Pro Or Against Water

WaterDear Jal Rakshaks 

In a recent Workshop, a comment by one of my friends in the developmental sector said something that got me thinking.  We were talking about a civil society advocacy group for Water. She asked me whether I wanted to be part of that group. I immediately said “Yes – any group that cares for Water is a group I’d like to be part of.” Then I asked her who the other members were. She reeled off some names. I was familiar with them and so, without thinking, I said, “ Oh- the Anti-Privatization group?’ She looked at me speculatively and replied, “ Yes…though we too are part of it.” Then more suspiciously, she asked ” Are you pro-privatization or Against?”

I was stumped for a moment and then said the only thing that came to my mind  “ I am pro – Water for All”

I remembered another time, another place when a government official had made a similar statement – equally suspiciously – “ Outsourcing is not the same as privatization –I hope you can appreciate the difference?”

As I sat back today and thought about these questions and my answer, I wrote this blog randomly – just penned down my thoughts as they came….

My relationship with Water

I am neither an activist, nor an expert on Water, I am a student – a ‘shishyaa’ – of Water. As I go through the rituals of the work that I do for Water issues, one part of me watches and analyses Water in the different situations It finds itself in. Each time I marvel at the amazing resilience of Water… the calm grace with which it allows adverse situations to play themselves out.  One of the things that I have learnt from It is to assimilate every thought that comes my way. Water treats nothing as good or bad. It is as receptive to poison as it is to nectar. It labels neither. It leaves the labeling to the user. For example, a colony of bacteria in a sewage filled pond probably labels the Water as ‘Excellent –A + category Health drink” while we will label it ‘Highly polluted – E category – unfit for use”

And that brings me back to my friend’s question and my answer. I think, the answer to whether private involvement in Water is good or bad will vary, depending on who is answering it.  And also will be determined by the circumstances in which private involvement is brought in.

Where the government system works efficiently, with decision making based on rational parameters, compliance is ensured and where sustainability of the water system is planned for, there, perhaps, private support is not needed. In such a place, the internal dynamism of the government supplier will ensure that Water for All becomes a reality.

But what of where the government’s water decision making gets influenced by irrational pressures? Or when it is not able to invest in infrastructural improvements needed to make the system work as required.  When the price paid for its inefficiency, is unsustainable pressure on the source and non availability of water for people?  Perhaps this is where the choices open up and so, the debate starts.

If you ask those who are deprived of Water, they say that the first and most important need is to make water available for all. The choice of mode of delivery and its management system must be decided based on what serves this need best.  In many villages, NGOs supply safe drinking water to people. The polluted village lake has been given as their source of raw water, they have been given some financial support for the capital investment. The operational costs of the system are recovered through a price they charge for the treated water. The pricing is very reasonable, the water quality is good and a local person gets a livelihood running the system. But, in a way, this is a form of privatization – infact the worst kind where the source itself has been given away – so is this good or bad?  

Those who argue for private involvement in Water management come armed with a huge bunch of facts and figures to prove its impact on efficiency. Those who argue against it come equally armed with examples of failed experiments and figures to prove that we are playing into the hands of profit making entities. Each is passionate and absolute in his belief.

What irony …formless Water –  the universal solvent, reflecting all that is around it – …. Loved passionately by lovers –  rigid, exclusive and with doors firmly shut on each other.

The truth is, there are no sides – we are all on the side of Water. Water must be allowed to do what it is best at – slaking the thirst of any living being that needs it. It must not be held hostage by any entity or ideology. With open minds and pure intent we must together identify the method or combination of methods that ensures this.  

So, Jal Rakshaks, whatever be your belief on how best to care for Water, count me in as a fellow care-giver. In the world of Water, every belief has its space.

Water Poem for Children

Stones-in-waterHi I am Varun

‘Mr Water’ if you please,

I’m here to make new friends

With you and all your buddies.

I’m a quiet kinda guy

So I don’t like to brag;

But fact is I’m a superhero

Better than your comic book gags!

