The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, September 9, 2001

He brought water to a parched land
Mohan Maitray

Magsaysay Award winner Rajinder Singh
Magsaysay Award winner Rajinder Singh

THE Magsaysay Award Winner, Rajendra Singh, is from an affluent farming family of village Dhol in the Meerut district of UP. He never thought that Rajasthan would be his Karambhoomi. The eldest in family, Rajendra was different from his three brothers right from his childhood onwards. He got his postgraduate degree in Hindi from Allahabad University and graduated in ayurveda from Rishikul in Uttar Pradesh. It was Hindi literature that made him emotional and sensitive towards the neglected and the downtrodden and ayurveda was the medium for achieving this social goal. Rajendra got inspiration from Sarvodya activists Sidh Raj Dadda and Subbarao. The Emergency and the call of "total revolution" given by Jai Parkash Narain motivated him.

His father, Sukhbir Singh, wanted to discipline him because he wanted his eldest son to get a respectable government job. Yielding to his father’s wishes, he joined as Project Officer, Adult Literacy Mission, at Dausa (Jaipur). During his tenure, Rajendra felt upset about the Government’s apathy towards social causes. They labelled drought-hit areas as a ‘Dark Zone’ and did nothing substantial. Rajendra found it shocking to see withering crops, scarcity of water and almost mass-migration of villagers due to drought conditions. He decided to resign from his job and do something constructive for the suffering villagefolk. Since his wife was away to her parents’ house, it became easier for him to implement his decision. He disposed of his TV, fridge, furniture etc at a throwaway price and landed in Kishori (Bhikampura) village with four of his associates from the Tarun Bharat Sangh.


Later, he wrote to his mother and wife and communicated his decision. He requested them to support his mission. His father must have been upset at that time, but his contentment was visible when he visited his son at Jaipur. He came just for two to three hours, to ascertain the authenticity of the Magsaysay Award.

God-send for farmers

According to Rajasthan irrigation minister, Kamla, the situation of water resources and their management in the state is alarming. About 13 lakh and 80 thousand wells in the state provide an average of 50 crore cc water, but the recharging capacity has only been 715.5 crore cc. Eleven development blocks have been declared as a ‘Dark Zones’ and 45 are on the way to becoming ‘Dark Zones’. In 32 districts, in 246 blocks the water level has gone down by 50-70 ft. The conventional water resources in Rajasthan — tanks, Jharris, underground tankas (tanks) and Khadins stand almost discarded. The system of utilising standing water in a field for irrigating crops is called Khadin. In Rajasthan, tankas have been both personal property as well as for community use. Under these circumstances the water-management revolution launched by Rajendra Singh has been seen as god-send for the farming community.

The arrival of Rajendra in village Kishori was not a welcome one. Due to his beard, he was mistaken as a terrorist from Punjab. A village elder instinctively trusted these young men. However, Mina, a villager, challenged them to come down to work, instead of merely giving lectures. The next day, Rajendra and his associates joined the villagers in the digging operation of tanks for storage of rainy water. Gopalpura village was the worst hit. The uneducated Mangoo from Gopalpura proved a guru to Rajendra. He taught Rajendra the technique of rain water harvesting. They came up with the improvised conventional technique, which was not merely a water tank but a symbol of unity for the affected people. It was this unity that brought an era of awakening and prosperity. Jameen and jungle became a new watchword. Now about 4,500 tanks have been set up in seven districts of Rajasthan —Jaipur, Alwar, Karauli, Dausa etc, through community help. At one time, the 1400 ft long, 20 ft high and 50 ft broad Aravalli tank was a challenge but the will-power and the "spirit not to yield" proved fruitful. The re-discovery of river Ruparel has lent a new charm to the Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary. Now tourists, local and foreign, throng to this place.

Rajendra gave a tough fight to government agencies and the bureaucracy as he struggled for rural uplift against the apathy shown by the government towards his cause. About 377 cases under laws governing wildlife and irrigation were registered against Rajendra. The Government even issued a notice to him regarding the dismantling of the so-called Ruparel Dam. After his nomination, the reaction of the Government has become somewhat mild, but the Irrigation Minister of the state still claims that construction of this dam contravenes irrigation laws.

Rajendra is of the view that sooner unproductive and obsolete laws, detrimental to the interest of a developing society, are scrapped, the better it will be. The dam in dispute, he claims, is 3 km away from the river. It does not obstruct the flow of water. In fact, the flow of water to Bharatpur and Alwar has increased. The Government even admits that the construction of a channel from the dam has regulated the flow.

By conversion of ‘Dark Zones’ to ‘White Zones’, Rajendra has created history. By effective water management, he has paved the way for social uplift and development through community service. He also received the Down to Earth Award. The Magsaysay Award will motivate Rajendra Singh to contribute more to a social cause.

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