basin to honor the Arvari River Parliament for the remarkable work it had done. In addition to this, he extended an invitation to us to design and implement rainwater conservation measures at the Presidential Estate, which serves as his official residence.
V. Who Owns Water?
My life journey from 1985 to 2000 encompassed a period of 15 years that I refer to as the "Creation" phase because during that time I focused primarily on constructing johads. It was remarkable in addition to being packed with difficulties. Since the very beginning, I've had to contend with the hostility of the various government departments, each of which has a myopic view of the world. The officials of the government continued to maintain that the Johads were illegal and that they were built without their permission, and they frequently issued orders for their destruction, all the while blatantly ignoring the Johads' enormously positive impact. Despite this, the community came together and did everything they could to safeguard their johads. By the year 2000, I had already been served with approximately 380 legal notices by various government departments for activities such as making johads, planting trees, and other similar activities.
One notable Johad that garnered a great deal of attention in the year 2001 was the one that took place in the village of 'Lava-ka-Baas.' It was built despite the vigorous opposition of the irrigation department, which insisted that "Water" belongs to the government and could not be privately owned. It was crystal clear to me that the people and the indigenous communities of the area needed to share responsibility for the management of the area's water and natural resources. Suddenly, when the police were at my doorsteps with a warrant to arrest me, members of the media and journalists began to gather. It had just been announced who would receive the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, and much to my astonishment, I was one of the recipients in the category of "Community Leadership." Knowing that our work was being recognized internationally was a humbling experience given that we did our work in the outlying villages of Rajasthan. It was the victory of the people's hard work and the traditional wisdom that guided them. It was high time that the government acknowledged the extensive knowledge of the land and the environment held by the rural masses and began to put that knowledge to use in order to improve their lot in life. My resolve to fight for the democratization of natural resource ownership and for community ownership grew stronger as time went on.
Fighting for the rights of communities has frequently put me in conflict not only with the authorities of the government but also with individuals and organizations that have vested interests in making a profit for themselves. On June 10, 2002, while I was engaged in a legal battle to free lakes in Uttar Pradesh from encroachments, I was assaulted by goons of a politician at a meeting held by a local environment group in Aligarh Muslim University. The meeting was organized by a local environment group. I was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) hospital in Delhi after sustaining some severe head injuries, where I remained unconscious for several days. When I was in recovery, I would motivate myself by telling myself that the fact that people wanted to take my life meant that I must be doing something right.
In the future, in 2007, we were successful in rescuing the aquifers that are located in the Mewat and Tijara regions of Rajasthan. The Mewat villages have been suffering from severe water shortages recently. TBS had done work there and assisted in making certain villages more water independent. However, the availability of water in the area enticed major corporations to establish water-intensive factories in the region, such as those producing bottled water, soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, and so on. The government thought the offer had potential financial benefits. Nevertheless, the factories would have extracted groundwater at a rate that is not found in nature and is impossible to replenish, leaving the surrounding communities to once again bear the brunt of extremely limited access to this resource. We were successful in preventing forty factories from establishing their plants because we organized the communities to fight against it and vigorously campaigned against it.
VI. Making water and rivers a national concern- Launch of the Jal Chetna Yatra, 2002
At this point in time, I had begun to travel extensively throughout the length and breadth of the country in order to train people on community-driven decentralized natural resource management. These people included village communities, farmers, civil society organizations, government officials, and students.
While we were working to improve and expand people-led and managed water conservation, the Central Government was preparing the ground for the planning and management of water resources by the profit-driven private sector. This, along with a more centralized control of the government over water and environmental issues, was evident in the draft of the Water Policy, which was released in 2002. It had also proposed the enormous scheme of mending the natural hydrology by linking 37 rivers all over India, which would have destroyed the unique character of each river. This was done in order to make it possible to transfer water from one basin to another. Before I began my campaign, I thought it would be appropriate to meet with the Prime Minister of India at the time. I informed him of the potential dangers posed by the policy, and then I waited for the government to take the necessary steps for a period of six months. In the meantime, the states of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Kerala were participating in a program known as BOOT (Build – Own – Operate – Transfer) with regard to their water resources.
