Drinking Water Crisis in Kutch

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Economic and political weekly document on drinking water crisis in Kutch

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<ul><li><p>Economic and Political Weekly November 30, 2002 4859</p><p>Drinking Water Crisis in KutchA Natural Phenomenon?</p><p>This paper discusses how a natural water scarcity in the Kutch region of Gujarat has beenconverted into a severe water crisis due to the approach of the post-independence waterresource development and utilisation. It also brings out the impact of three decades of</p><p>relentless extraction of groundwater resources and its almost irreversible effect on the landand water resources of Kutch</p><p>I see a truck coming,carrying the dead bodies of cowsI see another one going,carrying green grass for the cattle camps.Suddenly I see, a protruding leg of a deadcowscratching against the grass,splashing down few blades of grass,My heart bleeds.how much the poor life would have starved?If her lifeless leg is longing so much totouch the grass.</p><p> Kavi Tej (original Kutchi lines bywell known Kutchi Poet on 1987</p><p>drought)</p><p>These lines truly describe the sever-ity of the 1987 drought in Kutch.The poet shared them with us duringour first meeting. After reciting this movingKutchi poem, he told us, Other years arenot too different anymore. An avidbirdwatcher and nature lover, he also toldus how the number and diversity of mi-gratory birds have reduced in past fewyears because of the unprecedented scar-city of water and vegetation. Besides giv-ing an idea of the current situation inKutch, this conversation also gave us animpression of its past. Probably earlier itwas not so bad, we thought.</p><p>This north-western region of Gujarat isnationally known as water scarce anddrought prone. Owing to its semi-aridcharacter, scarcity of water is not a recentphenomenon in Kutch. What is recent isthe problem of drinking water despitehaving one of the largest piped water supplynetworks in Gujarat, covering 92 per centvillages of Kutch. More than 20 per centvillages, however, remain under tankerwater supply. The annual expenditure ontanker water supply exceeds Rs 20 millionbesides large capital and operational ex-penses of the public water supply schemes.</p><p>The urban water supply situation is nobetter. As potable water is becoming scarce,the private water market is growing inevery small and big town of Kutch. Despitehuge investments in piped water supply,this region of Gujarat reels under a severedrinking water crisis throughout the year.Modern and traditional technologies arefailing, wells and bores are drying uprapidly, even tubewells are fast turningsaline and drinking water quality is dete-riorating. This is happening not in onevillage or in a taluka, but all over Kutch.Ironically, This is the region that haswitnessed the rise of one of the oldestcivilisation, the Indus Valley.</p><p>The problem of drinking water is oftenblamed on the natural water scarcity in theregion and low rainfall. Often a solutionis seen in getting water from outside. Inthis paper, we discuss how natural waterscarcity has been converted into a severewater crisis due to the post-independencewater resource development and utilisationapproach. The paper also brings out theimpact of three decades of unprecedentedextraction of groundwater resources andits almost irreversible long-term impact onthe land and water resources of Kutch.</p><p>IRegional Characteristics andPre-Independence Context</p><p>Kutch is the largest district of Gujarat,embracing more than 45,000 sq km, oc-cupying 23 per cent of the total area of thestate. In Sanskrit, Kutch means area sur-rounded by water, a name derived fromkachhua, or tortoise. Interestingly bothin plan and 3-D Kutch looks like a tortoise inthe water. The vast expanse of this geo-logically rich and complex region com-prises several distinct sub-regions named</p><p>after their special ecological and socialcharacteristics. Though officially not recog-nised any more, these names still remain inaverage Kutchi consciousness and popularlanguage, like kanthi for coastal region,and makpat for misty lands of north-west. The land of Kutch offers a largevariety of landscapes from east to west andnorth to south a rich composition ofdrylands and green fields, black hills andthe unending Arabian sea, white salt landscalled Rann and beautiful grasslands. Thesocial mainstream has evolved due to theconfluence of a large number of ethnic andreligious communities that came from Sindh,Marwar, Baluchistan, Saurashtra and otherregions. The dynamics of acculturationprocesses, conversions, reconversions andmigrations back and forth have given riseto the complex ethnic assemblage. In 1818,Dalpatram Khakkhar, an educationist ofKutch, described more than 110 caste-community groupings [Gala 1989].