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Traditional Methods of Water Harvesting – What can we learn from our glorious past ?

Ancient Indians understood the science and art of settlement planning, architecture and governance of natural resources. British gazettes speak of these systems at length calling us a hydraulic society. Indus Valley civilization is a great example of that.Highly sophisticated systems were in place which varied to suit different ecosystems, for harvesting every drop of water.

I’ll try to traverse through history, and tell you how water harvesting has been there since centuries.

Dholavira in Gujarat, an Indus Valley Civilization site, had lakes built in to collect monsoon run-off, bunds and inlet channels to divert water, and intricate drainage system for storm water, drinking water. Similar evidences have been found at Mohanjodaro and Harappa.

Towards the end of 1st century BC, the Sringaverapura tank near Allahabad is a remarkable system to take the floodwater of Ganga into a set of desilting chambers, including water weirs, to clean the water for drinking. It is a unique example of hydraulic engineering. sri

The importance of water governance was well understood in ancient India.  Kautilya’s Arthasastra has details of how tanks and canals are to be built and managed. The key was to clarify the enabling role of the state – the king – and the management role of local communities. The kings did not have engineers from IIT. They provided fiscal incentives to communities and individuals who built water systems.

Lake and well irrigation, tanks , anicuts ( Cauvery Anicut ) developed on a large scale during the time of Pandya, Chera and Chola dynasties in south India (1st-3rd Century A.D.) . Large structures were built across Cauvery and Vaigai rivers.

Mohammad Bin Tughlaq encouraged the farmers to build their own rain water harvesting systems and wells. Feroze Shah Tughlaq built the Western Yamuna Canal to extend irrigation facilities in the dry land tracts of the present-day Haryana and Rajasthan. Abdul Rahim Khan built a unique water supply system in Burhanpur, M.P.  It had long lines of underground tunnels with vertical airshafts to tap the underground water flow from the nearby Satpura hill ranges to the Tapi river lower down. The system is still functioning well. Shahjahan built many canals like the Bari Doab or the Hasli Canal.

Vijaynagar Kingdom in the south took keen interest in building  storage tanks and dams.

All forts, built in different terrains and climatic conditions, had elaborate arrangements for drinking water. Amber Fort, Jodhpur Fort, Chittor Fort are prime examples of this.

Let us have a look at the different kinds of local water harvesting practices that were used to conserve water.

Taalab/ Bandhis/Samand – Reservoirs

  • Natural, such as ponds or man-made lakes
  • Served the  purpose of irrigation and drinking.
  • When the water in these reservoirs dried  up, the pond beds were used for cultivation.

Johads

  • Small earthen check dams built in Rajasthan to capture and conserve rainwater, thus  improving percolation and recharging ground water.

Baoris / Bers

  • Very old community  wells in Rajasthan used mainly for drinking.
  • Built by banjaras for their drinking water needs.
  • Could hold water for a long time because of almost negligible water  evaporation.

Jhalaras

  • Man-made tanks in  Rajasthan and Gujarat, essentially meant for community use and for religious rites but not for drinking.

Step Wells or Water Temples

  • Used for harvesting rainwater and providing water for drinking purpose in arid parts. It is famously called water temple.
  • Initiated due to the need to ensure  water supply during the period of drought.
  • Recall, Rani ki vav stepwell at Patan, Gujarat was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites recently. Check the photo below.

Other prominent water harvesting practices were kunds, kuis etc.

All this indicates that we have had a glorious tradition of water harvesting by the village communities with the encouragement from the state. This history reflects the ingenuity and wisdom of the people in ancient India who made harvesting of water and its management an integral part of the native culture and community life. We can learn some lessons in the present, for a better future.

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India Water Week 2015 ; Hamara Jal – Hamara Jeewan Initiative

The theme of the water week is “Water Management for Sustainable Development”. India Water Week-2015 will address the issues of sustainability of water resources development and management in line with Sustainable Development Goals 2015 being finalized by UN.

Conceptualized and organised for the first time in 2012, the India Water Week is an annual forum where the Ministry of Water Resources discusses and plans with eminent stakeholders through seminars, exhibitions and sessions to build public awareness to get support to implement key strategies for conservation, preservation and optimum use of available water.