It was disheartening to see how disconnected and unconcerned my fellow citizens were with the issues pertaining to water, but it was even more unsettling to see how insensitive the government was towards rivers. I strongly started to feel an urgency for a mass water-movement, and after waiting for six months, on the 23rd of December 2002, I flagged the 'Jal Chetna Yatra,' a nation-wide awareness campaign from Rajghat (Memorial of Mahatma Gandhi), New Delhi. And ever since then, I have dedicated my life to spreading water-consciousness and literacy. The Jal Chetna Yatra traveled across the country for a total of 320 districts and 144 river basins over the course of 14 months, with the goal of raising awareness about the importance of water conservation.
1. Creation of the Rashtriya Jal Biradari (National Community of Water Warriors)
The Jal Chetna Yatra was a significant factor in the formation of a new organization, which is a network operating on a national level and going by the name of the "Rashtriya Jal Biradari" or RJB. It is a network consisting of a large number of people from all parts of the country who share similar values and are enthusiastic about working toward the goal of protecting rivers and resolving the issue of water scarcity. My national campaigns for the protection of rivers, as well as the lives and livelihoods of people living in local communities, were also given a boost as a result of this.
Since 2002, the RJB has sensitized ministers and government officials, mobilized 500,000 people, trained 10,000 warriors in water conservation, created awareness by organizing water-walks, public meetings, identified problems of riparian communities, identified encroachments and other issues that hinder rivers to flow, and filed litigations in public interest for the protection of the environment and rivers wherever it was necessary.
VIII. Focusing on river rejuvenation, 2002 onwards
Rivers are a nation's lifeblood, serving as living symbols of its heritage, culture, and diversity while also providing a means of subsistence and contributing to the nation's overall well-being. There is a strong correlation between the state of the world's rivers and the wellbeing of humanity and the planet. As I traveled across India on the Jal Chetna Yatra, I was deeply affected by the deteriorating condition of the country's rivers. Because of decades of encroachments in river basins, rivers have been rendered unable to manage excess rainwater or recharge aquifers, which has resulted in a disruption in the river's flow. Rivers have also been crippled as a result of these encroachments. Illegal sand mining, as well as large-scale dam construction and hydroelectricity generation projects, disrupt the natural flow of rivers and destroy their entire ecological systems.
The poor, for whom rivers are their only means of subsistence, are seeing their means of subsistence vanish along with the rivers themselves. As a result of their struggles to adapt and make ends meet, as well as their consumption of polluted water, these already marginalized communities have now been further marginalized. They are being denied the right to live a dignified life and have a means of subsistence.
When I first became aware of the cultural, spiritual, social, economic, and environmental significance of rivers, I began my work to gain an understanding of rivers, the underlying causes of their degradation, and the growing inequality that the poor and the marginalized faced as a direct result of this. Rivers are important on many levels, including cultural, spiritual, social, economic, and environmental. This also meant calling into question the status quo, which is one in which the powerful have complete access and are allowed to exploit with impunity. I started putting together a program to revitalize rivers, with the goals of reconnecting, rebuilding, and re-energizing the linkages that exist between people and rivers. In this way, not only will the rivers be revitalized, but also the rightful livelihood of poor and marginalized communities will be restored, allowing them to live a life of well-being and dignity.
- to restore rivers to their former glory by cultivating a workforce comprised of individuals who are dedicated to the preservation of rivers. This trained workforce would link governments, scientists and experts, religious leaders and groups, and society at large on both sides of the river. They would also work toward ensuring the livelihoods of marginalized tribal, Dalit, oppressed, and other powerless groups so that they can access their livelihoods as rights.
- to protect the rights of the river and to ensure that human rights and river rights are equal. This is essential if rivers are to continue flowing forever and maintain their purity.
