Gujja Biksham is a man who marshals information to push the envelope of ideas. Serish Nanisetti discovers more about the man with ideas about water
You can be taken in by a man by three things: Appearance, impressions and ideas. It is easy to grasp the import of the first two qualities, but to know the third quality you have to sit down and wrestle. Gujja Biksham is one such person. He can easily be called the water man of India considering his immense contribution to the study of ebb and flow of life. A man who knows, researches and understands water: The source of life that is increasingly going to be in short supply. “Water is my turf,” says Biksham, who is a policy advisor of Fresh Water Program at WWF-International. Hailing from Turpugudem in Nalgonda where his mother still lives, Biksham knows what is agriculture and what is water. Currently he is associated with Icrisat-WWF collaborative project. “In the 80s it was discovered that tiger conservation cannot happen in isolation. Sustainable development and ecological balance became the buzz words and that's how I got involved with WWF,” says Biksham who has been with the organisation working from Switzerland for the past 18 years. Discovering the fact that water is the key to conservation, WWF wanted someone with specialisation in water and Biksham came into the picture.
He moved from his role in the Deccan Development Society to the WWF's International Fresh Water Program in 1993. How he moved from an ordinary neighbourhood school in Turpugudem to JNU where he did his PhD in water management and a post-doctoral in McGill University is a success story that can be a moral for a generation of young men who see the end of rainbow beyond their ken.
In 2001, Biksham Gujja led a study about the bottled water business and came up with a stunning find that the bottled water is no more safer than tap water. The findings included a fact that 1.5 million tonnes of plastic is used to bottle water every year (now this figure would be much higher as the developed countries have taken to the magic of bottled water). The key findings included the fact that tap would help not only one's pocket but also the environment.
Biksham also has authored or teamed up with others in writing a number of books that put a fresh perspective on water. Biksham is also involved with the WWF project on System of Rice Intensification (SRI) that seeks to reduce the usage of seeds for paddy crop and also lower the usage of water, helping improve the lifestyles of farmers at a time when labour is in short supply.
When it comes to water management, Biksham is a contrarian who advocates community based small and medium projects. “Earlier building dams was a technical challenge now the infrastructure is so well developed that the industry can build huge dams anywhere. And the dam building industry has become so big that we are building the dams not for the sake of the people but for the sake of the industry,” says Biksham.
“I don't like the phrase water wars, I prefer water conflict. It is a conflict that has to be resolved. We need simpler mechanism to solve them. Look at the Krishna basin problem, if the decision was arrived at earlier, there would not have been so much bad blood,” he says. Many years ago when Sir Arthur Cotton was questioned about the expensiveness of the Dowleswaram anicut he told the British Parliament that: “My Lord, one day's flow in the Godavari river during high flood is equal to one whole year's flow in the Thames River of London.” Now, Biksham Gujja who has created a forum for eclectic debate with his: Perspectives on Polavaram was almost prescient with his warning on Polavaram and flooding: “Based on climate models, it is highly likely that daily discharges could reach 120,000 cu m/sec and if trends continue, discharges could possibly even touch 200,000 cu m/sec. Even without factoring in the proposed dam, such daily discharges will cause immense damage to people, property and ecosystems.” It is no surprise that Biksham blames the 2009 Kurnool flood on sloppy water management. “The decisions were driven by greed and ignorance. If only the decision makers had done some calculations the flood and suffering would not have occurred,” says Biksham. Another book that Biksham co-authored that follows the footsteps of Arthur Cotton is that of inter-linking the rivers of India for irrigation and flood control, but here also it is about evaluating the pros and cons of a mega project.
“When building dams was a technical challenge, the location was based on feasibility and cost. Now, locating a dam is a political choice. And that is the reason why there is so much opposition as most of the decision making processes are non-transparent. Perspectives on Polavaram was an effort at informed decision-making. Where a minister held forth on the need for the dam and people opposing it also got their say,” says Biksham. It might appear like informed decision making, evaluating all perspectives but at the end of the day, it is obvious that Gujja Biksham believes in small is big as against the decision makers' fancy for big and mega. But are we willing to learn from him?