Doing interviews, coproducing groundwater: tracing the spatial, temporal and vertical (Part 2)

I have organised this article in three parts based on the three key areas of coproduction. Part 1 reflects upon words- words used everyday to describe the topography, the geology, the processes, and practices. Part two focuses on space- space that is not just horizontal but also vertical as we speak about groundwater. This verticality of space urges us to focus on another dimension, a dimension of depth, of thickness, of volume. The third part, that is closely associated and embedded (in some places) with space is that of time. Time is often looked upon as an axis for the past, present and the future, but the verticality of space urges us to look at it within the ground, processes that run across time and within time, occurring simultaneously. 

Sorry, can you say that again

In this first part, I want to draw the attention towards words- words describing groundwater, its understanding, processes, and practices. When I began the interviews, I came across many words which described the landscape and certain characteristics of these landscapes. ‘Raan’ is most used in Osmanabad to describe a land parcel, a farm. I have only encountered Raan in other geographies where it often refers to untended land, forest, etc. For eg. ‘Raan majlay’ was quite common phrase referring to vegetation that grown on land or farms that are not tended or looked after. However, in this field area, raan was used for everything about the landscape- in some places, farm, in some the landscape itself. What was interesting was it was also used to describe the verticality or depth of the landscape with changing rock types or geology while drilling a borewell- ‘raan badalalay’ (raan has changed)

The GSDA and CGWB descriptions of Osmanabad geology commonly use a phrase- ‘moderately dissected plateau’ which can be loosely translated into a description of an undulating topography. This seems to be a peculiar feature of the Deccan Basalt plateau which encompasses more than 80 percent of Maharashtra’s landmass. The GSDA reference manual says that ‘occurrence, storage and movement of groundwater is greatly controlled by morphological set up in Hard Rock terrain.’ Thus, attention to topographical features and its role in shaping water availability (and non), flows, storage and discharge is important. But how is such a moderately dissected plateau brought into everyday discussion. I was first introduced to it through words- words that caught my attention (for I have never heard them before or ignored them for common sense). Many farmers referred to ‘umata’ an upland feature in the watershed, while describing success of sources, duration of water availability in an area. ‘Umata’ were also those farmland parcels wherein water had to be transported through an intricate series of arrangements involving pumps, valves, and pipes. 

The seemingly flat landscape may mislead someone from recognising the relevance of ‘umata’ and ‘jhol’

Other words like lavan (describing the small streams in the area), chaval (a farmland that has peculiar character for water retention- due to its location in the valley area- which again has another word called jhola– opposite of Umata), vapsa (a condition of farm/land when it becomes-or is made suitable for sowing). These words are often associated with a physical/topographical feature, a phenomenon that occurs in the local landscape and thus forms the foundation of knowledge that shapes everyday practices.   

Encountering the water conservation structures in these interviews often meant their association through a particular programme rather than a focus on its properties (like earthen bund or cement bund, weir, bund etc.). For example, I encountered the most common intervention in watershed or water conservation called Cement Nalla Bund (a CNB) through different names and references- in one instance it was a KT Weir (Kolhapur Type Weir), in another it was a Vasant Bandhara (due to its associated with the Vasundhara watershed programme?), while someone pointed out it was a ‘naala bandh’. In such cases, an interview conducted in the farm revealed interesting insights than the same conducted in other settings (room, office etc.). 

Of patta, pokali and percolation

Space forms another dimension in my analysis of these interviews. How space is described and mobilised to draw attention to the processes and practices of groundwater has immense value to pursue such a coproduction of groundwater knowledge. 

While describing Deccan Basalts, the word ‘flows’ (or layer, in some places) is often used to identify rock strata that may be conducive or non-conducive for groundwater accumulation and movement (see this for example). I encountered these flows through ‘patta’ (literally belt) described by farmers as extensive subsurface belt of certain rock type that enables identification and movement of groundwater. It is interesting to note that I encountered ‘patta’ only in descriptions of shallow (or unconfined) aquifers or subsurface. Never I came across the word ‘patta’ to describe a spatial extent in context of deeper subsurface or confined aquifers. While assumptions about such patta did need observations of multiple open dugwells, the relative confidence while making these claims was much higher than the often ‘fate driven’ search for water in deeper spaces of the earth through drilling of borewells. 

Laal Patta (Red Belt/Layer) visible in a dugwell

In other instance, such a loose rock stratum, a stratum that is so porous that is makes it ‘mau’ (soft) in description was also referred as a ‘pokali’ (a vacuum). That groundwater is not available until the beginning of this strata of pokali. While this is not a literal vacuum but is occupied by extremely conducive rock types like the red layer or highly weathered vesicular basalt (mau manjarya), it was useful for bringing our attention to those shifts in imagination accompanied by possibility of groundwater in those spaces. I believe, these patta and pokali describe aquifers in the area that has shaped a collective experience of knowing, locating, and accessing groundwater. 

While discussing borewells, the talk often narrowed down, it moved towards experiences of the sources themselves and no major claims about the subsurface were discussed as seen in case of shallow aquifers. However, a typology of confined aquifers, deeper subsurface groundwater did emerge through those interviews. Through their experiences of drilling borewells and those of others in the village, a classification was brought into notice. It consisted of a Doh system (can be translated, in hydrogeological sense, into a perched aquifer type system) where the borewells did struck water but did not sustain over two or three seasons eventually becoming intermittent. ‘Doh’ means a small pond like water body- usually referred in case of surface water bodies. In other cases, thanks to ones nashib (fate), the borewell struck the jhara or a nasthat ensured a perennial and long-lasting source as compared to a doh. It is interesting to note the shift in describing groundwater in shallow and deeper systems. In shallow, reference to patta meant geological feature (lal gerucha patta) while an extension in deeper systems transformed into the water flow itself (‘panyacha’ jhara or ‘panyachi’ nas) rather than emphasizing the geological feature. This understanding about sources and through them about the subsurface has led to series of practices around borewells like transferring water from them to dugwells, reboring failed borewells, deepening the bore further to improve storage etc. 

