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THIS COMPREHENSIVE AND well-illustrated presentation of India’s ancient water-harvesting systems highlights their potential for contributing to contemporary India’s development, especially with regard to irrigation and drinking water supply. It explains how the water-harvesting systems used in rural India played a very important role in empowering local communities, in creating economic wealth in poor villages, in promoting integrated village ecosystem management – a form of sustainable development which had the potential to alleviate rural poverty and unemployment – and in the overall improvement of the nation's environment.

Chapter 1 describes the ancient advanced water-harvesting systems, drawing on historic texts, temple inscriptions, local traditions and archaeological remains. These include the hydraulic engineering techniques of the Bhopal lake, the chronicles of Kashmir, the dams of the Zoroastrians, the reservoir construction of the Hauz Khas tank and the irrigation systems of Bengal and Sri Lanka, which show the diversity and ancient nature of these technologies. Chapter 2 describes the traditional water harvesting that developed over time in different ecological regions, reflecting India's great ecological diversity. Descriptions for each region are illustrated with maps and photographs, elaborating on regional ecological characteristics and human water systems formulated both in the past and present. Many case studies are included, either contextualizing ancient indigenous water systems into the wider society in relation to water rights, property fragmentation, agricultural systems and modernization or focusing on particular water supply areas such as ponds, glaciers or mountain rivers in relation to the development of specific water technologies. Community management is also explored as an intrinsic and important component of these technologies, as is the decline in its use in the process of "modernization".

Chapter 3 traces the history of India in a pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial context, tracing structural changes within society – namely from community control to state supremacy – and how this helps explain the neglect of traditional water systems and the decline in their use and efficiency. Chapter 4 describes the revival of these water-harvesting systems, along with a discussion of why they should be revived and whether they can work within contemporary India. The authors review the present state of national policy and international funding agency efforts and discuss the issues of community participation and water management, water rights and the equitable distribution of, and access to, water resources. Particular efforts, initiated either by local NGOs or communities, are discussed with reference to the ecological, social, economic and political specificity of each case, with sectoral planning models and associated issues surrounding NGO involvement and community participation being of prime concern.

In a conclusions section, the authors recommend policy changes, the need for a national body to coordinate support for the revival of traditional systems and the need for more research into these technologies. They also suggest that the kinds of water-harvesting systems described in the book, when fused with modern technology, could significantly contribute to India's water security and to her overall sustainable development.

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Published by and available from the Centre for Science and Environment, 41 Tughlakabad Institutional Area, New Delhi 110 062, India, price US$12 soft cover, US$18 hard cover.

Publication Details

  • Published: 1997
  • Publisher: Centre for Science and Environment
  • ISBN-10: 818690607X
  • ISBN-13: 9788186906071
  • Dewey Decimal: 628.140
  • ECHO Library: 628.140 AGA

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