Jal Adhikar Sammelan: Peoples Water Rights Convention of Mokhada
The simmering water crisis of Mokhada had come to a head with the death of aged Parvati Ramu Jadav of Dolara village who died from heart failure resulting from exhaustion as she pushed her body beyond its limits trying to gather as much water as she could before it vanished into the black hole of scarcity. The second phase therefore envisaged reinforcement of the message that the people of Mokhada should look at themselves in the new perspective, from being hapless victims of failed water governance that had little or no appreciation for rights holders and duty bearers. This critical area remained the thrust of the second phase of the Jal Adhikar Yatra and culminated in the Sammelan Convention on the 31st May 2014. The samellan sought to bring together citizens, elected representatives, duty bearers from the BMC on a single platform. Recognizing the complex political contestations in Mokhada, the campaign organizers decided to ask an a-political grouping, the engineering faculty the Indian Institute of Technology (Mumbai) to take the lead. Ms. Shiraz Bulsara made sure that participants from all the political parties participated and the newly elected Member of Parliament graced the occasion and promised his unqualified support.
It was the harsh context of survival at the margins that the first Jal Adhikar Sammelan (Peoples Water Rights Convention) at Khodala of Mokhada taluka was organized as the first step in the direction of water security. The Sammelan (convention) was a necessary event to bring all the actors on board and get their initial assent to the campaign. For the Kashtakari Sanghatna, in particular, the Jal Adhikar Yatra, which literally means “Pilgrimage for Water Rights” was the first step of mobilizing consciousness among the tribal people on access to water as a right, the need for stewardship of the survival resource and finally to introduce citizenship as the real goal.
Given the near pervasive fragmentation of the citizen community on the basis of community loyalties, economic standing and political affiliations, the Jal Adhikar Sammelan posed an additional challenge to the Kashtakari Sanghatna associating with the Barefoot Academy to bring together several actors in the rights campaign. The plan was to create a broad inclusive platform which could bring together the numerous actors in Mokhada; from the party political, the non party political, the voluntary organizations, the elected Panchayat Presidents, the Technical Experts, the Administrators, representatives from Mumbai Municipal Corporation and the citizens of Mokhada on a joint platform. The task before the organizers grew immense as the days went by but Ms. Shiraz Bulsara, an activist of the Kashtakari Sanghatna took on the responsibility to make the samellan a success. The proof was the active participation of all the players and the active sponsorship of the event cutting across the all political parties and factions, with Smt. Mohana Wagh, the (Sarpanch) VPP of Khodala GP and Shri Pralhad Kadam highly respected Ex Sarpanch, VPP of Khodala GP taking responsibility for the food for the guests, a response unimaginable in Mokhada.
Ms. Shiraz Bulsara invited the assembled numerous VPPs and the political leadership to the dais and called the meeting to order. Prof. Milind Sohni engineering faculty from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai were called upon to begin the proceeding by laying out the nature of the problem of sustainable water supply and the nature of the cost effective solution. The faculty, basically technocrats unconnected to the political realities of the block, had been given the responsibility to invite the participants of the Convention.
Dr. Sohoni presented the findings of the study using Google maps of Mokhada block and the adjacent Trimbakeshwar block of Nashik District where the Upper Vaitarna Water Supply Project is located. Mr. Rajaram Desai also from IIT explained that an engineering solution of installing a siphon was possible by which piped water supply could be provided to 16 villages by gravity to the political leadership of the Mokhada. He reiterated that after the initial expenses of laying the pipelines, there would minimal maintenance costs that the water users would have to bear. He argued that the ground realities of Mokhada contributed to the failure and discontinuation of every single piped water scheme, following the inability of the impoverished water users to bear high electricity consumption costs of pumping water from water sources in the valleys to the habitations in the hills. In their presentation they also established the value of water distribution with very low running costs. They posed the problem of obtaining sanction to siphon water from the Mumbai Municipal Corporation which was the legal owner of the Upper Vaitarna dam and the waters impounded by it. Their proposal was received with rapt attention and some villagers commented why this solution was never explored earlier and they were punished by repeated water famine.
