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Decoding India’s Water Problem | Role of Community, NGOs, and Government

Sewa Samwaad with Dr. Rajendra Singh, Waterman of India

Summary 
By: Swati Lahoti

Sewa Samwaad with Dr. Rajendra Singh

On the eve of Independence Day, Dr. Rajendra Singh engaged with a diverse audience, ranging from non-profit organizations to the youngsters and shared his unique experience on the platform of Sewa Samwaad. It was nothing short of a privilege to discuss the water problems of India with the Waterman of India himself.

Dr. Singh has been instrumental behind recharging more than 2.5 lakh wells, reviving 12 rivers, and affecting the lives of more than 17 lakh people who could go back to their land for farming. Thousands of rain water harvesting structures have been restored by his team after brainstorming with different communities. The work of Tarun Bharat Sangh (Tarun Bharat Sangh is a non-profitable environmental NGO founded by Dr. Rajendra Singh) also encompasses health, education, and women empowerment. Rajendra Ji and his team have put in 40 years of continuous efforts on the ground, an effort that leaves all of us spellbound. Dr Rajendra Singh has been aptly decorated with more than 30 National and International awards.

Initially, Dr. Singh wanted to work in the fields of education & medicine. In mid-nineteen eighties, he along with three other young students of Rajasthan University set out to settle in a remote village of the Alwar district of Rajasthan to start a school for the dissemination of education amongst the rural folk. But as Abraham Maslow’s theory of hierarchy of needs postulates, basic needs take precedence over long-term goals. Soon they realized that water was something that was needed more urgently than any knowledge or enlightenment. So, Mission Education metamorphosed into Mission Water.

When he started working, he was a Vaidya which basically means an Ayurvedic Physician. His teacher Mangu Kaka suggested that rather than treating people, he should treat the earth as there were many Doctors for mankind but none for the earth.

This particular instance touched his soul. Dr Singh was of the view that sustainable development is not Sanatan Development. Gita says that nature is supposed to nourish mankind but we should not exploit it. It sustains us as do our mothers.

He spoke of a couplet which is famous in his region. The theme of the couplet is that clouds do appear in the skies but when they do not bring rains, the youth go to cities in search of work but when the clouds shower bounty on the region, the same youngsters return home as there are opportunities there.

Rajendra Ji was against linking of rivers because it was something that only Gods are supposed to do, if human beings try to do this, only corruption is bound to come out of it. He is not against small linkages of basins rather he opposes the privatization of water or the corporatization of water. The majority of small Himalayan rivers have dried up in recent times. Dr Singh explained that it is important that these rivers & rivulets flow perennially to ensure that the Ganga flows in all its majesty. During the initial days of his work, Bhagirathi had dried up, Dr. Singh got some dam projects stalled and it started flowing again. Now the Ganges has become the carrier of filth due to the negligence on the part of the people. Mahamana Madan Mohan Malviya Ji started this battle to maintain an uninterrupted flow of Ganga and we have to carry forward his mission.

Dr. Singh called COVID, a man-made disaster. Wherever there is plenty of oxygen, there is no COVID. Human greed invites many more such disasters as tsunamis, global warming, etc. Citing the example of Poona which is facing water shortage these days, he said that Poona happens to be a surplus water region. If proper water management is done through community involvement, the problem can be resolved. The corruption in the government turns rivers into nullahs & the goodwill of the society turns nullahs into rivers.

He further said “It’s quite normal that people make fun of you when you do this kind of work but if you remain indifferent, they no longer do so as they know that you are not going to stop. When something within you stays strong despite all the fun & mockery that is heaped upon you, you are on the right path.” He also said, “I was brutally attacked but I survived because I was destined to protect nature. If people call you crazy, it means you are successful…… If we want to remain healthy, we have to ensure that mother nature is healthy. No immunity-boosting tonics can do this. I never knew that doing little work for water will bring my people back to villages.”

The Panch Mahabhutas, the five basic elements of life - air, fire, space, earth, and water are our Gods. Since Vedic times, we have regarded water as equivalent to life but of late it has been commercialized. Water is the harbinger of life, no wonder then that all the civilizations have emerged in the vicinity of one or the other river. Dr. Singh concluded the session on an optimistic note that we will certainly come up with a solution to clean the rivers & rivulets which will ultimately clean the Ganga.

We are grateful for his selfless service to society and for blessing our platform with his benign presence.


The event of Sewa Samwaad was anchored by Dr. Nomesh Bolia (Professor, IIT Delhi). The aim of conducting Sewa Samwaad is to to develop a roadmap for change after understanding the stories behind the bright spots of change. Also to imbibe what it takes to build a good social project & then execute it.

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