Rajendra Singh at Alwar in September 2014.
6 August 1959|
Daula, Bagpat district,
|Alma mater||Allahabad University|
|Organization||Tarun Bharat Sangh|
|Known for||Community-based conservation|
Rajendra Singh (born on 9 August 1959) is a well-known water conservationist from Alwar district, Rajasthan in India. Also known as "waterman of India", he won the Stockholm Water Prize, an award known as "the Nobel Prize for water", in 2015. Previously, he won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership in 2001 for his pioneering work in community-based efforts in water harvesting and water management. He runs an NGO called 'Tarun Bharat Sangh' (TBS), which was founded in 1975. The NGO based in village Kishori-Bhikampura in Thanagazi tehsil, near Sariska Tiger Reserve, has been instrumental in fighting the slow bureaucracy, mining lobby and has helped villagers take charge of water management in their semi-arid area as it lies close to Thar Desert, through the use of johad, rainwater storage tanks, check dams and other time-tested as well as path-breaking techniques. Starting from a single village in 1985, over the years TBS helped build over 8,600 johads and other water conservation structures to collect rainwater for the dry seasons, has brought water back to over 1,000 villages and revived five rivers in Rajasthan, Arvari, Ruparel, Sarsa, Bhagani and Jahajwali.
He is one of the members of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) under Ministry of Environment, Govt. of India, which was set up in 2009, by the Government of India as an empowered planning, financing, monitoring and coordinating authority for the Ganges (Ganga), in exercise of the powers conferred under the Environment (Protection) Act,1986. In 2008, The Guardian named him amongst its list of "50 people who could save the planet". In the UK he is a founder member of an NGO called the Flow Partnership which aims to counter the negative effects of soil erosion and flooding.
Early life and education
Rajendra Singh was born at village Daula in Bagpat district in Uttar Pradesh near Meerut. Both sides of his Rajput family belong to the zamindari tradition, and he was the eldest of seven siblings. His father was an agriculturist and looked over their 60 acres of land in the village and where Singh did his early schooling.
An important event in his life came in 1974, when still in high school, Ramesh Sharma, a member of Gandhi Peace Foundation visited their family home in Meerut, this opened up young Rajendra's mind, to issues of village improvement, as Sharma went about cleaning the village, opened a vachnalaya (library) and even got involved in settling local conflicts; soon he involved Rajendra in an alcoholism eradication program. Another important influence was an English language teacher in school, Pratap Singh, who started discussing politics and social issues with his students after class. At this time Emergency was imposed in 1975, making him aware about the issues of democracy and formulate independent views. After finishing high school education. He enrolled for post graduation in Hindi literature, at another college in Baraut, affiliated with Allahabad University. He became the leader of a local chapter of Chatra Yuva Sangarsh Vahini, a student activism organisation founded by Jaiprakash Narayan (Magsaysay Award, 1965), though after Jaiprakash fell ill, the internal power politics disillusioned him.
After completing his studies, he joined government service in 1980, and started his career as a National Service Volunteer for education in Jaipur, from where he was appointed to oversee adult education schools in Dausa district in Rajasthan. Meanwhile, he joined Tarun Bharat Sangha (Young India Association) or TBS, an organization formed by officer and students of Jaipur University to aid victims of a campus fire. Subsequently, after three years when he became the General Secretary of organisation, he questioned the organisation, which had been dabbling with various issues, for its inadequacy in having a substantial impact, finally in 1984 the entire board resigned leaving the organization to him. One of the first tasks he took up was working with a group nomad blacksmiths, who though travelled from village to village has little support from anyone. This exposure inspired him to work closely with people. However back at work, he was feeling increasingly frustrated by the apathy of his superiors towards developmental issues and his own inability to have a larger impact, he left his job in 1984. He sold all his household goods for Rs 23,000 and took a bus ticket for the last stop, on boarded bus going into interior of Rajasthan, along with him were four friends from Tarun Bharat Sangha. The last stop turned out to be Kishori village in Thanagazi tehsil in Alwar district, and the day was 2 October 1985. After initial skepticism, the villagers of neighboring village Bhikampura accepted him, and here they found a place to stay. Soon, he started a small Ayurvedic medicine practice in nearby village Gopalpura, while his colleagues went out about promoting education in the villages.
Alwar district, which once had a grain market, was at the time largely dry and barren, as years of deforestation and mining had led to a dwindling water table, minimal rainfall followed by floods. Another reason was the slow abandoning of traditional water conservation techniques, like building check dams, or johad, instead villagers started relying on "modern" bore wells, which simply sucked the groundwater up. But consistent use meant that these bored wells had to be dug deeper and deeper within a few years, pushing underground water table further down each time, till they went dry in ecologically fragile Aravalis. At this point he met a village elder, Mangu Lal Patel, who argued "water was a bigger issue to address in rural Rajasthan than education". He chided him to work with his hands rather than behaving like "educated" city folks who came, studied and then went back; later encouraged him to work on a johad, earthen check dams, which have been traditionally used to store rainwater and recharge groundwater, a technique which had been abandoned in previous decades. As a result, the area had no ground water since previous five years and was officially declared a "dark zone". Though Rajendra wanted to learn the traditional techniques from local farmers about water conservation, his other city friends were reluctant to work manually and parted ways. Eventually with the help of a few local youths he started desilting the Gopalpura johad, lying neglected after years of disuse. When the monsoon arrived that year, the johad filled up and soon wells which had been dry for years had water. Villagers pitched in and in the next three years, it made it 15 feet deep.