</p><p>Rainfall in Kutch is rather erratic andlow averaging 350 mm in a year, with widevariations from year to year. Rainfall ishighly localised, and comes in heavy spates.Such sudden spates and their high veloci-ties cause heavy soil erosion and reducethe natural groundwater recharge. Gene-rally, in every 10 years, three years are neardry, three have low rains, three are normalyears and there is one year of above-average rains. Complete failure of rainsonce in three years is part of the culturalknowledge for Kutchis. It is commonlybelieved that the present water crisis is dueto decliming rainfall but an analysis of thepast 110 years (1878-1988) rainfall datashows that the rainfall pattern has remainedlargely unchanged. Failure of rain is an oldphenomenon in Kutch.</p><p>The topography is diverse in differentparts ranging from high hills and plains</p><p>CHARUL BHARWADA, VINAY MAHAJAN</p></li><li><p>Economic and Political Weekly November 30, 20024860</p><p>to grasslands and the Rann. More than 50per cent of the total area is Rann. Thereare no perennial rivers. Seasonal riversoriginate from the central uplands and floweither towards the Greater Rann, LittleRann or the sea. There are about 97 riversand rivulets. The temperature varies from amaximum of 45 C during summer to a mini-mum of 2 C in winter. High temperaturesand dry weather cause high evaporationfrom surface waters, up to 8 feet per annum.</p><p>Large parts of the Kutch land mass wereformed in a marine environment, which isthe main reason for the inherently salinegroundwater. Usable groundwater is foundonly in the central region and a small partof the coastal belt covering an area of2,700 sq km, less than 15 per cent of themainland Kutch known as the tubewellzone as shown in Figure 1. But at thedeeper levels this zone also has inherentsalinity of marine formations. In all otherplaces groundwater is available in shallowunconfined conditions. The natural char-acteristics of the water resources in Kutchcan be summed up as follows:(1) No perennial rivers, low rains, and highevaporation rate together contribute to poorsurface water resources;(2) Large parts of Kutch formed under thesea limiting the availability of potablegroundwater.(3) Kutch being a self-contained geo-hydrological unit, no potential of rechargefrom neighbouring areas is possible;(4) In vast lands where the topography isfavourable for recharge, the inherent sa-linity of the land renders it unsuitable forstoring sweet water.</p><p>Thus the only renewable natural sourceof water is the annual rainfall it receives.Given the geographical proximity, thewaters of the river Sindhu appear to be anobvious alternative but that too is notfeasible. The Indus water treaty signed byIndia and Pakistan in 1962 gave away therights of the western rivers like Jhelum,Chenab and Sindhu to Pakistan and thoseof Ravi, Beas and Sutlej to India [Thakkarand Thakkar 1988].</p><p>Scarcity of water affects every sphere oflife in Kutch. Distinctly different lifestylesand cultural patterns have emerged hing-ing on and around water along with nu-merous practices of water conservationand domestic water use patterns.</p><p>Kutch had been an independent stateduring British rule and had a well-deve-loped national and international tradingsystem. When most of the maritime statesjoined or were forced to join the Indian</p><p>Customs Union under British rule, Kutchalways struggled to remain independent.1</p><p>Due to this, Kutchs trade suffered heavilyduring the colonial period. Even after 1947,it remained a separate state of India until1956. This independent state became a dis-trict of bilingual Bombay state in 1956 andfinally a district of Guajrat state in 1960.</p><p>Owing to large grasslands and a longcoastline, livestock management, a con-tinuation of the Sindh-Marwar pattern andmaritime trade became the backbone ofmainland Kutchs flourishing economy.Just to illustrate the significance of pas-toralism, despite the severe drought of1987, Kutch has a higher livestock popu-lation (14.2 lakh) compared with the humanpopulation (12.6 lakh).2 While quotingthe travel notes of Captain AlexanderBurnes, who travelled in this region during1824-28, Rushbrook captures aspects ofKutchs old economy:</p><p>The foreign trade by sea continued to beimportant and the restoration of order hadfavoured the growth of a considerable packtraffic from Kutch and particularly fromthe Abdasa, to Marwar and Gujarat. Oneof the striking features of the economy ofthe state at this time was the flourishingcondition of the pastoralists as contrastedwith the cultivators. On the grazing landsto the north of Kutch and on the Rannislands, large herds of cows, buffaloes,camels and flocks of sheep and goats weremaintainedThe lot of cultivators was notso good. In bad seasons while villageswould move away to Sinda great dealof food was imported, particularly coarserice from Sind and dates from Arabia[Rushbrook 1956].</p><p>In Kutchs long history of maritime trade,Mandvi, Mundra, Jakhau, Koteshwar andLakhpat have been famous ancient ports.Except Mandvi and Mundra, others arenow out of use for various reasons. Firstly,large modern vessels could not be an-chored at smaller ports such as Mandvi,Jakhau, and Mundra, etc. Secondly, withthe establishment of a modern port likeKandla, all sea-trade was diverted there.Moreover, siltation, lack of maintenanceand unfavourable policies have furtherreduced the utility of the ports. However,Mandvi has continued its shipbuildingactivities. The excellence of Kutch alsolied in its craftsmanship. Gold work, silverwares, iron and copper work, glazing,polishing, cotton spinning, weaving andembroidery were the hallmark of Kutchihandicrafts.