Through RJB, further development of this project was carried out in the rivers Mahanadi, Brahmaputra, Krishna, Ganga, Kaveri, and Godavari in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, and Maharashtra, as well as Chhattisgarh.
- Bring together members of society, particularly young people, government officials, religious leaders, experts, and other stakeholders, and educate them on the significance of river health for both individual and community well-being. This will encourage everyone to work toward river revitalization and river protection. Creating river literacy is an important step toward achieving this goal.
- The resolution of river-related disputes through a process of dialogue and discussion in order to prevent corporations and those in positions of power from encroaching on rivers, exploiting them, or polluting them; this would protect both rivers and the livelihoods of those who are economically disadvantaged.
- Establishment of river parliaments and river families in order to facilitate the development of community-owned solutions
In order to accomplish this, the following activities were initiated:
- Training for people working on river restoration as well as training for trainers.
- River walks
- symposiums devoted to rivers, with the goal of learning more about rivers in general and identified rivers in particular
Webinars held on rivers on a weekly basis during the COVID 19 pandemic.
A. Making Ganga a National River, 2005 onwards
The Ganges River, which has been considered the cradle of Indian civilization since the beginning of time and which is highly revered by the people of the country, has been fighting for its life in recent years. The Ganga River basin has the highest population density and the highest pollution levels of any river basin in the world. It is the backbone of the country's agriculture and freshwater fishing industries and covers a total area of 1,086,000 square kilometers. It is responsible for the livelihoods of 400 million people. Even before the river reaches the plains, approximately sixty percent of the Ganga's water is diverted for the purposes of hydroelectricity and irrigation. Every day, in addition to other wastes and industrial effluents, approximately 4.8 billion liters worth of raw sewage is dumped into the river. There are at least ten different kinds of animals that are in danger of going extinct. The availability of biophages in the river, which are responsible for River Ganga's mystical properties of killing microorganisms, has taken a significant hit as a result of recent pollution. Cancer is more likely to strike residents who make their home in the Ganga River basin. There are 450 males and 1,000 females diagnosed with cancer for every 10,000 people in the population. Because of the restrictions placed on fishing in the river, thousands of fishermen are currently going hungry.
The Indian government had planned to construct six hydroelectric power plant dams on the Bhagirathi River, which is one of the headstreams that feeds into the Ganga. This was done in order to further their energy-intensive agenda for economic growth. It was planned that they would travel the 125 kilometers from the Gangotri Glacier, where the river originates, to the uninhabited town of Uttarkashi, which is located in the foothills of the Himalayas.
As a member of the Ganga River Basin Authority under the chairmanship of Former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, I along with other environmentalists, convinced the government to shut down three large hydropower projects (Bhaironghati, Loharinag-Pala and Pala-Maneri) on the Bhagirathi River in August of 2008. This helped in restoring the uninterrupted flow of water in the river from its origin, Gaumukh to Uttarkashi, protecting the livelihood of 5,000 farmers In addition to this, we were successful in having the region around this section of the river designated as a "ecological sensitive area," and we also managed to stop the construction of 268 dams in the regions of the Himalayas and the lesser Himalayas. Large-scale dam construction in these ecologically fragile areas would not only have stifled the river and its ecosystem, but it also likely would have resulted in catastrophic events that would have had an effect on the lives of more than 100,000 people living in the region. Our tireless advocacy was ultimately successful, and in 2009, the Ganges River was recognized as India's National River and accorded the respect that was rightfully due to it.
Water-walks for River Ganga
I organized three river walks with the goal of fostering a sense of community among those who care about the Ganga and informing participants about the threats to the river's ecosystem, including pollution and the disruption of the river's flow caused by large dams. I have the impression that taking a stroll along the riverbank helps people rediscover the connection they once had with rivers. The first river walk, known as the Ganga LokYatra, took place from September 2009 all the way through October 2009. During the time that I was traveling through Uttarakhand, a political party prevented me from entering the state under the pretext that I was impeding their progress in the name of the state's mountains and rivers. During a community meeting, our group was attacked by some armed men who demanded that we end the yatra and leave the area immediately. However, we did not rest and instead continued on with the yatra.