Ballestero suggests that thinking about groundwater, thinking about these rock formations ‘require a form of volumetric thinking that is only possible by articulating horizontality and verticality’ (2019). It is here that I bring attention to this verticality of imagination, observation, and practices. In these interviews, verticality was brought into reference through two key points- water levels and depth of sources. While water levels fluctuated, depth was often static- a given character in the drama of groundwater. Though water levels are the most valued ‘data input’ to arrive at groundwater understanding, it was one of the most diversely understood parameter. Asking about ‘paani patali’ meant a variety of things and its context. For example, it was often associated with drought or water scarcity years. It was not seen as something that has progressed over the years (like water level has depleted) but rather something that fluctuates every year. 

The temporality of groundwater

Continuous use of groundwater leads to falling water levels over the years. An observer of data for many decades may easily reach to this conclusion. However, in the process, we miss the intergenerational aspects of such change. What was true for many older people in the village was a fiction for the younger farmers today. That streams in the village flowed even during the summers (little, but did flow), that dug wells needed to be only 25-30 feet deep can only be a fragment of old age imagination. This transformation of rural landscapes over decades has led to a transformation in ways of knowing groundwater, accessing, and using it. 

A newspaper article describing increase in post monsoon water level in the district

In short term-like within few years, this temporality, unlike a linear progression, shifts back and forth across the axis. Water levels, discussed above, are often changing- depleting and recovering, a phenomenon that was associated with series of related events- extraction for irrigation, transfers from deeper aquifers, droughts, rainfall (excess, unseasonal etc.). 

Many farmers complained about sources of groundwater drying up by March marking the beginning of a summer with scarce water supply, intermittent borewells, poorer recovery in dug wells etc. ‘Percolation’ while being a spatial process- movement of water from one point to other, also has a temporal component that is well understood by the users. Instead of taking permits for lift irrigation from tanks, farmers prefer to buy lands near tanks wherein restrictions on extraction during summers are not applied. In comparison, tanks, when they reach dead storage are banned from use for irrigation with confiscation of lifting devices, cutting off electricity supply etc. However, officials cannot restrict the process of percolation which causes water from the tank to percolate in the wells nearby. Thus, temporality of groundwater movement is well understood and mobilised by farmer community. 

Many of us often come across phrases/sentences like ‘our village our water’, ‘not letting any water outside our village’ etc. Farmers, though, in some parts of the watershed must pump out water from wells during the monsoons- a purposeful activity aimed at reducing soil moisture and thus water retention in farms, to ensure crop productivities. When asked if this counters the need for recharging more and more groundwater during and after monsoon on which many government programmes are focused, they suggested the inequities of land properties mandated some to undertake such an activity. The farmers in ‘chaval jameen’ (land prone to water retention) resorted to such an activity. It was a contradiction of sorts that a MGNREGA supported in-situ dugwell recharge programmes aims to do exactly the opposite. This seemingly rebellious act is not seen as one damaging the larger objective of improving groundwater situation in the village by letting off water ‘outside of the watershed or the aquifer’. 

Movement of groundwater is another aspect that I will write sometime soon. The reason is simple- the topic demands its own attention and much of the interventions or strategies for groundwater conservation, recharge and improving access have been shaped around theories and experiences of groundwater movement. Starting with the most basic as to why pumping one well (or not pumping) affects other wells in the vicinity, why most wells are near streams, why naala deepening benefits certain wells and not others, why are horizontal boreholes drilled in the dugwells, why drilling of one borewell leads to failure of other or why increasing borewells in a landscape lead to loss of water from dugwells. There are a lot of tensions, inconsistencies and substantiating examples emerging from pursuing these questions in the interviews, and I hope to write about it in the next blog. 

मला भेटलेले कुमारभाऊ  

४ फेब्रुवारी २०२०. स्थळ डेक्कन बस स्टॅण्डसमोरील बाक. वेळ संध्याकाळी पाच वाजताची. 

कर्वेनगर मधील माझ्या  घरावरून नदीपात्रातून सायकल हाकत हाकत मी बस स्टॅन्ड जवळ येऊन पोहोचलो. कुमारभाऊ ठरल्याप्रमाणे भेटायच्या ठिकाणी आले होते. दोघेजण बाकावर बसलो आणि मग मागे झालेल्या कामांची उजळणी आणि पुढे काय करता येईल याबद्दल चर्चा केली. मी ज्या संस्थेत काम करत होतो त्याच्या माध्यमातून कुमारभाऊ आणि त्यांच्या शहादा-नंदुरबार येथील कामाची ओळख झाली. आदिवासी पट्ट्यातील काम आणि पाण्याची भीषण परिस्थिती, त्यामधील inequity आणि त्यातून निर्माण होणारी व्यवस्था याबद्दल कुमारभाऊ मुद्देसूद आणि विज्ञाननिष्ठ काम करायच्या हेतूने संपर्कात आले होते. अर्थात त्याआधी देखील मराठवाड्यातील काही गावांमध्ये कुमारभाऊंच्या माध्यमातून भूजल व्यवस्थापनाचे काम केले गेले होते. पण शहाद्याचा हा परिसर वेगळा होता. शहाद्याहून धडगावला जाणाऱ्या रस्त्यावर हे गाव (मुळात छोट्या छोट्या वस्त्यांचे एक गाव). गावामध्ये एकदेखील विहीर नाही, पण बोअर मात्र झालेली. यातून इतकेच कळते की १९७०-८० पासून सुरु झालेल्या भूजल क्रांतीपासून हा परिसर, ही गावं दूर राहिली होती. अर्थात गावापासून १५-२० किलोमीटर शहाद्याकडे आल्यावर आपल्याला ऊस, नगदी पिकं यांचा परिसर दिसतो, म्हणजे इथे भूजलाचे कार्यक्रम पोहोचले नाही असे म्हणता येणार नाही, पण कांहीजण त्यापासून वंचित राहिले (ठेवले गेले?).  

