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Photos and movies on current water topics in India

Everything you wanted to know about rivers in India - Compilation of all videos from the "Living rivers, dying rivers" series of talks organised by India International Centre and Centre for Policy Research at New Delhi over 2011-12

The India International Centre launched a series of talks titled ‘Living Rivers, Dying Rivers’ in collaboration with the Centre for Policy Research. The attempt was to join the crucial debates surrounding the alarming increase in environmental degradation, especially of rivers and river systems, without which the very survival of all species is in jeopardy.

A certain number of rivers, some sick or dying, some living and healthy, and some showing early signs of sickness, were taken up for presentations and discussion, and an attempt made to understand what has gone wrong in many cases, what has gone right in some, and what needs to be done to revive and restore dying or sick rivers. The series has been conceived and carried forward by India’s foremost expert in the field, Prof. Ramaswamy Iyer.

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Videos: Resurgence of the ahar pynes - Magadh Jal Jamaat helps revive 2000-year old flood water harvesting systems in Gaya, Bihar

Magadh Jal Jamaat, a loose network of progressive individuals in Gaya has been successfully able to revive over a dozen abandoned water sources and have instilled in people the need to create, clean up and conserve several lakes and ponds in the region. The problem of water scarcity had been of late afflicting the region, which once had a good system of ponds.

It is in this background that the group scripted a unique success story when they revived the Saryu talaab in 2006 and later on the Jamune Dasain in Gaya city with the help of Army Service Corps Gaya, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), police officials, professors, students, doctors and farmers. The revival of this pond set in motion a surge of constructive forces in the region and soon the effects ping-ponged into the revival of ahar pynes, the traditional water harvesting systems in the region. Around seventeen panchayats benefitted from the revival of the 28 km long Chapardha pyne, which carries greater discharge than the Son canal, the main public irrigation system in the area.

"Apna Pani - Apni Pahal" - A film on Magadh Jal Jamaat's work on reviving the ahar pyne systems in Gaya, Bihar - Part I

Magadh is centrally located in the present area of South Bihar. Its southern part is undulated and rocky while the northern part comprises of plains. There are plains ensconced within the undulated areas too where good agriculture has prevailed through the millennia. An elaborate network of ahar pynes have provided irrigation to the region, which was able to support the ancient Nalanda University and feed over fifty two water bodies in the area, which is constantly swarmed with pilgrims.

The area receives an annual average precipitation of over 1100 mm most of which falls during the monsoon months from June to September. Drawing upon centuries of experience, people built ahar pyne systems, to divert the floodwaters through pynes and stored them in ahars. Ahars are reservoirs with embankments on three sides and are built at the end of drainage lines such as rivulets or artificial works like pynesPynes are diversion channels led off from the river for irrigation purposes and for impounding water in the ahars.

It is mostly to the credit of these systems that paddy cultivation has been possible in this otherwise relatively low rainfall area, when compared to North Bihar. The system attained its highest development in the district of Gaya.

While the state had a role to play in the construction of the systems they were largely managed by the people in a collective mode. Modern development brought in hand pumps for drinking water purposes but very soon the decline of the aquifer led to them going defunct. The ahar pyne embankments got dilapidated, pynes became conduits of waste water and ponds became the new dumping grounds for solid wastes.

Rivers became big sewer lines and its beds were encroached for real estate purposes. The lakes meant for pilgrimage too got fouled and their water was no longer of bathing quality. Dug wells that brought up the water with diesel-powered pumps too started drying up and the supply of its water for the kharif season crop declined. The land could no longer support the families who lived on it, and this led to widespread migration. People got ever more alienated from community institutions which became weaker. They did not have time for community work such as maintaining ahar pynes, a final blow that rendered the systems defunct.

Religious tourism also played a significant role in hurrying this process. To tackle these, while in some villages people made efforts to revive these traditional systems, a tipping point that brought some of these systems back to life. But at most places they hung around waiting to be a part of the Son canal or Indrapuri barrage command area.

"Apna Pani - Apni Pahal" - A film on Magadh Jal Jamaat's work on reviving the ahar pyne systems in Gaya, Bihar - Part II

The state on the other hand was content at making laws. The Bihar Irrigation Act was enacted in 1997. Promila Pathak, Magadh Jal Jamaat has analysed the Act and is of the view that the provision of the Bihar Irrigation Act brings about privatization of state canal irrigation systems as well as ahar pynes. She says that as per the Act “all rights in the water of river, natural stream or natural drainage channel, natural lake or natural collection of water shall vest with the State Government subject to the provisions of Article 262 and Entry 56 of List of seventh schedule of the Constitution of India... Further, when the State Government proposes to construct a canal it shall publish a notification declaring its intention and indicating the site of the head work. And most importantly, no rights shall be acquired against the government under the provisions of the Indian Easement Act, 1882 in these waters."

Attempts have been made to privatise the traditional irrigation systems during the period 1997-2008 and the Magadh Jal Jamaat has been creating awareness about the consequences of this and the need to successfully restore the systems on a collective basis. While the state has been creating grounds for bringing in new policy and legal framework, Magadh Jal Jamaat has formulated a Water Policy for the Magadh region based on wide consultations.

