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AFTERSCHOOOL CENTRE FOR SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP 

BIKANER AMIDST
THE THAR DESERT
– A CASE STUDY ON
WATER
MANAGEMENT
SYSTEMS AND
ALTERLATIVES
by :
DR. T.K. JAIN
AFTERSCHO☺OL
centre for social entrepreneurship
sivakamu veterinary hospital road
bikaner 334001 rajasthan, india
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Bikaner is the heart of Thar, the Great Indian Desert. The communities of the Thar
Desert in Rajasthan are home to some of India’s best water management practices.
For centuries, people in this region maintained life with conservation of water.
However, these traditional practices have evaporated with the arrival of Indira
Gandhi Canal Project, and other government projects. People have now
abandoned their traditional water conservation tools and they look upon
government for help.

Water brings life to all parts of the earth - the Thar Desert included - and is
vital for our survival. Without water a human can perish in only three days.
Yet, seemingly unlimited and viewed as a public commodity, water can be
taken for granted. Not so in the Thar Desert. Here, water is sacred and most
of its natural sources have become holy sites. Violent protests have been
staged by the rural populations over water rights. As the privatization of water
resources has started, water rights and access to water to all sections of
population equally have become headlines all over the world, the lessons
learned here are poignant.

Over the centuries, people have been living in the desert in a sustainable
manner and have devised indigenous methods for dealing with water scarcity.
Underground rainwater harvesting structures, such as the taanka, nadi, and
beri, were developed by the people to store rainwater for use during the driest
parts of the year. However, when the Government of India introduced piped
water and hand pumps into villages in the name of safe drinking water, the
traditional rainwater harvesting methods were left by the wayside. Today, in
Rajasthan, 90% of the water used by the population comes from government
pipes or hand pumps. Not until faced with severe drought, inadequate
supplies of piped water and depleted or contaminated ground water were the
traditional methods remembered and by then too late.

We believes that a revival of the traditional rain harvesting systems is


essential to the survival of the people of the Thar Desert. These structures
are technologically sustainable and can be built at a low cost. Moreover, by
using these structures the people are able to achieve water security and
therefore self-reliance.

Taanka (underground water storage tank) construction Taanka: small


underground rainwater storage cistern. Rainwater from rooftops, a
courtyard or natural or artificially prepared catchment flows into the
paved underground pit where it is stored and can be used by one family
or a small group of families for 4 to 6 months.
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Detailed components of a Taanka:


• Circular Catchment – 15 to 25m in diameter, paved with locally
available murrum (stone fragments) sloping toward silt catchers
• Silt Catchers – inlets into the underground tank, lined to prevent sand
and suspended material to enter along with the rainwater, covered by
an iron mesh guard to prevent birds and rodents from entering the tank.
• Storage Tank – 3 x 3.3 m circular pit holding up to 25,000 liters of water,
60 x 60 cm opening at the top for the people to draw water from, iron lid
protects the tank against pilfering, tank constructed in cement and
stone and roofed with stone slabs.
• Outlets – 30 x 30cm covered vents allow excessive water to be
released.

Naadi (village pond) construction and desilting Naadi: man-made


village pond. Rainwater from surface runoff is collected in a natural
depression in the land and an embankment to hold the water in is built
behind. The nadi or pond is accessible to all people in the village,
livestock and wildlife and is also used for replenishing taankas that
have been depleted of rainwater.

Naadis are a very old desert tradition – a Rajput landlord reportedly built a
naadi in memory of his wife at Akhadhana village some five hundred years
ago. Many villages were originally established near areas that could easily
be made into a naadi, which would often serve as the only source of drinking
water. With the introduction of piped water, however, many naadis have been
left to silt up and remained unused or forgotten and the naadi tradition was
not carried on as new villages were established. There is a need to revive
the naadi by promoting the desilting and repairing of old naadis, as well as
the construction of new naadis where possible.

Kund / Beri (small well) reconstruction and Desilting


A kund /Beri is a small well. These beries are rainwater-collecting wells,
which aim to collect rainwater from a catchment specially created for
the purpose for supply of drinking water.

Kund / Beries are an important water harvesting technique. Some beries can
hold up to 250,000 liters of water – a year’s supply for 10 families. Those
beries which are more productive, and thus more permanent, tend to have a
raised concrete platform with a covered opening for the convenience of
drawing water and to disallow sand and rocks from entering. Periodic silt
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removal is necessary for beries, especially for those built directly into naadis.

Drinking water tube well Construction

Traditional methods of rainwater harvesting are the most sustainable means


of maintaining a water supply. However, during severe droughts the lack of
potable water necessitates the transportation of water into remote areas, for
which the inhabitants must pay enormous sums of money.

Tube well: an electrical pump that procures drinking water from beneath the
earth’s surface and can supply an abundant amount of water to a group of
villages and hamlets within a 1 to 10 km radius.The construction of tube wells
is a viable alternative to this problem. However, the electrical pumps draw
water from underground aquifers that have only finite amounts of water and
have little chance of ever being recharged. As water is essential to the
survival of the remote villages, we have to revive our traditional practices and
introduce new practices for water management.

Water Rights Advocacy

With a growing population of both humans and animals, access to clean,


potable water is less and less assured. The most marginalized communities
in the Thar Desert are increasingly facing a lack of water rights. During
droughts especially, they have no access to clean drinking water. They have
to raise their voice for water management. NGOs have to come forward to
enable them to raise their voice. At the same time awareness has to be
created to stop wastage of water in urban areas. Water fountains and huge
gardens are not our priority, our priority should be the persons living in remote
villages of Bikaner, who doesnt have access to drinking water even.

Questions for discussions :


Study the situation of the remote villages near Bikaner and give your opinion
about how to initiate water rights advocacy and force people in urban areas to
stop wastage of water and to encourage government to stop water fountains
and all such things which are wasting drinking water.
AFTERSCHOOOL CENTRE FOR SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP