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Indian newspaper gathers 155,000 volunteers for clean-up act
22 July 2005
by Ramesh Menon

Jaipur, India: It is a story that is heartwarming. It is a story that sends out rays of hope. And it is a story that shows that all it requires is for people to take initiative without waiting for the government. Like every year, this year too, the sun has been burning bright in the sky all over Rajasthan.

Temperatures are swinging between 40 and 48 degrees centigrade. And water has always been in short supply in the desert state.

The management of the state's oldest newspaper, Rajasthan Patrika, celebrating 50 years this year, thought of an innovative plan. It started a daily campaign in the paper called "Amritham Jalam" (Water is nectar) where people were urged to come forward and clean up all traditional water harvesting systems that were lying unused and dead. The rest of this report is about what happened in response.

Media driven campaign

Rajasthan Patrika sought to revive traditional wisdom by urging people to give some of their time and energy to revive the water bodies. When the paper started its campaign, it had no idea that it would become such a mass movement. Soon, people from varied age groups were at work desilting tanks and restoring traditional wells. They got their hands dirty, but it was the dream of seeing water once again that motivated them.

The women added a dash of colour in their bright saris as is the norm everywhere in the desert state. When nature is grim, people add colour to it. They braved the burning sun where the mercury hung between 45 degrees and 48 degrees centigrade. In places like Jaipur, where piped water is still available at scheduled intervals, people still came forward. The realisation was dawning that water has to be conserved otherwise even whatever was available water will be lost.

In the span of a little of sixty days beginning May and through June, citizens have worked on as many as 388 water harvesting structures, says Sukumar Verma, deputy editor of the newspaper, who was pulled out to supervise the project. He adds that 155,038 volunteers have clocked around 465,114 man-hours so far. It is unimaginable for the government to have harnessed such resources or found the finances to pay for such work.

The campaign is being supported by several organisations and individuals. Verma reports that Hindustan Lever Limited contributed Rs 20 lakhs and contributions from MPs, MLAs and other organizations have totalled Rs 5.18 crores. (1 crore = 10 million, 10 lakh = 1 million). MPs and MLAs have pulled out money from their allotted development funds to make much of those contributions. The money will be used to further renovate water structures that are in a state of disrepair and also be used for maintenance.

The encouragement to launch this statewide movement came from a similar small effort that the paper did last year. When the newspaper appealed to people in Jaipur and surrounding areas to clean up water harvesting systems, it got an encouraging response. So, this year, the paper decided to run a campaign all over the state.

"Instead of getting at each other's throats after a few years to get a bucket of water, we thought let us today ensure that we never will have to fight for water. We got into it thinking that this is how a responsible media should be. But after such a tremendous response, we know that this is going to be an ongoing revolution. All that people wanted was motivation. Now, they have realized their power. They do not need the government’s help to put things right”, says Verma.

Says S N Dave of the United Nations Children's Fund, Jaipur: "It is an amazing instance of not only what the media can do, it is a great example of how people can get together to do something that is going to change not only their attitude towards water in Rajasthan, but also the faith that collectively people can do so much to change the stark realities around them."

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From: OneWorld