Magadh Jal Jamaat came up with a booklet titled “Gaya shahar ki jal vyavastha: Samasya evam samadhan”, which attempts to deepen the understanding of the city’s physiography, hydrogeology, present status of water availability, its potential and based on these suggests water management measures that should be taken. It notes that the city when compared to places in Punjab and Gujarat is better endowed in terms of water availability but has highly inadequate water storage and distribution mechanism. The crisis according to Ravindra Pathak, Magadh Jal Jamaat is man-made and the problem has been plaguing the city in the drought years of 2006 and 2010.

While the State Government had rights over the water, the Bihar Irrigation Act also delegated the Collector with the authority to engage any agency to repair or construct the water systems whenever it is unable to do so on its own and this is one point which Magadh Jal Jamaat has utilised. In this locale, where agriculture is increasingly becoming unviable and irrigation costly, Magadh Jal Jamaat has created a momentum by focusing on smaller barrages on streams and calling for renovation of the system through regular removal of sand through reviving collective means like the traditional system of gomam (community labour), which had till some time ago seemed to have been washed away with the top soil.

They are actively working in close collaboration with the State Government to facilitate the creation of community based organizations for undertaking large-scale ahar-pyne renovation programme in the area. Ravindra Pathak notes that “so far the group has revived over a dozen abandoned water sources including Saryu talab in Gaya and has created several new ones”. 

Please find below two documents (in Hindi) by Magadh Jal Jammat -

Download these documents : Size
Gaya shahar ki jal vyavastha - The water systems of Gaya, Bihar - A booklet by Magadh Jal Jamaat14.38 MB
Magadh ki jal vyavastha - The water systems of Magadh region, Bihar - A booklet by Magadh Jal Jamaat58.16 MB

An exhibition at Studio Safdar in Shadi Khampur traces the history of the urban village and its water systems

Guest post: Amita Bhaduri

West Delhi’s dusty neighbourhood, Shadi Khampur now has its own museum, in the traditional brick-and-mortar sense. I live nearby, have worked out of an office here and am familiar with the alleyways. But I got to know only now, what life in the neighbourhood was like. Its rich history and its connect to larger narratives from the past, like the series of land acquisitions in Delhi, the Emergency, and the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 which had gone largely undocumented and unarchived have been chronicled in the Neighbourhood Museum of Local History of Shadi Khampur, at Studio Safdar, a cafe cum bookstore.

Studio Safdar

Neighbourhood Museum at Studio Safdar

Source: Facebook page on “Public Art Project at Studio Safdar”

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A toilet that loves the environment: A film by the Himalaya Seva Sangh highlighting Uttarakhand's experience with eco-san toilets

This article describes a short film 'Parisar Snehi Shauchalaya' produced by the Himalaya Seva Sangh. This film describes the HSS' experiences with constructing and promoting eco-san toilets in the Pauri-Garhwal region of Uttarakhand.Read More

Videos: Appiko movement led by Pandurang Hegde helps protect and conserve flora and fauna of Western Ghats in Sirsi and Shimoga, Karnataka

This video presents a short look at an ongoing initiative - the Appiko movement led by Pandurang Hegde. The movement with the active involvement of local community works towards the protection of flora and fauna of Western Ghats, in Shimoga and Sirsi regions of Karnataka.


Inspired by the famous Chipko movement in Uttarakhand, Hegde decided to start a similar movement in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka. He states that the land under forest cover has gradually reduced over a period of time. From 82% in 1980s it has now come down to 35%.


Based on these three principles, Hegde has been working on a silent revolution to conserve distinct varities of flora and fauna:

  1. Ulisu aims to save and protect the resources that cannot be regenerated artificially
  2. Belesu aims to grow trees for regeneration of the resource
  3. Balasu aims to use the forest resources in a rational manner
Over three decades of experience in conserving the forest resources, the effort taken by this fiery activist, this video is truly inspiring to watch.

Yamuna - Talk by Prof Brij Gopal and Manoj Misra at the “Living rivers, dying rivers” series, organised at IIC, New Delhi in July 2011

Guest post: Amita Bhaduri

The second lecture in the series titled "Living rivers, dying rivers" was delivered on the subject of Yamuna river by Prof. Brij Gopal, Former Prof. of JNU and Manoj Misra, PEACE Institute and Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan. The lecture held on July 11, 2011 at the India International Centre, New Delhi highlighted the complex challenges faced by the river which on the one hand is worshipped as a divinity and on the other hand abused. The series coordinated by Prof. Ramaswamy R Iyer aimed at understanding what has been happening to rivers across India and in drawing appropriate lessons.

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Wandering waters: A breathtaking photo essay on the rivers of India

The Lohit, Arunachal Pradesh

Rivers criss cross across the country in various hues and shades, weaving a vibrant ,vivid tapestry. They ferry lives and homes, providing livelihood to millions of Indians. Revered and worshipped since time immemorial, they are a breathing, living entity in themselves!

Here is a breathtaking photo essay on the rivers of India by Ayan Ghosh.

Let's talk about soil: A short educational movie by the Global Soil Partnership

Often ignored, soil is quite literally the foundation of our existence. However, soils are now threatened by a variety of factors including deforestation, improper cultivation and urbanization. The Global Soil Partnership is working to bring some focus to this neglected area. This article presents  a short animated film produced by the partnership.
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