Highlights of India Water week – 2015

  • Year 2015-16 will be celebrated as ‘Jal Kranti Varsh’ across the country. Each district  will strive to conserve water.
  • India has more than 18% of the world’s population, but has only 4% of world’s renewable water resources. There are further limits on utilizable quantities of water owing to uneven distribution of water over time and space. With  growing population and rising needs of a fast developing nation as well as the given indication of the impact of climate change, availability of utilizable water will be under further strain in future with the possibility of deepening water conflicts among different user groups.
  • There is wide variation in water availability across various river basins. While Ganga and Brahmaputra river basins are well endowed with water, the basins in peninsular India are relatively water scarce . Most of the them have already reached the stage of full development. Inter linking of rivers is conceived for transfer of water from surplus basins to deficit basins. This will help in augmenting storage capacity.  Inter-linking of rivers will help in diverting the surplus water of rivers to drought prone areas. There is considerable progress in Ken- Betwa project, Yamuna – Sarda(Mahakali) project.
  • There is a need to  adopt new techniques of irrigation based on less usage of water – for example,  drip irrigation.
  • Hamara Jal – Hamara Jeewan initiative will be observed in every district of the country. It is an  initiative to engage scientists, engineers, water communities, PRIs, other stakeholders and NGOs to address the issues of water resources planning at the local level and to generate awareness regarding need for water conservation. Participation from school students will be an integral part of the programme for sensitizing the next generation for water conservation. This will also spread awareness regarding need to conserve water in the light of growing water scarcity. Each district would prepare its profile, and indicate its uses, constraints, local solutions to prepare a road-map for managing water resources. See, this is a bottom up approach. Centre is not using a one- size fits all policy, and imposing one plan on all districts.
  • This initiative is of great significance. Why? There is a growing demand of water in domestic and industrial sectors due to population growth and an increased emphasis on manufacturing for overall economic development. Judicial usage of resources in imperative.

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NRIs to get voting rights : A complete analysis of the issue

What has the Supreme Court said?

The Supreme Court told the Centre that it should within eight weeks amend necessary laws to  allow NRIs to vote in Indian elections. Union government informed the Supreme Court that it has accepted Election Commission’s recommendation to allow NRIs to vote from overseas through e-postal ballots or proxy voting.

How did the situation arise ?

Several NRIs had petitioned the apex court citing examples from multiple countries that allow their citizens living overseas to vote in domestic elections. SC asked EC to examine the issue. The poll panel set up a group of experts that proposed four options:

  • Electronic voting, over email
  • Proxy voting- someone they authorize votes on their behalf
  • Physical ballot boxes at Indian missions overseas
  • Asking NRIs to return home to vote

What did the EC recommend ?

Election Commission panel recommended to allow voting for the NRIs through proxy and e-postal ballot. The panel contemplated that e-postal ballot system has almost no risk of manipulation, rigging or violation of secrecy. E-postal ballots would be sent electronically to the NRIs by the concerned district election officer but would have to be posted back as a hard copy. Proxy voting facility would be a convenient, efficacious and doable method of providing voting facility to overseas electors. Since the appointment of proxy can be made at any point of time, the issue of time constraint, the logistical issues of embassy and the related issue of host country permission is eliminated in this system. The panel though ruled out the possibility of allowing NRIs to vote through the Internet or at diplomatic missions abroad for the time being. Internet voting is prone to technical vulnerabilities which might not be addressable currently.

Who will benefit?

All Indian passport holders physically not in India at the time their municipality, state or India goes to polls. NRIs do not include members of the Indian diaspora who though of Indian origin are now foreign citizens. NRIs are not Persons of Indian Origin (PIO). Be wary of this difference.

What about PIO/OCI card holders then? Can they vote ? NO

Government is merging PIO – OCI cards schemes. That means PIO-OCI card holders cannot vote. The PIO-OCI cards are not issued to Indian citizens. But the extension of voting rights to NRIs will likely lead to a chorus from India’s influential diaspora for similar rights.

What does the law say right now ?

  • According to the provisions of the Representation of People Act, 1950, a person who is a citizen of India and who has not acquired the citizenship of any other country and is otherwise eligible to be registered as a voter and who is absent from his place of ordinary residence in India owing to employment, education or otherwise, is eligible to be registered as a voter in the constituency in which his place of residence in India, as mentioned in his passport, is located.
  • However the person will be able to exercise the franchise only if he or she is physically present in their constituency on the polling day at the polling station along with the original passport. This caveat of physically present is problematic and impractical. A petition was filed in the Supreme Court that Section 20A of the RP Act be amended to allow NRIs to vote from abroad without having to be present in India. The petition argued that the provision was in violation of Article 14 of the Constitution to the extent that it implicitly treated persons on a different footing based on economic classifications.

Which Law has to amended ?

Representation of People Act , 1950 has to be amended to allow Indian nationals not in Indian territory to vote.

The Election Commission will test NRI voting in two constituencies in an Assembly election. Once convinced it can implement the policy nationally, the poll panel will introduce voting for NRIs across the country.