दरा चिंचोरा गावाचा परिसर  

कुमारभाऊंचे काम या समाजाबरोबर. वन हक्क कायदा आणि त्याची अंमलबजावणी, वन  खात्याच्या विविध कार्यक्रमांमुळे येथील आदिवासी समाजावरील अन्याय, त्यांची दैनंदिन परिस्थिती, शेतीतील सुधारणा, पाण्याचे संवर्धन आणि त्याचा वापर यावर कुमारभाऊंचा वस्तुनिष्ठ अभ्यास, वैज्ञानिक दृष्टिकोन आणि एक प्रामाणिक सामाजिक कळकळ जाणवली. कुमारभाऊ जाण्याची बातमी मिळाली तेव्हा मी या दिवसाचे माझ्या मोबाईल मधील नोट्स काढून वाचले. शेवटची भेट. तेव्हाच त्यांनी मला सांगितले होते की त्यांना कर्करोगाचा त्रास सुरु झाला आहे, ट्रीटमेंट सुरु आहे. स्वतःच्या आजाराविषयी अधिक चर्चा न करणाऱ्या कुमारभाऊंच्या आजाराबद्दल आणि त्यांचा ‘fighter स्पिरिट’ बद्दल मी बोलणे योग्य ठरणार नाही.  

२७ नोव्हेंबर २०१५. स्थळयशदा, पुणे 

आपण एखाद्या क्षेत्रात काम केले की अनेकदा आपल्याला एक प्रकारची ‘expertise’ येते, किंवा आपण किमान तसा विचार करतो. बरेचदा असे होते की आपल्याला अश्या expertise च्या सीमा ओळखता येत नाही. विषयानुरूप जरी ती expertise बरोबर असली तरी स्थानिक पातळीवर काम करताना विषयांची गुंतागुंत होते. आपल्याला सर्वच माहित आहे आणि आपण आपल्यापुढील प्रश्न सोडवू शकतो असा उगीचच एक आत्मविश्वास निर्माण होतो. उदाहरणार्थ आपल्याला कदाचित जंगलांविषयी चांगले कळत असेल, त्यातील वनस्पतींचे प्रकार, प्राण्यांचे प्रकार इत्यादी. पण एखाद्या जंगलामध्ये आणि त्याच्याशी निगडित अनेक मुद्दे पुढे येतात. मातीचा प्रकार, त्याची धूप, पाण्याचे स्रोत, पाण्याचे पर्कोलेशन, जंगलाचे आणि त्याचं आजूबाजूच्या शेती-इतर उद्योगाचे संबंध इ. आपल्याला जर ह्या अश्या expertise च्या सीमा ओळखता आल्या, त्या appreciate करता आल्या तरच मला वाटते की आपण इतर विषयांकडे समतोल राखून आणि ‘unlearning’ च्या भावनेतून काही नवीन गोष्टी समजून घेऊ शकतो.  

ही गोष्ट मला कुमारभाऊंकडून शिकायला मिळाली.  सत्तरीतील एखादा पुरुष (पुरुष हे देखील इथे महत्वाचे आहे), नाहीतर उगाच वही पेन घेऊन, शांतपणे बसून एखाद्या कार्यक्रमात टिपण घेत बसणार नाही. कुमारभाऊंना हे नक्कीच जाणवले होते की पाणी हा विषय आणि त्यातही भूजल हा समजून दृष्टीने एक जटील विषय आहे. त्यामुळे इतके वर्ष फिल्ड मध्ये राहून देखील त्यांनी नव्याने हा विषय समजून घेण्याचा आणि त्याबद्दल कार्य करण्याचा निर्धार केला आणि तसेच अनेक कार्यकर्ते घडवण्यासाठी प्रयत्नशील होते. बीड मधील ताकरवन, निथरूड, मोहा यागावामधील तरुण कार्यकर्ते असतील, तर शहाद्यातील दरा-चिंचोऱ्यातील कार्यकर्ते असतील असे अनेकांना त्यांनी या विषयात घडवण्याचा प्रयत्न केला.    

एखादा विषय पुढे न्यायचा असेल, त्याचे फक्त ‘islands ऑफ success’’ न बनवता त्याची एक चळवळ करायची असेल तर असे कार्यकर्ते घडणे ही त्या त्या विषयासाठी खूप आवश्यक आहे. सध्या वातावरण बदल किंवा क्लायमेट चेंज बद्दल आपण हे बघतोय, अनेक कार्यक्रम- शासकीय, अशासकीय पातळीवर पुढील पिढीला घडवण्यासाठी निर्माण केले गेले आहेत. अश्या कार्यक्रमांनी आणि त्यातील experts यांनी कुमारभाऊंच्या या क्वालिटी बद्दल नक्की विचार करावा.  

१३ जून २०१८. स्थळ- दरा चिंचोरा 

सकाळपासून गावफेरी पूर्ण केल्यानंतर दऱ्यामधील एका कार्यकर्त्याच्या घरी कुमारभाऊंनी जेवायचे नियोजन केले होते. भात आणि आमटी, सोबत चवीला लोणच्याची फोड. मला आणि माझ्या सहकार्याला दरदरून घाम फुटला, तिखटामूळे. कुमारभाऊंनी शांतपणे आपले जेवण संपवले आणि आमच्यासाठी बाहेरच्या बाकावर जाऊन थांबले. आम्ही जेवलो आणि बाजूच्या टपरीवरून काही चॉकलेट घेतल्या. उन्हाळा संपत आला होता- पावसाचे काही चिन्ह नव्हते- दुपारचा उकाडा होता. थोड्यावेळ बसुया असे आम्ही सुचवले आणि कुमारभाऊंनी ते मान्य केले. तिथे मला त्यांचा जीवनपट कळला. ते जास्त काही सांगत नव्हतेच पण मीच कुतूहल म्हणून प्रश्न विचारात होतो.  

आज जाणवतंय- तेव्हा एक प्रश्न विचारायला हवा होता. मी ज्या पिढीत घडलोय त्यामध्ये सामाजिक कामाचा विचार स्पष्ट आहे- कामाची मूळ प्रेरणा जरी असली तरी तिला मापायचे मापदंड ठरलेले असतात- पगार, पगारावरील असमाधान, वरिष्ठांबरोबर जमणे/न जमणे, पिअर प्रेशर वगैरे. त्यामुळे एका कामातून दुसऱ्या कामामध्ये जाणे, काम बदलणे, एरिया ऑफ वर्क बदलणे अश्या माध्यमातून जुळवून घेता येते. पण आपणच सुरु केलेली एक चळवळ, त्याला फुटलेलं वेगवेगळे फाटे, यामध्ये कधीतरी उदासीनता येत असावी, कधीतरी कमजोर वाटत असेल, अश्या वेळी ते काम, ती चळवळ, तो कार्यकर्त्यांचा गोतावळा सोडणे- किंवा त्याचाशी जुळवून घेणे कितपत शक्य आहे? अश्यावेळी त्यांच्यातील कार्यकर्ता आणि व्यक्ती म्हणून त्यांची घालमेल यातील समतोल त्यांनी कसा राखला असावा. हा प्रश्न नक्कीच आता महत्वाचा वाटतोय. आणि त्यावरील त्यांचे अनुभव जाणून घ्यायला जास्त आवडले असते.  