The second yatra began on March 23, 2013, at Gangotri, the place where the river begins, and continued all the way down its length, which is approximately 2,500 kilometers, to its terminus in Gangasagar, which is located in the state of West Bengal. The third one was a riverwalk that lasted for 111 days straight and was called the Ganga Sadbhavana Yatra. It started on September 29, 2018, in Delhi and Haridwar and ended on January 12, 2019, at Ganga-Sagar. These yatras were helpful in establishing connections with thousands of people along the length of the river, particularly with young people from different states, and engaging in conversation in both rural and urban settings.
However, the government has made it abundantly clear on multiple occasions that it is not concerned about the actual problems that are occurring in Ganga. For example, the government plans to spend an exorbitant amount of money in 2014 to improve the appearance of banks and entertainment parks as part of the "Namami-Gange Project." This project is estimated to cost approximately $2.7 billion. Over the course of many years, I have published a great deal of writing, participated in hundreds of interviews with the press, and organized numerous gatherings with the purpose of bringing attention to the plight of the Ganga and what the appropriate course of action should actually be. At the moment, one of my primary goals is to fortify the communities that live along the banks of the Ganga in order to establish an informed "River Parliament for Ganga." With this body, I hope to persuade the government to reestablish the river's natural flow and to take the necessary precautions to rid it of pollution.
B. Reclaiming the land of River Yamuna, 2007 onwards
There is also cause for concern regarding the condition of the Yamuna River. Around 57 million people make their home along the banks of this river, which is the Ganga's most important feeder stream. The river winds its way through seven different states, including Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, and Rajasthan, before ending up in Madhya Pradesh.
I started the "Yamuna Satyagraha," also known as a nonviolent resistance against the construction of a "Games Village" for the Commonwealth games by the government, on August 1, 2007, by planting 150 trees on the proposed location on the Yamuna bank. This was my way of protesting the government's plans to build the village. Rivers have rights, including the right to the lands that flow through them, the right to flow in a natural and unimpeded manner, and the right not to be polluted in any way. My satyagraha was to defend the river's rights as well as the rights of all the people whose lives are reliant on the river.
We were successful in building opposition among people to constructions on the river bank through a variety of river-walks, consultations with government officials and politicians, and political campaigns; however, the government paid no attention to our efforts.
At long last, on July 30th, 2009, I presented a petition for public interest litigation (PIL) to the honorable Supreme Court. The Supreme Court's decision to ban any future construction on the Yamuna River Bank was finally announced on April 28, 2010, marking the successful culmination of a battle that had lasted for three years.
C. Restoring lives and livelihoods of riparian communities of River Mahanadi, 2011 onwards
On the eastern side of the country, the River Mahanadi has been fighting a losing battle to break free from the grip of six large hydropower projects and the commodification of its water. A major river in East-Central India, the Mahanadi has a total length of 858 kilometers and drains an area that is approximately 141,600 square kilometers in size. The river that originates in the state of Chhattisgarh and flows through the state of Odisha is the only means of subsistence for the fishermen and farmers who live in the downstream area of Odisha. Because of the Chhattisgarh Government's decision to sell the river's water to large industrialists, 20,000 fishermen and 20 million farmers in Odisha no longer have a means of subsistence. These large industrialists have blocked the river's flow upstream by constructing massive dams. It has shown a complete lack of regard for the rights that the riparian communities have over their river. The fencing of the river in Chhattisgarh has made it impossible for anyone to fish there. Even the fishermen.
Following a battle that lasted for seven years, the Supreme Court on March 12, 2018, established the Mahanadi Water Dispute Tribunal with the intention of resolving the issue. In spite of this, the tribunal has not been able to offer any form of relief to the impoverished and defenseless indigenous communities in the past three years. At the moment, I am concentrating my efforts on establishing a River Parliament on the river in order to solve the problem in an efficient manner.
