A pilgrim s progress

  • 29/04/2000

It was a sight from the air that nobody could miss. The barrenness of the Aravalli hills stretching out from Delhi to Alwar is something President K R Narayanan could not help remark about, as his helicopter made its way to Hamirpura village.

I also showed him the dry agricultural fields that lay between the hills, obviously short of water because of the serious drought the state has been suffering for two years in a row. Otherwise, March-end is a time when the rabi (winter) crop should have been swaying in the fields.

Suddenly, after some time, we saw green fields stretching across the landscape. There must be groundwater here, I said to the President. And then I realised we were there, at our destination: we were seeing the lush green and yellow fields of Hamirpura and other villages of the Arvari watershed which had undertaken water harvesting.None of the eight people on the helicopter needed any convincing about the value of rainwater harvesting after that and the remarkable achievement of the villagers. A happy Chitra Narayanan, the President's daughter, a serving diplomat, said, "It was like seeing an oasis," as soon as she got off the aircraft.

The President, too, was thrilled. "You know," he said to me while returning, "you have convinced me for a long time of the importance of rainwater harvesting. But I must say there is nothing like actually seeing it on the ground. It has been a memorable day for me." He thanked me so many times for inviting him to come to the village that he would not even let me thank him for coming to the village - possibly a presidential first because we are not aware of any President having gone to a village to honour it for its work. Everybody comes to Rashtrapati Bhawan to get awards from the President. Only someone like President Narayanan could have done something like this.

If there were any regrets he had, there were only two. One, he could not go by car, which, in fact, we would have dissuaded him against because of the pressure that a full day journey would have put on him, and two, that the local security did not allow him a chance to sit and spend some time with the villagers. It was as Rajendra Singh of Tarun Bharat Sangh said in his vote of thanks, "It was a tirtha-yatra." And, most of all, the President, too, felt that way.

And what did the villages of Bhaonta-Kolyala and Hamirpura tell all of us: that there is no single village, I repeat, no single village in the country which cannot quench its own thirst and that of its fields through rainwater harvesting. Villagers can do it themselves. They just need some education and catalytic support. Nothing more. It is a very inspiring thought, one which generates enormous hope in what is otherwise becoming a water-starved country.

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