दरा ज्या डोंगरांच्या पायथ्याशी वसलेले आहे तिथे माथ्यावर एक माध्यम सिंचन प्रकल्प झाला आहे. धरण बनले असले तरी अजून त्याला कालवे काढलेले नाहीत. तसेच कालव्याचे जे डिझाईन आहे ते दरा चिंचोरा गावाला वळसा घालून पुढील गावांना (politically organised, सधन, मोठे शेतकरी, बिगर आदिवासी समाज) जोडून देण्याचे नियोजन आहे. दुसरीकडे वन हक्क कायद्यांअंतर्गत दरा चिंचोऱ्यातील आदिवासी शेतकऱ्यांना जमिनीचे आपल्या हक्काचे असे पट्टे कसायला मिळाले आहे. हे घडवून आणण्यासाठी स्थानिकांचे आणि कुमारभाऊंचे मार्गदर्शन महत्वाचे ठरले आहे.  

आजच्या आमच्या पिढीला एखाद्या साचेबंद पद्धतीने विषयांकडे आणि त्या अनुशंघाने त्यावरील उपाययोजनांकडे बघण्याची सवय झाली आहे. सामाजिक कामामध्ये कार्यकर्त्यांपासून प्रोफेशनल हा प्रवास पूर्ण झाला असल्यामुळे आज असे कार्यकर्ते दुर्मिळ झाले आहेत. चळवळींची जागा आता प्रोजेक्ट्सनी घेतली आहे. पण ही गुंतागुंत आहे, आणि एखाद्या विषयकडून सुरु केलेले सामाजिक काम कसे पसरत जाते हे मला कुमारभाऊंच्या प्रवासातून दिसले. दऱ्यातील सातपुडा डोंगररांगांमधील नव-नवीन मिळालेले शेतीचे पट्टे आणि ते कसणाऱ्या आदिवासी भगिनी आणि बांधव यांच्यापुढील शाश्वत शेतीच्या दृष्टीने मातीची धूप थांबवणे, संवर्धन करणे आणि पाण्याचे नियोजन करणे अनिवार्य होते. हे ओळखून कुमारभाऊ पाण्याकडे, पाणलोटाकडे वळले होते आहे त्यातूनच माझा त्यांच्याशी संबंध आला होता.  

स्थानिक काम सूक्ष्म स्वरूपाचे असते- immediate असते, म्हणजेच शॉर्ट टर्म मध्ये आपल्याला तेथील फरक जाणवू लागतात. एखाद्या नाल्यावर बंधारा बांधला तर पुढील पावसाळ्यानंतर आपल्याला तिथे फरक दिसून येईल. पण अश्या कामांचे आणि अश्या कामांवर होणारे प्रादेशिक (अगदी आपण आता ग्लोबल वगैरे टाळले) परिणाम कदाचित आपल्या नजरेत, (प्रोजेक्ट्च्या स्कोपमध्ये- ते थिअरी ऑफ चेंज वगैरे जे काही आज म्हणतात- म्हणावे लागते) पटकन सामावणारे नसतात. कुमारभाऊंच्या कामांमधून एक कान आणि डोळा स्थानिक तर दुसरा कान आणि डोळा प्रादेशिक असणे का महत्वाचे आहे हे लक्षात येते. दरा- चिंचोऱ्यातील काम एकीकडे पण महाराष्ट्रात, त्याच्या पाण्यात काय चालू आहे याकडे त्यांचे लक्ष होते, अभ्यास होता आणि अश्या कामांचा एक कुतुहलपूर्वक आदर्श असायचा. गेल्या दशकातील दुष्काळाची परिस्थिती, मराठवाडा आणि पाणी, शेती- पाणी आणि जमीन याचे प्रश्न कसे एकमेकात मिसळलेले आहेत हे त्यांच्या बोलण्यातून जाणवायचे. आमच्यासारख्या ‘प्रोफेशनलसाठी’ तो एक अभ्यासाचा आणि अप्रूप वाटावा असा विषयच होता.  

‘बारगिरा, सोल्जर शब्दाची उत्पत्ती माहिताय का? ऑक्सफोर्ड डिक्शनरी काढून बघ. ज्याचा जनतेच्या सॉलिडॅरिटीशी, मुक्तीशी संबंध, तो सोल्जर.’(डोंगर म्हातारा झाला पुस्तकातून) 

माझ्यासारख्या सोजिरांच्या गर्दीमधील एक सोल्जर गेला. दुःख नक्कीच आहे- पण प्रेरणा आहे- सामाजिक कामाकडे पाहण्याच्या दृष्टीकोनाची आणि ते घडवून आणण्याच्या प्रक्रियेची.   

Rain rain go away or ये रे ये रे पावसा?

This happened sometime during the last year. It was another usual afternoon of June in Mumbai. Humid, overcast with intermittent rain, the day passed along. Ira, my daughter, in between playing with her toys, stopped near the window to see the rain as it continued to pour. Recollecting one of the children rhymes, she started humming,

‘Rain rain go away

Come again another day

Little Johnny wants to play

Rain rain go away!’

It just hit me then and there. Such a usual rhyme but I have never realised the situated and contextual nature of this rhyme (You can see it here). This is because, just some time back, we both had listened to a Marathi children rhyme called ‘Ye re Ye re pavsa. It goes as follows:

‘Ye re ye re pavsa

Tula deto paisa

Paisa jhala khota

Paus aala motha’

The rough translation of this would be:

Rain please come,

I will give you a rupee

The rupee became fake

It rained a lot!

Apologies for a really poor translation. Another interesting Marathi song on similar lines is as follows:

Here is the source for the above.

