It’s a sin to use groundwater for irrigation
‘Waterman of India’ Rajendra Singh, who won the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2001 and the Stockholm Water Prize in 2015, is a well-known water conservationist & environmentalist from Alwar district, Rajasthan
Q: Your Jal-jameen-jungle (water-soil-forest) conservation campaign enhanced the confidence of the villagers in Rajasthan. What was the idea behind it?
Our community is creative. It has the latent capacity to bring about a social change. We woke up this sleeping knowledge bank and encouraged them to work. Tarun Bharath Sangh helped the villagers to rejuvenate their style of functioning. In Gopalpura, the first village, it took three years for us to get results. We could achieve the same in 45 villages in the next one year. It was made possible due to the active participation of the villagers. The formula for success was made known to those who are interested. The success stories of these villages influenced neighbouring villages to join hands and work towards another success. This cannot be achieved through speeches. The society should feel the necessity for such a work. The methodology should be decided only after understanding the community's notion about soil and water. Unless and until we live with them, we don’t understand their relationship with water resources and soil. It is very important to utilise the indigenous knowledge in any work. Tarun Bharath Sangh never used any outside help for water and forest conservation. A work becomes sustainable and replicable only when local knowledge is applied.
Q: The water never proves to be enough to meet needs, even if it rains well in some places. Why is this?
Due to climate change, the pattern of rainfall has changed. Now we don’t have uniform rains, we now have erratic rains that are untimely most of the time. And the saddest part is – the last man in the queue has not been able to understand this change and make alternative arrangements. Due to excessive use of chemical fertilizers, the character of the soil has changed. Its porosity has been altered and it is no more able to hold water. The absorption and retention capacity has suffered. It flows with the rainwater, causing floods and droughts simultaneously.
Q: Will the groundwater really soon disappear?
Currently in India, as much as 72 percent underground water aquifer is overdraft. And 54 percent of the country is literally ‘stressed’, which means the areas are facing severe drought - the discharge (of water) is more than the recharge. The A-class water of the country, which is supposed to be used for drinking, is used for C-class (agricultural and other) purposes. I give you an example; we can grow sugarcane with C-class water. C-class water is the wastewater from urban centres that can be treated and used for sugarcane farming. That way, we will be able to deal with the issue of water pollution also. Under no circumstances we shall be using groundwater for farming or industrial purposes.
Q: But people still think there’s enough water under the ground and it will never end.
That’s the problem. People still don’t realize, even after suffering so much. People in north India always thought the water would never end. Now they have started to realize it’s like a bank account - you can withdraw only as much as you deposit. People in south India are comparatively more aware. That’s because of the geography and terrain. They have always faced difficulty in accessing water because they don’t have glacial rivers at their disposal and the surface is mostly rocky, perennially making it difficult for the soil to hold water.
Q: We have government-administered canals that are supposed to take care of irrigation needs, but in many of them, there’s hardly any water. Where has that water gone?
In Uttar Pradesh, the condition is better - the canals will have some water once in a blue moon. In other Indian states like Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Rajasthan, to name a few, we have seen canals that were made as long ago as 40 years, but the water never reached the tail end. The situation is more or less same in most of the states. If I say very liberally, one-third of the canals in India don’t have water flow. A lot of money was spent in India on canal irrigation but we could never keep an account of the water flow. This is why we are using groundwater for irrigation - and it’s a sin.
Q: There’s a ban on use of powerful water pumps in water-stressed areas. Do you think these orders are implemented?
There’s no implementation or vigil. Anyone who can pay money to the inspecting officers can get away with those pumps - be it individuals or industrialists. I don’t have any individual bias when I say this. I say what I have seen all these years. But the poor farmer, who doesn’t have money, has got no access to water. He either relies on tankers, or has to buy water that he cannot afford.
Q: But in the past few years, various state governments made it mandatory for new houses to have a rainwater harvesting setup. Is that not working?
It’s all a sham. Initially, this rule was obligatory, but due to pressure from activists, the rule was made mandatory. But even then, you can pay some money to the engineer and he will approve the plans of your house. There’s no serious vigil and implementation. In some places, people will just put in a few pipes in their houses and the water harvesting is done.
Q: It’s been quite some time since we have heard about this idea of river-linking. It’s been touted as one of the solutions to India's water crisis. What’s your opinion?
It’s not a feasible project at all. If implemented, it will only divide the country. People who are already fighting for water will fight even more. People living in upper and lower (riparian) areas will fight for ownership. If you recall the dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, it was very minor, just about a dam, this linking of rivers will make the multinationals the sole proprietors. Interlinking will cause even more floods. Let me explain this to you. Hirakud was the first dam made in India. In the mandate, it was written that it will stop flooding in the Cuttack delta and it will provide water to 500,000 acres of land. As of now, only 100,000 acres of land get irrigated from the Hirakud dam and the Cuttack delta is flooded every year. When this dam was not built, then the flowing water could irrigate 500,000 acres of land. The dam was of no help.
Q: Why can’t river-linking be successful?
Governments don’t do catchment treatment. This leads to accumulation of silt in the dam and causes more flooding. The difference between the river beds in our country is as much as 700 metres. Not all the rivers are flowing at the same level. Can you imagine a river flowing at a lower level being lifted just to connect it with a river flowing at a higher level? So much money will be wasted.
Q: Is there no hope?
Honestly, I have lost all hope. I am tired of saying things on this issue. I don’t even know why I am taking to you. You will write about this, but do you think people will follow the message that you convey from your article? Nobody is reading the people who are writing, and unfortunately those who are reading, they are not doing anything.