Analysis of this decision

  • The government’s decision to allow NRIs to vote could set the stage for expatriates to emerge as a decisive force in the country’s electoral politics. The fact that 114 countries conduct such voting makes it all the more incumbent on India, the largest democracy,  to enable a larger and more inclusive electorate.
  • This decision also, historically, removes an “unreasonable restriction” posed by Section 20(A) of the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act of 2010, requiring overseas electors to be physically present in their constituencies to cast their votes.
  • There are 10 million Indian citizens staying abroad, and with 543 Lok Sabha constituencies, this means an astonishing average of 18,000 votes per constituency may get polled from abroad. These additional votes, if polled, will obviously play a crucial role in state and general elections.
  • The traditional argument against such external voting has been that only citizens who are present in the territory and affected by the consequences of their vote should be entitled to vote. NRIs as per them lack knowledge of domestic conditions. They would be irresponsible in exercising their choices. But, today with an increase in cross-border migrations, the concept of nationhood and political membership is increasingly being decoupled from territorial locations. India’s move towards enabling voting from overseas is an instance of a larger global trend towards increased citizen participation.
  • The fear that the demographics of some constituencies could change may be slightly exaggerated. Although it is a fact that some indirect influences could have an effect on elections as an NRI voter base could potentially be an influential segment capable of affecting media reporting and analysis at election time. This could, in turn, have a bearing on the thought processes of the electorate .
  • There is a concern that it can never be guaranteed that the proxy voter will vote as per the wishes of the actual voter. The method of proxy voting suffers from an inherent problem of trust deficiency and violates the principle of secrecy of voting. EC is of the opinion that proxy voting system is the most simple and viable option. It is expected that a person will appoint a proxy only when there is trust in the proxy. Voting from abroad is also fraught with other practical challenges like confirming NRI voters before every election and ensuring their post is received on time.
  • EC planned to launch the Electronic Roll Management System (ERMS) coinciding with the National Voters’ Day on January 25.
    ERMS will enable internet users across the country to view the complete voters’ list and allow them to see details such as the constituency in which they are registered and the polling station where they must vote. This move will prove to be helpful when NRIs get to vote. EC must strive to improve quality, transparency and speed through the use of digital technology and internet in election management.

What is the postal ballot and who avails it right now?

To enable all to be a part of electoral process, those who due to work commitments for the state basically are unable to vote in their constituency can avail postal ballot facility. Postal voting describes the method of voting in an election whereby ballot papers are distributed or returned by post.

Section 20(8) (d) of the Representation of the People Act, 1950 along with Section 60(b) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, allows government servants and certain other class of persons to vote via postal ballot following the Election Commission’s consent.

Postal ballot facility is availed by :

a) service voters – members of armed forces , diplomats
(b) special voters
(c) the wives of persons referred to in clauses (a) and (b) above, who are originally residence with them,
(d) electors subjected to preventive detention
(e) voters on election duty
(f) Notified voters

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What are the changes proposed in environmental norms to ensure ease of doing business

Please go through the article on the recommendations of TSR Subramanian Committee to gain a better perspective. The panel had sought state controls based on environmental regulations be removed.  Here is the link to the article – TSR Subramanian Committee Recommendations

What has the government recommended now?

– Industries need not acquire mandatory consent-to-establish (CTE) certificates from state pollution control boards for power connections. CTE certificate is not mandatory in every state, while in some states it is compulsory. Central Pollution Control Board has not issued any directives for obtaining CTE. States might reconsider the provisions . Why is the government issuing only an advisory ? It is so, because, water and air fall under the state list.

– Under the water and air acts, it is mandatory for industries to obtain a CTE certificate from the state pollution control board. This is also applicable in case of expansion of output or any technological change and is valid for a particular time limit. Without this certificate, industries cannot secure a power connection. SPCBs are also empowered to carry out inspections and scrutiny of the workings of these industries. SPCBs prosecute industries found violating environmental laws. Government has formed a committee that will draft the rules to allow industries to self-certify and self-regulate their environmental performance, against the practice of industries being subjected to inspection and scrutiny by SPCBs.

– Central government has also asked state governments to do away with their licensing powers under environmental laws.

Why such leeway to industries ?

– Establishment of upcoming projects and overall industrial development in the state is adversely affected in the process of obtaining licenses. There is a delay in obtaining electricity connection.  This has been a long standing complaint of industries. For improving ‘ease of doing business’ in the state, these measures have been suggested.

– However concerns have been expressed. The purpose of CTE is  to ensure that the site of industry is right. A state would not want to let a polluting plant come up behind a school or a hospital or a residential area. If located at such a place, it will prove to be detrimental to the health of the people residing in that area.  Recall, many residential areas near Bhopal plant were severely affected in the Bhopal gas tragedy.