In this song the kid is asking the rain if he is angry (yes he, in Marathi, rain is often referred in male pronouns) as he does not seem to come down. Frankly, it is complex. Because while referring to rain, it is often male pronouns (हा पाऊस), but when it comes to a drizzle (सर-sar) it is referred in female pronouns (ही सर). I am no expert in language so this can be pursued at a different time, in a different place. Let us turn back to the topic of this blog.

The exactly opposite nature of request (by kids) in the English and Marathi rhymes made me realised something that I have been trying to work around as part of my PhD. This concern was pertaining to, what most of us learned about since our science and geography classes in primary school. It is commonly called as water cycle or, in high school, the hydrological cycle. 

The not so continuous hydrological cycle

Source: The Groundwater project

The classical hydrological cycle depicted a continuous nature of movement of water with vapourisation in oceans to cloud formation, winds, rainfall, run off through rivers, streams, groundwater and back to the sea. I will not go into the details, as most of us know this with some minor deviations. But why does this matter now? And how is this related to the discussion on the rhymes shared above? Recent work by some researchers have explored the contextual nature of development of the concept of hydrological cycle. Most important article of these, by James Linton in 2008 questioned the nature of hydrological cycle for its universal and situated origins. I will try to summarise what he meant. Linton made three key arguments focusing on the historical and geographical contexts within which the concept of hydrological cycle was put forth:

a. The concept of hydrological cycle was put forth by North Western European individuals who constantly saw drenched landscapes and perennial rainfall. This has resulted in a temperate bias in conceptualising the hydrological cycle. Unlike western Europe wherein the vapour laden winds flow throughout the year, many tropical regions like India have a different experience of the hydrological cycle. 

b. Linton describes what he refers to misrepresentations emerging due to hydrological orientalism:

‘It also emerged from the hydrological orientalism- the mis-apprehension and portrayal of deserts, arid lands, and tropical lands as respectively barren, poor, uncivilised, lawless and violent places (and peoples) that required the intervention of hydrological engineering to be made civilised.’ (pg. 640)

This has also allowed for emergence of a discourse of dams, watersheds and engineering water to channelise, store, arrest, percolate (paani adva, paani jirva), and tame the uncivilised tropical waters that otherwise do not adhere to the norms and laws laid down by the waters of North Western Europe.

c. Lastly, he asks us to focus our attention on the ‘rather wild tendencies’ of hydrological phenomena which are increasingly grasping our attention thanks to events induced by climate change (pg. 644). This was quite evident for a relatively small window monsoonal region like India, where, in Maharashtra’s many districts the June Monsoon was not quite satisfactory, challenging the discourse that has often been mainstreamed till date.

A newspaper article in Marathi depicting the challenges for agriculture emerging due to late monsoon this year. Source: Divya Marathi Osmanabad Zilla (1 July 2022)

Why does Johnny want the rain to go away while kids in Mumbai and elsewhere want it to fall down?

Take a look at a typical year of rainfall in London, UK (Source: RGS Teaching Resources)

Looking at the graph one can easily understand why rain spoils the fun out of Johnny’s outdoor time. He does want the rain to go away. On the contrary, look at a typical year of rainfall in India:

Rainfall for Mumbai, Graph Source: Climate Data dot Org

As can be seen from the graph, the ‘monsoon’ season is predominantly focused in four months (June to September) for most of the country (although this may be a different experience for regions like Tamil Nadu, coastal Andhra Pradesh). Thus, most people in India yearn for the monsoon, and it is even considered as a harbinger of life for the subcontinent. The children rhymes only depict this earnestness of expecting a good rainfall. Their rhymes, thus, are contextualised in this nature of rainfall experienced over the subcontinent.

As I sit in a village in Osmanabad, enjoying the rains that seem to have only recently begun, I contemplate how such global discourses shape not just our relation to water in terms of needs but also the cultural (literary, in this case) aspects of that relation. It made me revisit my musings on the topic last year and thought I should write about it. Coming back to Ira, and myself, there are some choices we have to make when it comes to selecting which is the next rhyme we pick up for humming and from where!

पाण्या तुझा रंग कसा? सत्तेचा, धर्माचा का कायद्याचा  

१९२७ साली डॉ. बाबासाहेब आंबेडकरांनी महाडच्या चवदार तळ्यातील पाणी उचलले आणि पाणी हे फक्त एखादे ‘नैसर्गिक संसाधन’ किंवा निव्वळ हायड्रोजन आणि ऑक्सिजन अणूंचा मेळ नसून ती एक राजकीय-सामाजिक वस्तू आहे हे दाखवून दिले. पाणी म्हणाल तर तेच ते, पण नीट बघितलं तर इतिहासात आणि वर्तमानात (कदाचित भविष्यात देखील) त्याचा वापर सामाजिक, आर्थिक आणि राजकीय कृतींसाठी होत आला आहे. धार्मिक- जातीय पातळीवर असेल (हे बघा), पाणी हे एक आर्थिक वस्तू आहे म्हणून त्याला किंमत असली पाहिजे म्हणून असेल, तसेच मानव निर्मित सीमा-रेषांच्या पलीकडे जाऊन पाणी अबाधित राहत असल्याने त्यावर उठलेले राजकीय वाद असतील ह्यातून इतकेच कळते की पाणी हे काही फक्त एक ‘नैसर्गिक संसाधन’ नसून तो एक जटिल विषय आहे.  

पिण्याच्या पाण्यासाठी देशभरात तसेच महाराष्ट्रात भूजलावरील निर्भरता भरपूर आहे. आकडेवारीचा खेळ बघितला तर टक्केवारी कुठेतरी ८५ ते ९० च्या आसपास दाखवते. हेच महाराष्ट्राच्या बाबतीत देखील खरे आहे. किंबहुना महाराष्ट्राचा भूजल विभाग खरे तर पिण्याचे पाणी उपलब्ध करून देण्यासाठी निर्माण झाला होता. पुढे जाऊन इतर अनेक विषय जोडले गेले पण आजदेखील पिण्याच्या पाण्याचा स्रोत (विहीर किंवा टंचाई काळामध्ये बोअर) कुठे करावी याबद्दल भूजल विभागाचे प्रमाणपत्र घ्यावे लागते (जल जीवन मिशन मध्ये देखील तेच). १९७० च्या दशकात विभागाने दुष्काळाच्या काळामध्ये कमालीची कामगिरी बजावली आणि लोकांना पाणी उपलब्ध करून दिले. संयुक्त राष्ट्रसंघाच्या युनिसेफ या संघटनेने दिलेली पहिली ड्रिलिंग रिग (ज्याने बोअर पाडता येते) आजदेखील भूजल विभागाच्या पुण्यातील मुख्य कार्यालयात दिमाखाने उभी आहे.  