I was involved in a battle that lasted for ten years and lasted for the communalization of the Sheonath river, which is the longest tributary of the Mahanadi river. In 1998, the state government of Madhya Pradesh sold a 23.6 kilometer stretch of river to Radius Water Limited (RWL), with the understanding that RWL would have exclusive use of the river for the subsequent 22 years as part of a renewable contract. The RWL erected fences on either side of the river to prevent villagers from using the water for irrigating their fields, fishing, and even drinking. This was done to prevent the spread of disease. More than one thousand households in the Durg district relied on the river for both their day-to-day needs and their means of subsistence. The river is now finally free from the grasp of private companies after years of continuous efforts to mobilize people, engage with civil society groups, and sensitize government officials and ministers. The local communities are now organizing into River Parliament in order to keep their waters protected and manage their river in a sustainable manner.
D. River Krishna- Making Government to follow their own rules, 2016 onwards
Sand mining is one of the most significant obstacles in the way of preserving the natural flow of these rivers. Sand is an essential treasure that the river possesses, and taking it out of the river would be comparable to stealing a valuable asset from the river. One specific example was the situation with the River Krishna. Sand mining along the banks of the Krishna and Godavari rivers in Andhra Pradesh was causing environmental damage to those rivers and their tributaries. A significant portion of the floodplains along the Krishna River in Guntur, which were approximately 30 feet deep, was being wiped out upstream of the Prakasam barrage. A significant quantity of sand was being dredged by machines quite close to the residence of the Chief Minister at the time.
On August 4, 2017, while I was leading a yatra along the Krishna River to meet the local communities and inform them of the dangers of sand mining, I and my convoy were ambushed not just once, but on three separate occasions, by some men who remained anonymous. The fact that the attacks kept happening made it abundantly clear that the sand mafia was responsible for them. The most recent assault took place in the presence of law enforcement, but the officers were vastly outnumbered by the goons. Both us and our vehicle sustained some kind of damage. However, the attack was not successful in stopping us. In 2017, we took action by filing a petition with the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which resulted in the successful effort to have sand mining on river banks declared unlawful. Because of their flagrant disregard for environmental regulations and encroachment, the government of Andhra Pradesh should pay a hefty fine of INR 1 billion (approximately $13 million).
IX. Making Water Everyone’s Business, 2013
When I was advocating for the preservation of a number of rivers, I noticed that there was a significant disconnect between people and the rivers and environments in which they lived. Therefore, in 2013, I launched the "Jan Jal Jodo Abhiyan" (People's water alliance, JJA), which is a campaign with the goal of connecting the minds and hearts of the people to their rivers and firmly promoting the concept that access to water is a fundamental human right and that development should not be allowed to interfere with the natural flow of the river. I did this because I strongly believe that water is a fundamental human right and that development should not be allowed to interfere with the natural flow The objective of the campaign was to raise awareness and literacy regarding water issues. In the context of the campaign, water-walks were carried out in 22 of India's states in order to raise awareness, and meetings and consultations were held with representatives of local villages and officials from the government in order to talk about water-related problems and potential solutions.
The goal of the campaign was to create a cadre of future generations who would be informed, inspired, and motivated, and who would be equipped to appropriately address the challenges of water. As part of the campaign, hundreds of young people were given training in water conservation and river revitalization.
X. ‘Save the Rivers’ Campaign for 101 rivers of India, 2017
In 2017, I launched the "Nadi Parirakshan Yatra," also known as the "Save the Rivers campaign," with the goal of preserving 101 rivers across the nation. As part of the initiative, designated teams went on riverwalks along 101 of the country's smaller and larger rivers, with the goals of raising awareness about the issues facing rivers and the riparian communities and gaining a better understanding of those issues.
