As we announced yesterday, planning for the fourth edition of the Design Public Conclave has begun. This time around, the conclave will address four large challenges: Equitable Water, Smarter Cities, Post-Grid Power, and Nimble Agriculture. In order to gain a much richer understanding of the problem from a range of different perspectives, we have been reaching out to academicians, policy makers, bureaucrats, representatives from social and private sector companies and entrepreneurs, who are actually working in each of these sectors.
In doing so, I had the opportunity to have an engaging discussion with Mr. Shripad Dharmadhikary who is an expert on the water situation in India, and the founder of Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, a center that monitors, analyses and researches water related issues. He talked about a range of different topics including the biggest challenges in the water sector in India, solutions to tackle such challenges, and various initiatives that are geared in this direction. Here is an excerpt from the interview.
Akanksha Saluja: In your opinion what are the biggest challenges in extending the supply of water to all?
Shripad Dharmadhikary: There are some specific challenges; firstly, to ensure the supply of clean and safe drinking water to everyone for their basic needs. Secondly, to maintain the quality and purity of the entire water system, including surface water and the groundwater, in order to keep pollution at bay, and thirdly, to ensure equitable access of water for livelihood. Many people depend on water for their livelihood, for example, people in rural areas practice agriculture and therefore are highly dependent on water to earn their day-to-day living. Besides these specific challenges there is a broad, overarching challenge which is to ensure the sustainability of water. India’s growing population and rapidly developing agricultural and industrial sectors are leading to an ever increasing demand for water. So, it is of utmost importance to ensure that all these challenges are dealt with in a sustainable way to ensure that the ecosystem is not affected and water remains alive and sustainable.
A.S.: What cross-sectoral partnerships can you envision that would bring about innovative solutions to these challenges?
S.D.: The only way to solve these challenge areas is to achieve a greater decentralization of decision-making, planning, and management. More than any cross-sectoral partnership, what is needed is that the common people be placed at the heart of the decision making and the processes made accountable to them. Not only should their consent be taken but they should also be involved in the actual decision making. For any project to be approved in a village or a small town, the consent of Gram Sabha should be sought and common people should be involved in its subsequent management and monitoring.
A.S.: What initiatives are you aware of that are geared in this direction?
S.D.: There are many initiatives taken by people that target water problems in India. There is a demand that access to water must be made a fundamental right. I believe that the right to water must include access to clean water for drinking, water for domestic use, as well as water for livelihood. And in ensuring the supply of water one must not ignore the quality of water supplied. Both quantity and quality are crucial parameters and must be given due importance.
A.S.: What are the initiatives taken by Manthan Adhyayan Kendra to address this challenge?
S.D.: Manthan Adhyayan Kendra is involved with analytical work. We analyse various policies and programs from the point of view of equity and sustainability in order to further the access of important resources to those who lack. We analyze what new policies and laws are needed and which existing ones need to be modified or restructured to achieve equity and sustainability.
*This is the first of a series of interviews with experts working in water-related issues. Stay tuned for more interviews in the coming months, leading up to Design Public 4.