</p><p>Agriculture in Kutch had never been awidely practised occupation due to lowproductivity of lands, low rainfall and pooravailability of water. Uncertainties ofrainfed agriculture had always been veryhigh, resulting in great dependence onfoodgrain from outside, particularly Sindh.Frequent failures of rainfall would com-pletely wipe out the crops. The conditionsof the Kutchi farmer had been poor in mostparts. Crop failures were frequent and sowere the famines. Describing the condi-tion of Kutchi farmers, the All KutchTraders Associations president, Dun-garshi Dharmashi Sampat, wrote in 1935:</p><p>Kutchi farmer is very poor. He is quiteoppressed under moneylenders clutchesEvery farmer is debt ridden. His lands aremortgaged to the moneylenders. They work</p><p>Figure 1: Usable Groundwater (Tubewell) Zone</p><p>TDS in ppmSalinity at all levelsUsable groundwater</p><p>Source: Planning Atlas of Gujarat, GoG, 1987.</p><p>banni grasslands</p><p>10 0 10 20 30 40 KM</p><p>NALIYA</p><p>BHUJ</p><p>RAPAR</p><p>LITTLE RANN</p><p>G U L F</p><p>O FK U</p><p> T C H</p><p>A R A B I A NS E A</p><p>G R E A T E R R A N N O F K U T C H</p><p>PAKISTAN</p></li><li><p>Economic and Political Weekly November 30, 2002 4861</p><p>very hard but still the debt continues forgenerations. They live on moneylendersmercy. There is no end to his agonyKutchifarmers are ruined. It does not rain enoughand the land does not grow enough.</p><p>Kutchi merchants travelled far and wideto the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, the ports ofthe west Asia and many parts of Africa.Bullion, dates, grain, timber, rhinoceroshides, spices, elephant tusks, silks anddrugs were brought from Malabar, Mocha,Muscat and Africa and on the return jour-ney merchants carried cotton, cloth, oil,butter and alum of Kutch. For every Kutchiwho habitually lives and works insideKutch, there is another Kutchi who habitu-ally lives and works outside, whether inMumbai, Kolkata, East Africa, Aden, thePersian Gulf, Europe or the US [Rushbrook1958]. Venturing out for business and workto foreign lands is thus a tradition forenterprising Kutchi merchants. At present,as against nearly 12 lakh native Kutchisin Kutch, more than 19 lakh Kutchis liveoutside Kutch, many of them in Mumbai.</p><p>Droughts have been very common andhave had a severe impact on agricultureand all other economic activities. Of theearly famines, not much is recorded andknown except the great famine of 1577,but just in the latter half of the 18th centurythere were seven famines followed byseveral scarcity years and a few faminesthroughout the 19th century. Availablerecords from 1631 to 1988 bring out a verygrim picture of the past. In these 357 years,there have been 45 bad years. There were11 famines and several drought and scar-city years. Scarcity, drought and faminesforced people to migrate to neighbouringSindh en masse along with their livestock.</p><p>The population was never stable as isevident from the records of out-migration.Recorded figures in the gazetteer showthat in a span of just 13 years, from 1862to 1875, more than 2 lakh people andthousands of livestock had migrated outof Kutch, whereas only 41,000 peoplereturned.3 Earthquakes were another natu-ral calamity frequently faced by Kutchis.In a span of 111 years from 1845 to 194666 slight to moderate earthquakes, fivesevere and two very severe earthquakeshad struck Kutch.4</p><p>The low population density was anotherway to survive in resource-scarce naturalconditions. Settlements were small andscattered. This reduced the relative re-source requirements, particularly water, atone location. This is reflected in the presentsettlement pattern. The present population</p><p>density on the Kutch mainland is merely56 persons per sq km as against 210 forthe entire state.</p><p>IITraditional Drinking Water</p><p>Systems and Present Status</p><p>Despite such unfavourable natural con-ditions, the history of human habitation inKutch goes back several thousand years.Evidence from pre-historic times found inKutch and surrounding regions shows thata predominantly pastoralist lifestyle ex-isted in these regions around 12,000 yearsago [Vaidya 1995, Goswami 1992]. In thearchaeological excavations at Dholavira,5</p><p>a well-developed underground channelnetwork is found, a unique feature of allthe Harappan sites [Vasa 1995].</p><p>How did people manage water in therecent past, particularly before indepen-dence, and what is their present status?Most of the late 19th and early 20th century</p><p>accounts repeatedly mention that waterfrom the Kutch streams was unfit to drink(for humans) and was too saline even forcattle during the summer. Livestock sur-vived on saline water during summer. Dueto the absence of a perennial river, peoplelearnt to survive by developing variousmethods to harness the scarce rainwater[Campbell 1880]. James MacMurdo wrotein 1818 about the rivers of Kutch:</p><p>I do not think that there is any perennialriver in this regionMany of them dry...</p></li></ul>