A three-day National Conference of Rivers was recently held in Bijapur, Karnataka. The purpose of the conference was to discuss the experiences and findings of all 101 river marches, as well as to develop a plan of action for the future to preserve the ecological flow of the rivers. At the Bijapur Conference, where 22,000 people participated, participants made a commitment to protect their rivers by encouraging local communities to work toward environment conservation, non-violent activism, and judicial activism.
XI. Stockholm Water Award, 2015: A Water Nobel Prize
In 2015, I was awarded the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize, and it was acknowledged that nature-based techniques that have been practiced traditionally in India could be the solution to the problem of climate change and the global shortage of fresh water. I had the impression that other people in the world could gain something from my education and experiences. Both climate change and water scarcity are problems that are not just affecting one nation but are having an effect on people all over the world. A lack of clean drinking water affects approximately 4 billion people across the globe. In order to ensure everyone's well-being and safety in the future, it was imperative to address this scarcity immediately.
XII. The Global Water Walk for Peace, 2015-2019
It was around this time that thousands of refugees from Africa and Asia were making their way to Europe in the hopes of finding safety there. The countries of Europe were becoming unsettled as a result of the migration caused by the crisis. Over the course of the past few years, there has been a steadily expanding consensus that the Third World War might be fought over water. Interaction with refugees in their camps in Europe shed light on how the absence of water was the root cause of unrest, conflict, and forced migration in a number of instances. When it came to the provision of water, the local communities were helplessly reliant either on the government or on the for-profit business entities.
As a result, on April 17, 2015, I embarked on a journey titled "Water-Walk for Peace" that would take me across six continents. The purpose of this journey was to promote and emphasize the requirement of democratization and communitization of water resources as the key to preventing global conflict over water and bringing about world peace and security. I visited sixty different countries over the course of five years, where I discussed water-related issues with the local communities there. Countries all over the world, including Syria, Turkey, Israel, Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, are currently at pivotal junctures. During the walk, I advocated for the idea that the global water problems should be addressed with local solutions that are decentralized. It was necessary for countries that were providing refugee shelter to make investments in water conservation measures in the countries from which refugees were fleeing due to a lack of available water.
I began to bring attention to the paradigm of community-driven, culturally specific, and eco-region-specific sustainable water resources management on global platforms and discussion forums as an essential enabling tool for optimized climate mitigation and adaptation. It was finally able to resonate at COP21 in 2015 and COP22 in 2016, respectively. Because of the outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic in 2020, the Water-Walk had to be completed at that time.
In a manner analogous to that of the Rashtriya Jal Biradari at the national level, I am attempting to establish a "People's network for Water" that spans all six continents and is comprised of individuals who collaborate to find solutions to problems relating to the worldwide distribution of water. Several organizations and networks were brought together in countries including Kenya, Ethiopia, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
In the meantime, in 2017, I also became a member of the Defend Sacred Alliance, which is a global alliance. This Alliance's mission is to promote reverence and devotion towards nature and humanity, as well as to acknowledge that both nature and humanity, as well as our own lives, are sacred. Because they gain knowledge about how to revitalize nature and communities at TBS, visitors and people seeking knowledge have expressed that they consider TBS to be a sacred space. They report that they have a renewed sense of vitality. This Alliance helped me deepen my understanding of the concept of sacredness in my work and reaffirmed my belief in the sacredness of both people and the planet. The Alliance offered a chance to understand global participants, learn from them, and make connections that could be used to move forward a global agenda for peace and security.
Covid19 and livelihood of Migrants:
The year 2020 was a nightmarish arrival for all of human civilization. It caused the world to shake, and it compelled me to stop and think about it. However, the person with the least resources is the one who, regardless of who committed the crime, is always the one who pays the price. From March until June of that same year, India was placed under a strict curfew. During these past three months, we were able to supply 10,000 families with dry food and 5,000 families with food that was pre-packaged. The immediate goal was to provide families that had been severely impacted by the lockdown with some form of relief as soon as possible.
