Say hello to... Sekar Raghavan

Raghavan was on a mission to free his city of water problems. And he succeeded.

July 09, 2015 01:21 pm | Updated 01:21 pm IST

Man on a mission: Sekar Raghavan. Photo: Special Arrangement

Man on a mission: Sekar Raghavan. Photo: Special Arrangement

On a morning in 1995, Sekar Raghavan (48), rinsed his mouth after brushing and wondered why the water was so salty. The ground water in Besant Nagar (Chennai), where he had lived for 40 years was always sweet. What went wrong?

More and more people now lived in Besant Nagar and drew water from the ground, but the compounds did not allow rainwater to seep into the sand and keep the water sweet. Sea-water was flowing into the empty spaces.

Raghavan is a scientist. For one of his projects, he had studied 200-year-old survey records of 2,000 villages in Tamil Nadu. The survey showed how the villagers saved water in temple tanks, ponds and paddy-fields. He wondered why the people in the city weren’t using similar methods?

He started a campaign in 1995. He began to visit apartment buildings and told people how to collect rainwater in their compound. The watchmen thought he was a salesman and shooed him away. Raghavan would not give up. After three years of struggling, he spoke to the local newspaper editor and the Principal of the KFI school about his plan. The paper wrote about his methods of saving rainwater. The Principal sent a note to the parents about it. Now residents were inviting him home to learn.

With the little money he had, Raghavan printed pamphlets about rainwater-harvesting (RWH). He thought. “I must have good, clean water for the rest of my life.” But for that his neighbourhood had to save rainwater.

In 1999, The Hindu wrote about the need for rainwater-harvesting. In 2001, a new government came to power promising RWH. The then Water Supply Secretary Shantha Sheela Nair, a resident of Besant Nagar, took Raghavan's help to popularise RWH.

In 2002, to spread information about RWH, Raghavan established the Rain Centre in Chennai. CES of Delhi helped set it up. The Chief Minister inaugurated it. Two months after the inauguration, the chief minister made rainwater harvesting compulsory. In 2003, Raghavan was given the Ashoka award for his work. In 2005, the ground water in Chennai rose by 20 feet. Parks, wells and temple tanks now had water.

Rain Centre is a place that teaches people the correct method of saving fresh water and was started by Raghavan.

Now there is no flooding, and rainwater gets stored underground!

“When I started RWH, people said I was crazy,” he says. What do you think about him?

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