Whoosh ! I can disappear

And envelop you in ghostly mist;

Thunk! I can sink the titanic

With my solid icy fist!

I am a fun filled fella

Come with me for a spin;

Sailing and swimming and flying and skiing’

You name the game and I’m in.

Par Bachchoo apun se panga mat lena!

Mai garam ho gayaa to tera ubla anda banaa doonga

Yaa thand maar ke aadmi ka putlaa banaa doonga

Arre! Apun woh danger cheez hai jiski phook hee railgaadi bhagaa de !

At the risk of sounding arrogant

Let me tell you I’m unique

I’m called the universal solvent

And | expand when I freeze

There’s 344 million cubic miles of me

Unchanged since the earth was made

Of this 315 million cubic miles of sea

3 times more than land

With just 0.5% of me

I slake the thirst of all life;

I’ll bet my last drop

You cant live 5 days without me!

75% of you is me

Just ask you bio teacher

If there can be life without me ?

I live my life on your planet

Over and over again

Mother ice gives birth to a droplet

That bounces into a merry stream

Racing crazily down the mountain

Sneaking around grandpa rocks

And hiding in crevices.

From stream to mighty river

My transformation is complete,

Quiet, strong and nurturing

Life thrives in and around me.

You don’t give a damn about me,

Why else would you dump everyday

2 million tons of waste in me ??

You lock me in cramped dams

And build houses on my beautiful bed.

You suck dry every source

And blacken the little that’s left !

And when I go in hiding

Deep into the earth’s womb

You yank me out mercilessly

To flush out your potty !!

You’ve left me no place to live

Filled up my lakes, ponds and rivers’

You’ve killed my big-bro forests

And now you call me ‘absconder’!!

What I need is a Maneka Gandhi

A ‘ People for Ethical Treatment of Water’

Or ‘Z category’ commando protection

From those I love to serve!!

Bruised, battered, infected and famished

I finally reach the sea

Cuddled deep in its immensity

I wait for the sun to set me free

I ride the flaming sun

Give colour to heaven’s palette

Till I’m born again as a drop.

Satyamev Jayate & Water

amir khanDid you watch Aamir Khan in ‘Satyamev Jayate, on water, yesterday? Going by the smses I got telling me to watch it, I think many of you did ! Did you like it ?

I did. Reminded me a bit of a Dire Straits track… Constant base guitar that gets deep into the heart, nimble lead that runs through every part of the brain and a voice that spells,’ I’m here – Why worry now’?

The program was complete – the right mix of head and heart. It had film clips and activists who focussed attention on what was wrong with the existing systems. There were harassed users – from posh colonies, slums and villages – showing that no one was spared the suffering. The violent conflicts caused by Water – never before have they been shown so openly, so starkly! It showed ordinary people as the real heroes and then made a hero(ine) out of a bureaucrat and politician who, with a single order, transformed sporadic individual effort into a societal march. Best of all, it had light banter and a constant connect with religion and traditional practices.

For me, there were 3 defining moments in the program. The first -in a clip, a woman from a village near a dam supplying water to Mumbai, said – “We gave our land, our homes for the dam , yet we walk 4 km for water everyday – does only Mumbai need water – don’t we need it too?. This statement sums up the rural-urban, micro-macro conflict in water.

The second – my favourite – was a young architecture student from Mumbai being asked by Aamir – “Where do we get water from?” Her prompt reply – “From a tap”. Three words that tell the entire story of our disconnect with water – the reason for this crisis.

The third was a statement by activist Anupam Mishra – “We need to re-learn to Respect water

Water Watching the program was like a collage of snapshots from my journey at FORCE. Each picture, each expression, each message, found an echo in some moment at FORCE….and our core philosophy….

Its not about playing blame games nor resigning yourself to your ‘fate’. Its neither about living in the past nor rejecting it totally. Its not about one person doing it all, nor about leaving everything for the state to do.

