“No water, no life. No blue, no green.”— Sylvia Earle
When a country like Israel whose 60% of the land is desert and the rest is arid is capable of developing water harvesting techniques that suffice its needs, A country like India with rich flora and fauna should be in a position to efficiently manage its water resources. While massive dams which were termed as ‘Temples of Modern India’ by India’s first Prime Minister are currently proving to be a dungeon and incessant drilling of tube/bore wells are depleting the underwater resources, accompanied with frequent droughts, Indian farmers are in a pathetic condition. In such a distressed situation Indian rural community has found a ‘messiah’ to address all their issues in the form of Dr. Rajendra Singh, popularly known as ‘Waterman of India.’ Dr. Singh who will be turning 59 on coming August 9th is a strong community man from his school days. He has volunteered to fight for the people cause during many occasions. He started his career as a medical practitioner in Rajasthan and also as a primary Education promoter creating awareness among masses and took up the role of reviving depleting water bodies in deserts of the state of Rajasthan. He has successfully revived five rivers that were declared dead to bag prestigious the Ramon Magsaysay and the Stockholm Water Prize awards.
Early Life & Education
Rajendra Singh was born on August 9th, 1959, in a village called Daula in Bhagpat district of Uttar Pradesh. He was born in a landlord’s family possessing 60 acres of land. He was the eldest son among seven siblings. Brought up in banks of River Ganges, witnessing the abundant flow of water was not a rare sight. Rajendra did his schooling in his village and was influenced by many personalities in childhood itself. During his High school, Mr. Ramesh Sharma of Gandhi Peace Foundation visited his house, which induced young Rajendra to village development programs like cleaning the village, opening village libraries and creating awareness through anti-alcoholism events amongst rural masses. Further, a teacher by name Pratap Singh created general awareness about society, politics, and nation in this young boy. As cumulative effects of such guidance, Rajendra jumped into Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) movement against emergency imposed on Nation. He started understanding the value of democracy and learned problems of poorer sections of society. It was during the same period he became the leader of the local student chapter of Chatra Yuva Sangarsh Vahini, started by Jaiprakash Narayan. Later he completed Ayurvedic Medicine graduation by earning BAMS- Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine.
Career as a Doctor and Educational activist
Having qualified as BAMS doctor, fetched Rajendra Singh, a Govt. service in the year 1980 at Jaipur in Rajasthan. He was inducted to a team of National Service Volunteers for education. Along with this Rajendra’s affinity to be with communities prompted to join an organization called Tarun Bharat Sanga incepted by Jaipur university professors and students. The organization was started with the mission of helping campus fire victims. Being a natural leader, Rajendra soon became General Secretary of the organization and actively took part in reviving the organization which was in a dormant state. One of the important projects he handled was on providing support to Nomad blacksmiths in the locality who were suffering without any necessary amenities.
By 1984, Rajendra was frustrated with the apathy of Govt. officials towards development activities and fed up with the work culture he resigned from the Govt. service.
Mission Community Service
Having resigned from the Govt. Job created a lot of friction in his family. His parents were unhappy. To add salt to the wound when Rajendra took this decision, his wife was pregnant and was residing at her parent’s place. Rajendra sold off furniture and utensils worth Rs. 23,000 and took a bus ticket to unknown last stop of a bus traveling to remote villages of Rajasthan. He had four other like minded members of Tarun Bharat Sangh with him in this journey. The last stop of the bus happened to be Kishori village in Alwar district. So, Alwar District became the experimental lab for Rajendra and Co. Mission. After facing initial hiccups of people looking at this group with doubtfulness, they convinced the people of Bhikampura village and could get a place to stay. Their mission started by Rajendra helping villagers through Ayurvedic treatment and his friends started creating awareness about the importance of education.
The turning point in Rajendra’s life came in the form of an old man by name Mangu Lal Patel, who had visited him for medical treatment. Mangu Lal convinced Rajendra that his focus should be more on creating awareness on conserving water table rather than promoting education or treating patients. The old man even educated Rajendra about the importance of age old Johads or Earthen check-dams which were neglected by modern folks who resorted to digging bore wells and depleting underground water reserves earning ‘Dark-zone’ reputation to the region.
