Coleridge’s  poem and our water crisis


 Mr R Chidambaram, a major figure in India’s  nuclear weapons programme,  quoted from  poet Coleridge’s  line Water Water everywhere and not a drop to drink, at a  conference on water in Mumbai recently.

 But  the line is often quoted out of context.  Putting it in context would have been more enlightening  at the conference organised by the corporate driven Mumbai First organisation at the Rooftop on the 33rd floor of  Triden Hotel at Nariman Point.

   It gave a spectacular view of the  Arabian sea and the  landscape on the other side  upto   Taj Mahal hotel and the harbour. In a way ironical because one can see so much water on one side but not enough for the poor in this city.

     The conference  Mumbai Water conclave – rowing towards sustainability  was mainly about water supply to Mumbai, fortunately, Mumbai has   a very good  water supply system unlike Bangalore and other cities.

  It is the areas in the hinterland in Maharashtra that are starved of water right now, months before the onset of the monsoon.

  The irony is that vast areas of the country need not  suffer from water shortage.  Good management is the key since we get enough rain,  as U.P. Singh, former  secretary for water in the Central government,  pointed out.  He did not  use strong words but his speech was in a way an indictment of our  governance.

Now, returning to the poem..  Seen in today’s  context its meaning becomes much wider,  the  powerful forces in their greed have destroyed the environment  but the albatross is now tied around us, we are paying the price.

The  poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” tells the story of a sailor who shoots a friendly albatross bird during his voyage. As punishment, he is forced to wear the bird around its neck, making the albatross a symbol of his burden and regret.

The mariner shot the albatross because he believed that it was an unlucky omen and the source of their diminished wind. He believed that, once the albatross was dead, the wind would return, and they would be able to cross the ocean at a much greater speed.

The Albattros is one of the longest living birds., most famous for is their incredible wingspans, and the Wandering Albatross can measure a wingspan between 8 to 11 feet from tip to tip. They can coast for several miles in just a single flap

This remarkable feat is accomplished by riding ocean winds. Albatross catch skyward drafts to carry them along, and once their wings are fully extended, they have a tendon that locks them in place, so no energy is spent to keep them outstretched. No other flying creature can match the distance traveled by an albatross without beating its wings.

 Back to the conference proceedings.  Mr Singh quoted a saying in Hindi which means   Give water back to the earth and it will give us water in return.  Unfortunately, we are  preventing water seepage into the soil. In Bangalore 90 per cent of the landmass   allows no seepage of water. It is one of  the reasons for its current crisis.

  Aquefiers are our main resources of water, not dams or other water bodies so much. The main need is to recharge ground water.

 He mentioned some good  water  conservation projects like Hivre Bajar in Ahmednagar district led by Popatrao Pawar,  work done in Banda district in U.P. by  district collector Hiralal and activist  Umashankar Pandey  and rooftop water conservation in Chennai,.

He also expessed himself against big dams and so are many other experts saying now. (That shows that Medha Patkar  is  so rational in her campaign.)

Jairaj Phatak, former Mumbai municipal commissioner, said  the city also gets  its supply from  Bhatsa dam, appropriately  farmers should get access to its water.

 Renu Gera, who has done environment work in several countries, said there was a serious need for changing the mindset, we think  yesterday’s water is stale and throw it, we waste too much water now, formerly we used buckets for bath and did a lot to save water.

Srinivas Chary Vedala listed a number of water conservation  methods  being used in Telangana. The trouble with Mumbai, he said, is it has plenty of water, so it is not doing enough to  conserve water.  It should become water neutral, prevent a possible crisis.

 Shankar Deshpande, chief of town and country planning in MMRDA, said  there was much less discharge of effluents into Mithi river now than before.

 It was clear from several presentations by corporates involved in water recycling and conservation and other experts that  India’s water crisis is mainly man-made and  can be tackled with good management.

  If Israel with its  scarce rainfall can be so successful India with much more rainfall can certainly improve conditions.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on public transport


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