भूजल विभाग किंवा शासनाने ज्या बोअरवेलची सुरुवात केली त्या आज प्रत्येक गावामध्ये (आणि शहरांमध्ये) फोफावल्या आहेत. आधी शासकीय आणि आता खाजगी पातळीवर अनेक शेतकरी, गावकरी, शहरी नागरिक, व्यवसाय अश्या बोअर किंवा विंधन विहिरी घेतांना आपल्याला दिसतात. शासकीय नियमामध्ये २००९ च्या कायद्यानुसार २०० फुटापर्यंतच (६० मीटर ते येत जवळपास १९६.८५ फूट- म्हणून बोलण्यात २०० फूट असा उल्लेख कायम असतो) विंधन विहिरी करता येणं शक्य आहे. त्यावर पंप बसवावा अशी तरतूद शासनाकडे नसून ते त्यावर हातपंप बसवतात. अनेक गावांमध्ये ग्राम पंचायत निधीतून किंवा इतर पैश्यातून ही विहीर अनेकदा खोल केली जाते (२०० फुटाला आज पाणी कुठे लागतंय व्हय) आणि त्यावर विद्युत पंप बसवला जातो. मी अभ्यास करत असलेल्या गावामध्ये अश्याच एका बोअरवेल विषयी एक आजी मला सांगतात हे ‘सत्तेचं पाणी’ आहे. विचारले असता म्हणाल्या ही सरकारी बोअर झाली त्यामुळे आमची त्यावर सत्ता आहे- उद्या कोणी मला विचारले पाणी का घेताय तर मी सांगू शकते माझा त्यावर ‘हक’ आहे.  

झाला प्रकार असा: गावामधील शाळेजवळ शासनाने एक हातपंप बसवला. गावातील लोकांनी काही वर्षांनी तो काढून, थोडा अजून खोल करून त्यावर विद्युत पंप बसवला- आणि ही बोअरवेल गावाला आता पाणी देऊ लागली. नुकतेच जवळील शेतामध्ये एका शेतकऱ्याने बोअर मारली आणि त्याच दिवशी या बोअरचे पाणी पळाले – असे निरीक्षण गावातील लोकांचे आहे. कायदा असं सांगतो की दोन सिंचनाच्या विहिरींमधील अंतर जवळपास १५० मीटर असावे (नुकत्याच झालेल्या कृषी मंत्रांच्या बैठकीतील प्रोसिडिंग नुसार तो ५० मीटर करावा असे एका कृषी अधिकाऱ्याने मला सांगितले). अर्थात हा नियम सिंचनाच्या विहिरींना लागू होतो- तोच बोअरवेल ला देखील लागू होतो का- पुढील तपासाचा विषय आहे. ही १५० मीटरची अट विचित्र आहे. ती कोणाला लागू होईल- फक्त ते शेतकरी जे नवीन विहीर घेण्यासाठी शासकीय योजनांवर निर्भर आहेत. याचाच अर्थ जर एखाद्या शेतकऱ्याने खाजगी खर्चातून विहीर घ्यायची ठरवली तर त्यांच्यासाठी ही अट फक्त कागदावर राहील. थोडक्यात ही लागूच होणार नाही. हेच बोअरवेलचे आहे- शासकीय बोअरवेल-लाच २०० फुटांची मर्यादा पण स्व खर्चातून केलेल्या बोअरवेल कोण तपासायला येणार आहे.  

पण पिण्याच्या पाण्यासाठी नियम वेगळा आहे. त्यासाठी १९९३ च्या कायद्यानुसार पिण्याच्या पाण्याच्या विहिरीमध्ये (विंधन विहिरीमध्ये देखील) आणि सिंचनाच्या/इतर विहिरीमध्ये अंतर हे ५०० मीटरचे असावे. हे अंतर ५०० मीटरवर कसे निश्चित केले हा भूजल विज्ञान अभ्यासाचा विषय आहे. पण या ५०० मीटरच्या नियमामुळे (स्थानिक तलाठी सांगतात- आजच्या स्थितीत अर्धा किलोमीटरच्या परिघात एकपण विहीर नसावी हे कठीणच आहे) वरील परिस्थितीत गावामध्ये घेण्यात आलेली नविन बोअरवेलवर आणि घेणाऱ्यावर कायदेशीर कारवाई होणार का- हा प्रश्न उपस्थित होतो (११९३ भूजल कायद्याच्या अंमलबजावणीचा अनुभव काही चांगला नाही- हे बघा). अश्या परिस्थितीत जर त्या शेतकऱ्याने लोकांना पाणी प्यायला दिले तर ते काही लोकांच्या हकचे पाणी नाही, त्यावर लोकांची सत्ता नाही. ते झाले ‘धर्माचे पाणी’ असे आजींनी सांगितले. पुण्याई कमावण्यासाठी त्या माणसाने जर असे कृत्य केले तर ते धर्माचे पाणी ठरते.  

बंद पडलेली बोअर  

कायदा काय सांगतो? १९९३ च्या भूजल कायद्यानुसार पिण्याच्या पाण्याचे स्रोत अबाधित ठेवायच्या हेतूने, वर्षभर सुरु राहावे याकरिता, स्थानिक पातळीवर दोन स्रोतांमधील अंतराचे नियमन करण्यात आले आहे. या अंतर्गत पिण्याच्या पाण्याच्या स्रोतापासून ५०० मीटरपर्यंत कोणतेही दुसरे स्रोत (सिंचनाचे किंवा खाजगी मालकीचे) नसायला हवे (तसं खाजगी काही करायचे असेल तर तशी तरतूद कायद्यात आहे म्हणा!). तसे जरी असले, तरी टंचाईच्या काळामध्ये ह्या परिसरामधील विहिरींमधून पाणी उपसा हा खाजगी उपयोगांसाठी करणे बेकायदेशीर आहे.  