It starts with faith – knowing that a plant lover in Delhi will feel the agony of a farmer who sees his crop die of thirst. Its about individual effort – doing whatever little we can- and playing our right role in collective effort – by government or others. Its about marrying traditional wisdom with modern reality. About ‘Vasudevaya Kutumbukum’ – we are all part of God’s family and so must take care of each other. Its about honouring citizens and leaders who give shape to hope. Most of all – it is about remembering to ‘Respect’ water.

FORCE follows a P-4 partnership model that brings together communities, experts, government and implementers for result oriented action at every level. Where we cannot act directly, we try and create an opportunty for others to do it. Traditional ceremonies, prayers and sharing Water’s wisdom, are built into even the brick and mortar work we do. Our heroes are our ‘Jal Rakshaks’ and we create platforms to publicly acknowledge their effort. Through our ‘Blue City’ program we work to make cities self sufficient in water, hoping that then perhaps, the village woman will be spared her daily trek for water. We do our bit and then share it with government, for scaling up or as an input for Water Policies.

A lot like what this Satyamev Jayate suggested…..

“Hey Aamir – hamaare thoughts kitne milte hain! Chalo mil kar sab ko paani paani kar dein (pun intended)!”

….Thank you Aamir Khan, for a great program…..

Does the Environment really need your protection?

Jyoti Sharma, President FORCE posted this in Environment Protection, Jal Rakshak on December 2nd, 2010

Dear Jal Rakshaks

‘Environmental Protection’ is the new buzz word – in policy, text books, corporate manuals, CSR agendas, political manifestos, NGO Objectives……. Anywhere and everywhere….the slogan is – ‘ PROTECT  THE ENVIRONMENT’.

And yet…the ‘Environment’ continues to get a raw deal everywhere–  villages spring up in forests, animals disappear; mining holes appear in ancient mountain ranges, mountains become bare; streams dry up, rivers turn into nullahs; wells give water of all colours & smog envelops us all….

Why this dichotomy ??

Today, as I was interacting with a bright young set of media & communication management students, I found the answer to this apparent contradiction.

It’s all a matter of semantics – our choice of words.

The words ‘Protect the Environment’ – cue off in our brain, the thought “The Environment is under threat of destruction. We must do all we can to protect it – Because We are strong and the environment is weak. We are fair minded strongmen, with a heart of gold – that’s why – even though, WE HAVE CONQUERED IT, We must take good care of the environment.”

…And therein lies our BIG BIG mistake. The environment (read: nature) is NOT weak. It does NOT need to be protected by us. On the contrary WE NEED TO BE PROTECTED from the dangerously quiet wrath of nature.

As a Mother, Nature is infinitely caring, patient, giving….

As an opponent, it is a master strategist, delusion creating, many headed medussa; a ‘meethi chhuri’ and a cold butcher. It will let you poison it, and then feed you back the same poison through its air & water- multiplied manifold. It will let you cage it – only to hit back from a tunnel you never knew existed….

Beware ! We have made ourselves opponents of Nature !

We think of ourselves, not as Nature’s children, but as its Conquerors…. with a  clear mandate –  whip it to extract most out of it and feed it just enough to keep it productive. Torture it, if you wish, just make sure you keep it alive – as a symbol of your ultimate victory.

Wake up – snap out of this delusion ! Look around, see the patterns and recognise how we are, slowly but surely, losing our battle for survival.

Nature does not need your condescending protection.

Jal Rakshaks, let’s try & give mankind a chance to survive. As a start, let’s change the buzz word – from ‘Protect the Environment’ to


In our own interest, let’s learn, and teach all, to respect & care for Nature – our Mother. She loves us, perhaps more than we love ourselves. Let’s try not to snatch away, from the rivers, forests, animals, mountains, air and water; their right to live with freedom, health and dignity.

Let’s Protect ourselves – re-learn to live in harmony with Nature – the Mother – She will protect us.

Jyoti Sharma


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