India’s waterman Rajendra Singh has been awarded the 2015 Stockholm Water Prize for his consistent and innovative efforts in Rajasthan to save water in rural areas.
The Stockholm Water Prize, founded in 1991 is presented annually by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) to an individual, organisation or institution for outstanding water-conservation achievements and it carries a cash amount of $150,000 and a specially designed sculpture.
Rajendra Singh, who hails from Dollah village of Baghpat district in Uttar Pradesh, shifted to Rajasthan 35 years ago to provide medicines to the old in village areas.
“I used to provide medicines to the old in Rajasthan villages. I also used to help children to go to school but one day an elderly man told me that the people there don’t need medicine or education but water,” he told IANS.
His direction in life changed eversince as he started working on water problems in the villages there. Though he did not have any knowledge of water harvesting or how to get the ground water table recharged, local people helped him learn and he never look back after that in his mission to work on johad or earthen check dams.
These check dams are traditionally used to store rainwater and recharge groundwater, a technique which had been abandoned for decades and revived by Rajendra Singh. With the help of a few local youths he started desilting the Gopalpura johad, lying neglected unused.
When the monsoon arrived, the johad filled up and soon wells which had been dry for years nearby too had water. Villagers pitched in and in the next three years, it made it 15 feet deep.
He had set up Tarun Bharat Sangha in mid-1980s and started padayatra through the villages educating people to rebuild villages’ old check dams. Soon, taking his example, villagers constructed a johad at the source of a dried Arvari River, and along it also built tiny earthen dams, with largest being a 244-meter-long and 7-meter-high concrete dam in the Aravalli hills.
When the number of dams reached 375, the river started to flow again in 1990, after remaining dry for over 60 years.
Later, he turned his attention to Sariska, where mining pits left unfilled led to drought despite constructing johads. He petitioned to the Supreme court, which in turn banned mining in the area and the TBS built 115 earthen and concrete structures within the sanctuary and 600 other structures in the buffer and peripheral zones that paid off and by 1995 Aravri became a perennial river.
In the coming years, rivers like Ruparel, Sarsa, Bhagani and Jahajwali were revived after remaining dry for decades and farming activities could be resumed in hundreds of drought-prone villages in neighbouring districts of Jaipur, Dausa, Sawai Madhopur, Bharatpur and Karauli.
By 2001, his movement had spread over an area of 6,500 km, including also parts of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. It had built 4,500 earthen check dams to collect rainwater in 850 villages of Rajasthan, and he was awarded the Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership for his yeoman service.
In 2005, he was awarded the Jamnalal Bajaj Award. He also played a pivotal role in stopping the controversial Loharinag Pala Hydro Power Project over river Bhagirathi, the headstream of the Ganges River in 2006.
In 2009, he led a pada yatra through Mumbai city along the endangered Mithi river and is currently doing a parikrama along the banks of Godavari river, from Trimbakeshwar to Paithan to educate people to make the river pollution free.