२००९ च्या सुधारित भूजल कायद्यामध्ये  ही ५०० मीटरची अट बदलून आता ‘एरिया ऑफ इन्फ्लुएन्स’ अशी भूगर्भशास्त्रीय संकल्पना वापरण्यात आली आहे. म्हणजे ५०० मीटरची सर्वसामान अट नसून आता प्रत्येक ठिकाणची ठराविक भूजल प्रवाह रचना आणि साठवण क्षमता यांचा अभ्यास करून काढायचे आहे. एका विहिरीच्या उपशामुळे आजूबाजूच्या किती जमिनीखालील भूजलाच्या वहनावर परिणाम होतो- तेवढ्या क्षेत्राला (एरिया) ‘एरिया ऑफ इन्फ्लुएन्स’ असे संबोधले जाते. या संदर्भात अनेक याचिका/खटले सध्या महाराष्ट्र राज्य जलसंपत्ती प्राधिकरण कडे चालू आहेत. त्यामुळे आता भूजल विभागाला नक्की किती परिसर/क्षेत्र बाधित होते हे काढावे लागणार आहे आणि ५०० मीटरचा सरसकट मापदंड सगळीकडे लागू करता येणार नाही. असे जरी असले तरी या नवीन कायद्याच्या माहितीचा अभाव म्हणा, असा ठिकठिकाणच्या एरिया ऑफ इन्फ्लुएन्स काढण्यासाठी लागणारे मनुष्यबळ म्हणा, त्यासंदर्भातील एक्स्पर्टीज/विशेषज्ञ म्हणा – अश्या सर्व कारणांमुळे जुन्या कायद्यातील ५०० मीटरचा निकषच अजूनही सर्वत्र वापरण्यात येतो असे दिसून येते. कसेही असले, तरी थोडक्यात ह्या पिण्याच्या पाण्याच्या स्त्रोताच्या ५०० मीटर क्षेत्रातले, किंवा एरिया ऑफ इन्फ्लुएन्स मधील पाणी हे ‘कायद्याचे पाणी’ ठरते हे नक्की.  

पाणी जरी तेच असले तरी त्याला वेगवेगळा रंग चढतो- कधी सत्तेचा-हक्काचा, कधी धर्माचा-पुण्याईचा तर कधी कायद्याचा-विज्ञानाचा. गदिमा यांनी शब्दात मांडलेले, आणि अशा भोसले यांनी गायलेले हे गाणे यानिमित्ताने इथे थोडक्यात मांडावेसे वाटते: 

पाण्या तुझा रंग कसा? 

ज्याला जसा हवा तसा! 

पाण्या तुझा गंध कसा? 

मेळ ज्यासी घडे तसा! 

Of dug-wells and bore-wells

Dug-wells and Bore-wells form important groundwater sources in the hard rock regions of Maharashtra. According to latest minor irrigation census, there are about 25 lakh such sources for irrigation alone. Add to it about 5-6 lakh sources for drinking water needs, the number is well above 3 million sources in rural areas. There are about 28000 Gram Panchayats in the state. So this puts about 107 groundwater sources in each village. Ofcourse let us not allow averages to fool us. This development has been very inconsistent across the state and hence you see villages with about 1000s of these sources while some villages like those in the rustic and rough terrain of Western Ghats, the dense forested areas of Gadchiroli, Gondia and Nandurbar barely have a few of such sources.


The reason that prompted me to write this blog post is the book that I am currently reading. It is titled Charimera, which is a marathi novel written by Sadanand Deshmukh. He was winner of Sahitya Academy Award for his 2004 book called Baromas. Coming from the little represented (in Marathi literature ecosystem) Vibardha region of the state, he brings in a lot of regional context and cultural settings that have shaped the current socio-economic situation in this part of the state. Vidarbha has been constantly in the news of farmer suicides in the region. It has seen one of the highest rate of farmer suicides. This complex but important question is rarely dealt with in Marathi literature and Sadanand Deshmukh through his work, attempts to shed light on some aspects of this problem.

The book starts with a story of a farmer called Udeybhan who is under stress (in the beginning of the story) since his dug-well has reasonably dried up and he has to irrigate his onion crop which would otherwise fail. Given this situation, he plans to drill a bore-well in his farm. That is how the story sets up and immerses the reader in the regional context staring blank at the groundwater and agricultural crisis leading to vulnerable livelihoods.

The story also refers to many events and experiences like how the dug-well used to have a lot of water to pump many years ago, why the adjoining farmer has lot of water for his bore-well but Udeybhan’s bore-well failed to yield water and how banks are unable to provide any more loans and hence he borrows money from a money lender etc. In many ways, this story is representative of what is happening across most of Maharashtra. With dug-wells yielding less water, more and more farmers tend to take bore-wells.

A hydrogeologist will tell you that the dug-well taps a shallow or unconfined aquifer while the bore-well taps a deeper, confined aquifer. That we may yield more water in shallow aquifers than in deeper aquifers. He/She will also tell you how water quality may deteriorate as we go deeper and deeper in search of water. However, there are many other aspects of what attributes and frames do these two distinct groundwater sources shape and inform us about. I am trying to highlight this based on my interactions and understanding about the same.

Traditional vs Modern

One of the oldest dug well recently excavated by the team of archaeologist in Osmanabad suggest the use of these sources of water since ancient times. The said well in Ter in Osmanabad district of Maharashtra is a small diameter, shallow dug-well from the Satvahana period (230 BC to 200 AD) that may have been used for domestic water needs and for conserving groundwater. The traditional nature of dug-wells mean that they have a long history of use, development and eventual deterioration.

With the socio-cultural changes over the years, we have seen a change in groundwater use and the approaches to access this invisible resource. A issue of Bhavatal Magazine in 2018 actually looks at the different types of traditional groundwater sources like Barav, Aad, Vihir etc.

Buy Bhavatal Diwali Ank 2018 book by online at low price | Cart91

The book Charimera refers to a past reference when Udeybhan’s dug-well used to yield a lot of water. So much so that sugarcane cultivation was not at all a problem. However over the years the dug-well seemed to have stopped responding to the needs of its owner. One straight claim made by Udeybhan’s colleague is that ever since a bore-well was drilled in the adjoining land the dug-well has stopped yielding water as it used to.