See the larger picture. Environment being sacrificed at the altar of development.

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All you need to know about Carbon Fertilization

· Anthropogenic emissions add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Forests worldwide are using it to grow faster, reducing the amount of CO2 that stays in the atmosphere. This effect is called carbon fertilization. Faster plant growth leads to the sequestration of more CO2 , at least during the plants period of growth.

· The effect is stronger at higher temperatures, meaning it will be higher in the tropics than in the boreal forests.

·  The carbon fertilization effect will cause changes in crop yields. It should increase the crop yields in some regions.

·  It tends to have a greater effect on plants when soil moisture is low, and it affects some plants more than others. Those with “C4” photosynthesis systems, which can concentrate carbon dioxide onto reaction sites, are affected less than plants with “C3” photosynthetic systems.  That means , CO2 fertlization does not apply to all crops.  For example, it does not apply to maize.

·  Satellite observations by scientists have shown that Carbon dioxide has turned arid deserts green. C02 aided the growth of plants.

·  C02 fertilization also increases plant water use efficiency.  At higher CO2, plants maintain narrower openings on leaf surfaces because they can achieve the same internal CO2 concentration inside leaves at the site of photosynthesis with their pores more closed. Thus less water transpires out of their leaves — and hence water is saved.

·  Response to COfertilization may influence competition between species, including woody species versus grasses, and native grasses versus invasive species. Weeds and other undesirable plants experience CO2 fertilization as well.

·  Some evidence suggests that plants grown under conditions of carbon dioxide fertilization may increase the production of chemical compounds that make them more resistant to some insects. Elevated CO2 levels caused a limitation in nutrient content.

·  The CO2 fertilization effect is not going to save us from the consequences of global warming.

 

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Why UNSC Reforms are required and significance for India

UN Security Council (UNSC), must reflect contemporary global realities.UNSC has been reduced to a tool to serve the caprice of its five permanent members. Due to its structural defects, he UNSC has never been capable of preventing the most destructive and deadly wars, many of which are catered by the countries entrusted with the veto. Russia’s armed intervetion in Ukraine, USA’s Iraq invasion are testimonies to this fact. As long as responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security is left to the whims of only the most powerful in the international order, the world cannot expect quality peacekeeping efforts. For this purpose the reform of the UN including the expansion of the UNSC in both permanent and non-permanent categories is crucial. To this end, the Government of India has been actively working along with other like-minded countries for building support among the UN membership for a meaningful restructuring and expansion of the UNSC.

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Everything you need to know about Strategic Oil Reserves of India

Low oil prices are sure to encourage countries to create such reserves. China is already engaged in building reserves. The opportunity should be exploited to beef up oil reserves.

What is a Strategic Oil Reserve ?

The Strategic Oil Reserve is an emergency fuel storage of oil . They are a nation’s counter against any short-term disruptions in energy supplies. These are typically state-funded and are meant to tackle emergency situations. Crude oil from these reserves can be released when there is a short-term supply disruption, a natural calamity or a global event such as a war that may lead to an abnormal increase in prices.  According to the  2001 agreement, all member countries of the International Energy Agency must have a strategic petroleum reserve equal to 90 days of prior year’s net oil imports for their respective country.

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Suresh Prabhu Advisory group for Integrated development of power, coal and renewable energy – Major highlights of the Report

The government is looking to overhaul the power sector. The advisory panel led by Suresh Prabhu has come up with some recommendations to adress issues that plague CIL , poor T&D infrastructure, how to ensure 24 x 7 power supply etc. Read further to find out what has been recommended.

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All that you need to know about Neutrino Observatory Project

Why in news, again ? 

Government has approved setting up of India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) in Bodi West Hills, Tamil Nadu.  This will be the second big project that the government has approved, the first being the thirty-metre telescope, which would come up in Hawaii.

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Should Right to Health be made a Fundamental Right?

Draft National Health Policy has been released by the Government and put up on public domain for suggestions. One of the key proposals is to have a National Health Rights Act, which will make ensuring health a fundamental right, whose denial will be justiciable.

Should health be a fundamental right- in the way that was done for education? Many industrialized nations have laws that do so. Many of the developing nations that have made significant progress towards universal health coverage like Brazil and Thailand have done so and the presence of such a law was a major contributory factor. Courts have also rulings that in effect see health care as a fundamental right- and a constitutional obligation flowing out of the right to life. I have discussed this later in the article. A number of international covenants to which India is a signatory give us such a mandate- and this could be used to make a national law. Some of the treaties are :