Nevertheless, the goal for the long term was to improve the economic standing of rural areas while simultaneously enhancing the viability of local communities' existing ways of making a living. We were able to locate 3,000 families across six different districts. The families were then provided with seeds at no cost so that they could cultivate their own crops. In addition, we instructed them on how to prepare the land for planting, how to plant seeds, how to use organic manure, and how to save seeds. Widows and women living alone are eligible to receive a goat and kid goats from us so that they can become economically self-sufficient.
Within the next year, we intend to install water harvesting structures in all six districts' remaining 100 villages, which would bring the total number of installations to 500. Villagers will have opportunities for employment and income as a result of this, and it will also result in the creation of resources not only for the current generation but also for future generations. The vulnerability of these returning villagers has been brought to light by COVID-19 in a single swift stroke. We are making an effort to make certain that they have access to viable employment opportunities that will prevent them from being forced to abandon their homes and communities out of desperation.
Securing Water for everybody
In addition to the campaigns for river revitalization, I am currently advocating for the water security act for the 1.3 billion people who live in India. At the level of policy, neither of our governments is responsible for the provision of water to anyone. In order to guarantee that even the poorest of the poor have access to water, we have drafted a "Water Security Act" that favors the people and places the responsibility of providing water to even the very last one on the shoulders of the government. In the event that the mission was not successful, the officers and ministers responsible would be held accountable. In order to present the Water Security Act to the various legislative bodies, I will be meeting with the governments of each state.
The environment has been exploited by humans by taking excessive amounts of resources from it. It is imperative that people understand that the exploitation, pollution, and encroachment of natural resources are creating grave consequences. These consequences are especially severe for the poorest of the poor, as their lives, livelihoods, and dignity depend on the environment in which they live. I have devoted my entire life to bridging the gap between people's hearts and minds and the rivers and environment in which they live. My ultimate objective in life is to put an end to the pillaging of natural resources and bring peace to a conflict that is raging over water and the environment.
BIOGRAPHY- RAJENDRA SINGH
In his home state of Rajasthan, water conservationist and environmentalist Rajendra Singh hails from the Alwar district. He has a firm conviction that the revitalization of natural systems is the essential factor in achieving equitable human development, as well as social justice, peace, and security; water is an indispensable component.
His birth took place on August 6th, 1959 in the village of Daula, which is located in the Baghpat district of Uttar Pradesh. It is also the location of his early education. His father worked as a farmer and was responsible for managing the family's ancestral land in the village. After completing his secondary education, Rajendra Singh enrolled at Allahabad University to study Ayurvedic Sciences. He went on to earn his master's degree in Hindi literature there later on. During his time as a student at the university, he rose to the position of head of a local chapter of Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini, an organization for student activism that was established by Jaiprakash Narayan (a renowned social-political reformist).
In 1980, he took a position as a Project Officer in the Nehru Yuvak Kendra, which was run by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports for the state of Rajasthan. This position allowed him to travel to Alwar villages, which are located in the center of the desert. He witnessed the plight of the people living in rural Rajasthan who were without food, clean water, and sanitation facilities. In the meantime, he became a member of Tarun Bharat Sangh, also known as the Young India Association or TBS. This was an organization that had been established in 1975 at the University of Rajasthan by faculty members and students to assist those who had been affected by a campus fire. Subsequently, after three years, when he became General Secretary of the organization, he started questioning the organization for its inadequacy in having a substantial impact on the world. This occurred after he had been a part of the organization for a total of nine years. At long last, in 1984, the board of directors of TBS handed the organization over to him. In the latter part of that same year, he gave up his job, sold all of his household goods for the sum of INR 23,000, and then boarded a bus bound for the interior of the Indian state of Rajasthan. It was the Kishori village located in the Thanagazi tehsil in the Alwar district of Rajasthan that turned out to be the very last stop where he alighted from the bus.