A bore-well in Osmanabad

Bore-wells are modern. They have a history of about 2-3 decades and unlike dug-wells which are large diameter, shallow, bore wells on the other had are small diameter and deeper. The story of introduction of bore-wells in Maharashtra is interesting. The first bore-well rig was brought in early 1970s with help from international organisations like UNICEF to ensure drinking water security across the country. About 330 such drilling rigs worth 33 million dollars were brought into the country. It was only a matter of time that the technology which was brought in to address public water supply issues transformed the groundwater access scenario in the country. What has then ensued is an intense competition of frantic drilling and proliferation of bore-wells across the state. Bore-wells by their very nature (less yield, small scope of irrigation) seem to be more individualistic that dug-wells.

It’s fast and cheaper!

When Udeybhan plans to drill his bore-well he is first grappled with the question of location. Traditionally, there have been people in different communities often called Panadya who would suggest a location for taking up any groundwater source. They use traditional (scientific?) methods of identifying a nas (vein) in the ground that shall yield sufficient quantity of water. However in Udeybhan’s case, he is again led by his farm help who guides his to a certain tree and suggests a location looking at the perennial green foliage of the tree. Thus the location is finalised.

To his unfortunate luck, the first location where bore-well is drilled fails. The description is quite gripping as Sadanand Deshmukh takes us to the location by setting the context of ‘nerve wrecking sound’, ‘the land starting shouting and crying dangerously’, ‘drilling a hole into Mother Earth’ and such phrases to put us into that scene. As people start murmuring about Udeybhan’s bad luck, his wife Bhavanatai comes forward and gives her ornaments to take a loan and drilled at another location. This instantaneous action surprises Udeybhan, but he submits. Bystanders too support this action and lost in all the sounds of confusion, gossip, murmur and utter helplessness Udeybhan makes a rapid decision to drill at another location in his farm. Alas, that one fails too. Now Udeybhan and Bhawanatai stare at a loan, gold ornaments that are mortgaged, a failing onion crop and lack of immediate future.

When the first bore-well is drilled and it fails, Udeybhan’s farm help suggest to construct a dug-well around that place since at shallower depths there was a flow of water that emerged and then subsided as the bore drilled deeper. This suggestion was immediately discarded since it will take at least 2 months time to construct a dug-well and in any which ways it shall not go beyond 60-70 feet. Secondly, it shall be at least 3 to 5 times more costly than a bore-well.

This brings us to an important question when it comes to planning, opportunity and cost. Dug-wells mean advanced planning, they mean meticulous arrangement of funds and it is not ‘seizing an opportune moment’ but actually creating one opportunity. Bore-wells on the other hand can be quite instinctive, urgent or immediate. A bore-well can be set up within a day’s time while dug-wells may need at least one or two months time to be completed set up for use. This means, given a situation of a farmer staring at crop failure, he or she may go for a bore-well than a dug-well. It is cheap, takes less time (and less space too) and can be conveniently drilled, to quote Shakira, whenever, wherever. Dug-wells are no game for such whims and fancies.

Seeing is believing

Unlike dug-wells in whom water can be seen by bare eyes, a simple glance in that pit, bore-wells have a different story. Bore-well water cannot be seen, but can only be felt (by dropping a stone and hearing a noice, or using an electric tape etc.). This brings us to another question of seeing is believing. Dug-wells can be like trustworthy friends, who may not be able to help you all the time, but are there to be seen, to be around, someone you can count on. Bore-wells on the other hand are like those long lost friends, who may come to your help (to your surprise) or may not turn around and this should not surprise you!

There are a few descriptions in Charimera when Udeybhan looks into his dug-well and can only see darkness and a cavity that reminds you of a past that may have been quite interesting. This has a very humane and spiritual connotation, like that phrase looking into one’s owe self and see the darkness within. May be this is one of the reason why dug-wells have long been associated with horrors of the past. They are a gateway of reminiscence of a past long gone, but only comes back to us in the present to haunt us. A Marathi movie that came in about few years back title Vihir (dug-well) was one such attempt to link the philosophical aspects of dug-wells existence. Dug-wells, in one sense, give visibility or a sense of existence to groundwater that is quite invisible and hidden in its nature. They help bring groundwater into the realm of consciousness, if one may say so!

Vihir - Wikipedia

Bore-wells, a relatively recent phenomena are on the other hand quite opposite. They help keep groundwater invisible, are entities that cannot be trusted. This is somehow also reflected in the fact that many farmers with farm ponds prefer to pump out bore-well water into these ponds as the water transcends from deep seated aquifers to surface structures. There are regular news articles and media coverage of events about little children falling into these bore-wells and being trapped, with a huge operation involving multiple agencies attempting to retrieve them! News articles have termed them as ‘Killer‘ for this reason.

In Charimera, the author in a very subtle way makes a comment on the tight and often inseparable connection between land rights and groundwater. This aptly comes out through a reference to recent past when Udeybhan sold a piece of his farm land to an influential farmer/person in their village referred to as ‘KD’. When Udeybhan sold his farm, KD immediately drilled a bore-well in that farm and was able to yield good amount of water, which as per Udeybhan and his farm help was enough to make their old dug-well dry and helpless. There is no way to address this challenge and arriving at collective choices when it comes to groundwater management. Bore-wells, if one has to give an analogy of physchology, are subconscious entities, those who are present but not explicit, something, some being whose presence cannot be denied but also difficult be described!

As we go forward into the future, the deeds of the past and present shall come back to haunt us just as this apt description of what can a ‘dug-well’ mean on the back cover of a book from another Marathi novel called Danshkal by Hrushikesh Gupte (the book is too gripping, by the way). A simple translation (in my capacity) is: ‘There is darkness in the well. If you glance into it, you may feel dizzy. There can be anything in that darkness. Anything means anything. But what that anything is, cannot be understood unless one gets down into the well.’ The author then goes on to tell how well has all the answers, to questions that one may come across, and even to those which one won’t!

Disclaimer: This post contents reference to narrative from the book Charimera by Sadanand Deshmukh. So, I want to thank him and for his book to have enabled to express myself and my thoughts on this.