Shri Prakash Nikkam, the Mokhada Block Panchayat president, berated the officials for the failure to that ensure safe drinking water to the citizens of the block and decried the practice of giving the last priority to remote villages and habitations. He insisted that a resource crunch cannot be made an excuse to deny the legitimate rights demand of the backward areas of Maharashtra and urged the District administration and the State government to provide the financial resources to undertake the scheme at the earliest.
Other presidents of self governing institutions at the village and Mr. Santosh Chauthe, member of the District Panchayat (Zilla Parishad), Mr. Thule, the Block Development Officer of Mokhada and Mr. Kadri, the Water Supply Officer of the Block Panchayat (Panchayat Samithi) of Mokhada in their own speeches extended support to the proposal put forward by the IIT engineers, highlighting the theme of the Convention to make Mokhada tanker free.
Mr. Bambre, Executive Engineer from the Maharashtra Jeevan Pradhikaran, assigned the responsibility to execute water supply schemes to different villages sanctioned by the Mokhada Block Panchayat, affirmed that his department had the technical competence to execute the scheme described by the IIT engineers as well as his willingness to implement any scheme that the Block may want. Several murmurs could be heard in the crowd, why the MJP could not think of an innovative scheme like the one suggested which is both cost effective and puts less financial burdens on poor water users. Some of the villagers were also overheard saying not a single MJP scheme survives in the block and in most villages no trace of a scheme is observable. Mr. Bambre completed his speech once again offering the services of his agency whenever called upon.
Mr. Malviya, the Deputy Engineer of the Bruhanmumbai Mahanagar Palika (BMC) also extended his support to the project of water supply through gravity. He was of the opinion that water supply to the 16 villages and their hamlets required approx 0.5% of the water impounded by the dams and supplied to Mumbai. The amount to be drawn, in his assessment, was very small and it would not be difficult to obtain the concurrence of the Corporation for the scheme. He went further to say that the Mumbai Municipal Corporation providing drinking water to 144 villages on route to Mumbai, could be a precedent to get financial approval from the Municipality to cover the costs of the scheme. His speech was enthusiastically applauded. The possibility of making the southern villages of Mohada tanker free is a dream come true or almost, but the challenge would be to make the solution a ground reality and next to take the scheme to the remaining villages of Mokhada and the block headquarters.
Shri Chintaman Vanga – the newly elected Member of Parliament chaired the Convention and delivered the key address. He offered his unqualified support for the initiative. His speech set the terms of the deliberation that was to follow. During his earlier stint as Member of the Legislative Assembly of Maharashtra, Shri Vanga had pursued a policy wherein water, a necessary though scarce survival resource for all life was made available with least displacement of the tribals. He said this in the context of a large number of dams, some constructed with Tribal Sub-Plan funds meant for tribal development, which have displaced thousands of tribal families. Though the stated objective was often shown as irrigation to allow tribal farmers a second crop, he observed that the waters were diverted for providing water for emergent urban enclaves in the district. He also agreed with one of the important objectives of the convention that suitable protocols should be adopted which would curb the indiscriminate waste of water. He recognized the arguments put forward by the villagers of Ranshet, Avdhani, Nagzeri and Rankhol, under the banner of the Kashtakari Sanghatna, who are opposing one more dam on the Sushri River in Dahanu block to supply water to the urban pockets of Vasai-Virar in the district. He appreciated the arguments of the Dahanu villagers on the role of water consumers, who as duty bearers should make consistent efforts for reduction in consumption of purified water and use of grey and recycled water for all purposes other than human consumption and protocols should be evolved for the same. In his speech he staunchly supported the need to enlarge the debate on duties of water consumers to protect the rights of communities in the catchment areas.
The Convention concluded with a vote of thanks offered by Mr. Santosh Chauthe, member of the District Panchayat (Zilla Parishad). The task of making the promises real had just begun. The second phase will begin after the monsoons abate and the people will be free after their sowing and transplanting imperatives are over by mid august. Till then regular contact is being maintained with representatives of the village communities.