Rajendra Singh began providing treatment for night blindness, a condition that was prevalent throughout the region, to residents of Kishori and the neighboring villages. In addition to this, he began instructing children; however, he quickly realized that the villages required water. We didn't have any training in water conservation, so we relied on the experience of the more senior members of the community and started to understand the traditional practices and procedures that are involved in water management. The construction of the first johad, an earthen rainwater harvesting structure (RWHS), began in 1985. As of today, Tarun Bharat Sangh has completed the construction of 12,000 johads and other RWHS in 1,200 villages across the country. These structures have been responsible for the revitalization of 12 rivers across the nation, bringing new life and hope to 100,000 riparian farmers, fishermen, and other communities.
Rajendra Singh has been a staunch advocate for India's water and environmental issues ever since he first started his career as a water conservationist. This advocacy began at the very beginning of his journey. He has long been an outspoken advocate for what he calls "Science with Sense," which contrasts with the destructive science that upsets the delicate equilibrium that exists in nature. He has spearheaded a number of campaigns and awareness walks to inform and engage the general public. He has been instrumental in protecting the lives and livelihoods of forest dwelling communities by strongly voicing out the challenges that such communities had to face due to the challenges of displacement caused by mining activities, large scale deforestation, and the construction of macro-dams. He has also been instrumental in preventing the destruction of forests.
The efforts of thousands of people who have taken up the cause of water and are now deeply involved in spreading water literacy, conserving rainwater, reviving existing water bodies and constructing new ones, rejuvenating rivers, and seeking legal recourse when it is necessary can be directly attributed to Rajendra Singh. He has been a source of profound inspiration.
Literacy Mission and the Ministry of Human Resource Development are just two of the High-Powered Committees in the Indian government that he has served on in the past. He has also served on many others. Additionally, he served as one of the members of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), which was established in 2009 by the government of India as an empowered planning, financing, monitoring, and coordinating authority for the river Ganga. This was done in order to exercise the powers that were granted to the government by the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986. He also served as one of the members of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA).
He has served on a number of committees and delegations for both the government and the United Nations. He presented the model of water management and river rejuvenation at a number of national and international forums, such as the Indian Parliament, the United Nations, the World Bank, and the Earth Summit, amongst many others, in order to awaken the water conscience of the nations and to promote river revitalization. Since then, the United Nations has recognized the Arwari river basin as a living example of how self-help and community empowerment can be used to effectively manage water resources.
In addition to serving as the chairman of Tarun Bharat Sangh, he also serves as the chairman of several other civil society organizations in India, including Jal Biradari, Jal Bhagirathi Foundation, and Kumarappa Gram Swaraj Sansthan. In his home country of the United Kingdom, he helped establish a non-governmental organization known as the Flow Partnership.
The Sanskriti Award (1990), the Rotary India Award (1994), the Ramon Magsaysay Award (2001), the Jamnalal Bajaj Award (2005), and the Stockholm Water Prize are just a few of the many national and international honors that have been bestowed upon him. He has also been the recipient of a great number of other awards and accolades (2015). In addition to that, the House of Commons in the United Kingdom bestowed upon him the "Ahimsa" Award in the year 2016. The publication 'The Week' named him Man of the Year in 1998. The publication 'The Guardian' included him on their list of 'The World's 50 people in 2008 who can save the planet Earth.' Furthermore, the publication 'Fame India & Asia Post' included him on their list of the 50 newsmaker Indians in 2020.
The Agricultural Science University in Dharwad, Karnataka, in 2014; the Poornima University in Jaipur, India; and the A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Technical University in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, in 2019 each presented him with an honorary doctorate degree in recognition of his expertise and the contributions he has made to the world.
He has brought up issues and concerns regarding water and rivers in a number of books, articles, and opinion pieces that have been published in the media. Several of these call the current situation into question and offer potential solutions. Books such as "Environmental Consciousness," "Ganga: people's Mandate," and "White paper on Ganga," amongst others, are among the notable titles available.