These facilitated a rise in the groundwater levels and helped turn the area into a "white zone". So much so that the Forest Department invited the NGO to take an active part in the park's management.
Tarun Ashram in Kishori-Bhikampura in Thanagazi tehsil bordering the Sariska sanctuary, became the headquarters of Tarun Bharat Sangha. He started on his first padayatra (walkathon) through the villages of the area in 1986, educating to rebuild villages' old check dams. Yet their bigger success was yet to come, as inspired by the walkathon and success at Gopalpura, 20 km away, in 1986, people of Bhanota-Kolyala village with through shramdaan (voluntary labour) and with the help of TBS volunteers, constructed a johad at the source of a dried Arvari River, following this villages that lay in its catchment area, and along it also built tiny earthen dams, with largest being a 244-meter-long and 7-meter-high concrete dam in the Aravalli hills; eventually when the number of dams reached 375, the river started to flow again in 1990, after remaining dry for over 60 years. Yet the battle was far from over, even after constructing johads, the water level in the ponds and lakes around Sariska didn't go up as expected, that it went they discovered that missing water got evaporated from mining pits left unfilled by the miners after their operations in the area. A legal battle ensued, they filed public interest petition in the Supreme Court, which in 1991 banned mining in the Aravallis. Then in May 1992, Ministry of Environment and Forests notification banned mining in the Aravalli hill system all together, and 470 mines operating within the Sariska sanctuary buffer area and periphery were closed. Gradually TBS built 115 earthen and concrete structures within the sanctuary and 600 other structures in the buffer and peripheral zones. The efforts soon paid off, by 1995 Aravri became a perennial river. The river was awarded the `International River Prize', and in March 2000, then President, K. R. Narayanan visited the area to present the "Down to Earth — Joseph. C. John Award" to the villagers. In the coming years, rivers like Ruparel, Sarsa, Bhagani and Jahajwali were revived after remaining dry for decades. Abandoned villages in the areas got populated and farming activities could be resumed once again, in hundreds of drought-prone villages in neighbouring districts of Jaipur, Dausa, Sawai Madhopur, Bharatpur and Karauli, where work of TBS gradually spread.
By 2001, TBS had spread over an area of 6,500 km2,also including parts of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. It had built 4,500 earthen check dams, or johads, to collect rainwater in 850 villages in 11 districts of Rajasthan, and he was awarded the Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in the same year. Reforestation has been taken up by numerous village communities, and Gram sabha have been set up especially to look after community resources. A notable example is the Bhairondev Lok Vanyajeev Abhyaranya (people's sanctuary), spread over 12 km2 near Bhanota-Kolyala village at the head of Arvari. He has also been organizing Pani Pachayat or Water Parliament in distant villages in Rajasthan to make people aware of the traditional water conservation wisdom, the urgency of groundwater recharge for maintaining underground aquifers and advocating community control over natural resources. In 2005, he was awarded the Jamnalal Bajaj Award.
He also played a pivotal role in stopping the controversial Loharinag Pala Hydro Power Project over river Bhagirathi, the headstream of the Ganges River in 2006, even as G. D. Agrawal, environmentalist from IIT Kanpur went on a hunger strike.
In 2009, he led a pada yatra (walkathon), a march of a group of environmentalists and NGOs, through Mumbai city along the endangered Mithi river. Currently (Jan 2014), he is doing a parikrama along the banks of Godavari river, from Trimbakeshwar to Paithan to urge people to make the river pollution free. Recently he gave lecture on water and its conservation and values of water at Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Mumbai.
- "Biography of Rajendra Singh" (PDF). Magsaysay Award website. 2001.
- "The water man of Rajasthan". Frontline (magazine), Volume 18 - Issue 17. 18–31 August 2001.
- "Need to raise water level, says Rajendra Singh". The Tribune. 18 November 2006.
- "50 people who could save the planet". The Guardian. 5 January 2008.
- p.2. Composition of the Authority: Ministry of Environment.
- "Charles lauds the `water warriors'". The Hindu. 3 Nov 2003.
- "Unquiet flows the water in this village". The Hindu. 15 April 2005.
- "Jamnalal Bajaj Awards Archive". Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation.
- "`Waterman' becomes Ganga's saviour". The Times of India. 5 September 2010.
- "Waterman of India plans a river parliament to revive the Mithi". Indian Express. 12 January 2009.
- "Godavari Parikrama". 14 January 2014.
- "The Rediff Interview/ Magsaysay Award winner Rajendra Singh". Rediff.com. 15 August 2001.
- Rajendra Singh, Profile at Tarun Bharat Sangh
- Ramon Magsaysay Award Citation (2001)
- Water man of Rajasthan
- Why "Gandhi of Water" Rajendra Singh Is Traveling the Length of the Ganges River at TreeHugger
- An Interview with Rajendra Singh
- Hindi-language 15-minute video interview with Rajendra Singh on the Ganga Action Plan: part 1, part 2