Check-Dams awareness through Walkathons
Though Rajendra was convinced that working with hands to build check-dams was the more pressing issue than creating education awareness, his learned friends did not budge, and they parted away. This taught one more lesson to Rajendra in the form of ‘community strength.’ Rajendra started working with village communities to build check-dams and very soon realized the advantages of working in the community. Today he categorically declares that only communities alone can preserve the natural resources for the future, not Govt. or NGOs. The very first project was to de-silt Gapolpura johad (check-dam) which was lying neglected for years together. Local youths joined hands with him in this mission, and soon the check-dam was ready to preserve water in coming monsoon. As expected monsoon arrived and the check-dam helped significantly in filling up the wells which were dry for years together. People started believing in Check-dams or johads.
As villagers started building more check-dams, the region regained the lost glory of white-zone. Even forest department approached Tarun Bharat Sangha-TBS to extend its support in maintaining parks. Soon Tarun Ashram in Kishori-Bhikampura bordering the Sariska sanctuary became HQ for TBS.
Tasting the initial success, Rajendra started Walkathons to create awareness among neighboring villages on advantages of building and maintaining check-dams. In 1986 people of Bhanota-Kolyala village took the initiative along with TBS volunteers to build a check-dam at the source of the river Arvari which had completely dried up. The adjacent villagers took this mission further by building check-dams in the entire catchment area of river Arvari. As a result, nearly 375 johads or check-dams were built in the river bed of Arvari and the biggest one being 244 meters long and 7 meters high concrete dam in Aravalli hills. Eventually, the river which had dried up 60 years ago started gleaming with water by the year 1990. This did not yield complete success to Rajendra’s team as the ponds and wells in the area surrounding Sariska sanctuary didn’t get expected the level of water. When the team tried to find out the reason behind such a situation, rampant mining in the area and carelessness of mining companies to close the drilled holes of these mines after extracting the minerals were detected as the culprit as water used to ooze out these drilled holes. The team took the case to court with a petition against mining companies and with incessant efforts Ministry of Environment and forests banned operations of nearly 475 mines in Aravalli hills region in the year 1992. Further, the team lead by Rajendra added 114 earthen check-dams and concrete structures within the sanctuary and 600 structures were added up in peripheral and buffer zones. Finally, in 1995 the efforts paid off, and river Arvari regained her perennial stature. The revived river was awarded ‘International River Prize’ in the year 2000, and the villagers were awarded “Down to Earth Joseph. C. John Award.”
The success of reviving river Arvari prompted TBS and the village communities in the state of Rajasthan to take up similar projects like reviving Ruparel, Sarsa, Bhagani and Jahajwali rivers, which had dried up for decades. Not only rivers got revived but the water table level in ponds and wells of places in districts of Jaipur, Dausa, Sawai Madhopur, Bharatpur and Karauli drastically improved and villagers have started farming activities.
The team Tarun Bharat Sangha has extended its wings to various states like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Karnataka. He has conducted numerous Water parliament sessions across the state of Rajasthan to create awareness amongst people about the type of crops suitable for their region. In total, nearly 4500 check-dams or johads are constructed across 11 districts of Rajasthan by NBS. He has actively taken part in agitations headed by environmentalists to protect water resources across the country. Prominent among them are successful fight to stop controversial Loharinag Pala Hydro Power Project over river Bhagirathi, in the year 2006. In 2009 he participated in a walkathon along with various environmentalists in Mumbai city to protect endangered Mithi River.
Awards & Recognitions
- In 2015, won Stockholm Prize, also referred to as the Nobel Prize for Water
- In 2001, was honored with the Ramon Magsaysay Award
- In 2008, the Guardian named him among its list of “50 people who could save the planet.”
- In 2005, he was awarded the Jamnalal Bajaj Award.
Kalam fan Club salutes the ‘Messiah for Water,’ who has shown us the path to save one of the precious element of nature— ‘water’ for our future generations through this post.