Bees are responsible for our entire food chain
Dr Raghvendra Pratap Singh is joint director, horticulture, UP
Q: What is the status of bee farming & honey industry in UP? UP produces about 90-95,000 metric tone of honey every year. According to the potentiality, country has been divided in to three segments for establishment of State Beekeeping Extension Centers: Most potential States, Medium Potential States and Less Potentials States. UP is among the most potential states. Q: What is required of those who wish to opt for beekeeping? Would they get any financial support and marketing assistance? In order to encourage farmers and gardeners into taking up bee-keeping as an occupation, a programme is being run in 15 districts of the state, which include long term, short term and emergency courses. It is being done under the Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH). Those willing can get bee-keeping boxes and bees at subsidized rates. Q: Do they have any other significance beside making honey and wax? When we think of bees, we typically think of their use in the production of honey and beeswax. But bees are one of the most important insects in the world as they are responsible for pollinating most of the vegetables and fruit we find at our local green grocer. Without bees we would not have a food chain. The bee venom is used for treating arthritis, multiple sclerosis and even fibromyalgia, and more recently to treat cancer, epilepsy and depression. Bee also provide us the propolis and royal jelly. So, their contribution is immense. Q: Is there a shift from scientific method of beekeeping in two chambered boxes (supers) to single one with artificial sugar feed for bees? The scientific method of beekeeping involves boxes with at least two chambers called ‘supers’. The honey is extracted from the upper chamber and the lower chamber is left undisturbed so that the honey in it can be consumed by the bee during non-flowering season. The non-scientific method is using single-chambered boxes wherein most of the honey is extracted and sugar syrup is left for the bees to feed even during the honey flow season. It also adds artificial sweetness to the honey. However, there is now a great deal of stress on the quality of honey and professional bee keepers are advised to adopt scientific methods only. Q: What is the difference between immature honey and mature honey? Why is it necessary that one extracts mature honey only? Honey needs a moisture content of 18-20 per cent; immature honey has high moisture content (about 25 per cent). In the hive, bees reduce the moisture content by flapping their wings. If this moisture is reduced artificially, it spoils the quality of the product. However, some beekeepers do extract immature honey to extract more. For every extraction of mature honey, two to three extractions of immature honey is possible. This quantity over quality approach is strictly illegal. Q: Do bees face outbreak of diseases? If so, what are the symptoms and what is the preferred & safe treatment ? It was in 1965 that the honey industry in India received a boost when the Punjab Agriculture University introduced the Italian bee species, Apis mellifera. Till then, honey was sourced from bee colonies of native species like the Indian rock bee (Apis dorsata), Indian honey bee (Apis cerana), and the dwarf honey bee (Apis florea). The new bee species soon replaced the native bees in the apiaries of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh as the honey yield from their hives was higher. Apis cerana produces four to five kg honey in a year as compared to 20 to 25 kg by Apis mellifera. Apis dorsata gives a yield of up to 40 kg but its honey is not good enough for exports. With the change in the bee species, their disease profile also changed. Twenty-five per cent of the Apis mellifera colonies in India perished after a severe attack of Varroa mite in 2005. The mites were reportedly brought to India by infected queen bees from Nepal. The Italian bees are said to be docile and have poor defence. The Apis cerana, an otherwise hardy species, was affected by the Thai sac brood disease and it caused fatality to a very large number of bee colonies between 1995 and 2010. In India only oxytetracycline or formic acid & oxalic acid solution are allowed, and only through expert intervention, to get rid of varroa mites and European foul brood disease. We do not recommend any antibiotic or pesticide to beekeepers. The broad spectrum antibiotic oxytetracycline is recommended only in case of a severe attack of European foul brood disease. The antibiotic is mixed with sugar and left on the bee boxes for the bees to feed on. It is recommended that antibiotic should not be given during honey flow period. One of the prohibited medications for varroa mite attack is pesticide-coated paper strips illegally imported from China that containthe pesticide tau fluvalinate. This is because the pesticide used on the strip is volatile and honey is hygroscopic (attracts moisture) in nature, it is very likely the pesticide residue would be found in the honey. Q: Do GM crops harm honey bees, like 57 million bees were found dead in Canada after visiting a GMO corn field? Genetic modification (GM) of crops has been accompanied by concerns of environmental impact, including effects to beneficial organisms such as bees. Currently, most commercial GM crops are modified for pest and/or herbicide resistance. Transgenes such as Bt may be expressed in pollen, resulting in exposure to bees. However, studies to date indicate that crops transformed with genes coding for Bt proteins will not harm bees. Herbicide resistant crops are not likely to pose direct toxicity effects to bees; yet, greater weed control in herbicide resistant crops may be responsible for a lower bee abundance in these crops than non-transformed crops. Reduced pesticide use associated with insect resistant GM crops, and reduced tillage that is possible with herbicide tolerant crops, could be beneficial to bee populations compared to conventional agriculture. Risk of GM crops to bees should be assessed on a case-by-case basis in relation to feasible alternatives. Q: There is a general notion that if you allow a hive to exist in your garden, you may end up being bitten by the honeybees? How far is this correct? Bees get used to human beings and do not attack them as long as their hives are not disturbed. They can hover around you without stinging you, so there is no need to get panicky if you see the flies making a hive in your lawn. You may help them by placing some water and planting some more flowers in your lawn. Then, if you wish to get the honey and wax extracted, you can contact us. Here also the entire hive is not removed but a large chunk is cut, leaving behind enough portion for them to rebuild the hive. A bee produces much more honey than it can consume. A bee’s version of a balanced diet is pollen and nectar to make honey. So the kindest thing you can do for these creatures is plant a bee friendly garden to attract these pollinators to the cities. If you find bees in urban lawns, it is lucky. Please protect them.