Rajendra Singh is a man with a mission. Sitting by the side of a waterbody he helped revive at Gopalpura village in Alwar, Rajasthan, he talks of how he would like to stop the Third World War from breaking out because of water shortage. Dubbed the “Waterman of India,” >Mr. Singh received the Stockholm Water Prize , instituted by the Stockholm International Water Institute, earlier this week.
“It is sad that while Stockholm is willing to recognise the importance of water conservation, our own governments in India, at the Centre and in the States, have not shown the keenness to tap into indigenous methods of conserving water,” he says over the phone. In 2012, Mr. Singh quit the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGBRA) over the government’s lack of commitment towards river rejuvenation. So is he happy with the present dispensation giving rejuvenation of the “national river” its due, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi promising to elevate it to a mass movement? His response is tepid.
“The word rejuvenation came from our work, but what is happening now in its name is contractor-driven sewage treatment plant fixing work. This is not river rejuvenation. In the government’s plan, besides sewage treatment, there is riverfront-view development work, which will only benefit contractors and corporate groups,” he says.
He further adds that it is not enough if the government declares the Ganga the national river. “Similar to the National Flag, protocols have to be developed for its treatment. Punish the polluters, separate river water and sewage,” he says.
On March 26, the Union government is going to organise a meeting of the NGBRA, but what they are probably going to plan might not be as exhaustive as what his group Tarun Bharat Sangh had undertaken in Rajasthan over the past three decades, during which seven rivers — Arvari, Ruparel, Sarsa, Bhagani, Sabi, Jahajwali and Maheshwari — were revived by catching rainwater and filling the fractures in its bed to recharge their underground aquifers. “We constructed 11,000 waterbodies in these seven river beds to bring them back to life. It is painstaking work, which governments do not want to invest in.”
And that is why, Mr. Singh emphasises community-driven decentralised water management. “The need of the hour is communitisation, not corporatisation of water,” he says.
Commenting on the Centre’s ambitious project to interlink rivers, he says it is not a good idea. Starting in 2007, the Tarun Bharat Sangh undertook a detailed survey of the Ken-Betwa river-linking project and observed that in the past eight years of its progress, both rivers received the same amount of rainfall, “then how can you justify connecting them as there is no rationale for sharing.”
Mr. Singh has started a “Jal Jan Jodo” campaign to spread the message of water literacy and efficiency now.
Hailing from Dola village in Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Singh had joined the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan in 1980 and arrived in Rajasthan. But after a few years in government service, he realised he could not pursue his real ambitions and started working on independent projects for environmental conservation.
From his humble beginnings, today the man is preparing to lead a global water peace march from the U.K., starting August 14.