Posts Tagged ‘environment’


On the water culture of the Naxi people of Yunnan , China.

July 13, 2013

Fostering a water culture


The province of Yunnan is in the South-East of China. The mighty Yangtze River, the Mekong and the Salween rivers flow through this water rich land. The rivers come very close to each other here and then separate to flow in different directions. The Salween goes to Burma, the Mekong to Vietnam and the Yangtze stays in China to empty itself into the sea near Shanghai. The high mountain area is declared a UNESCO Heritage site for its sheer natural beauty, its rich water resource and its high bio-diversity. This ensures that the area is preserved and managed in such a fashion that the community needs are met without disturbing the ecology of the place. Our rivers which originate in the Western Ghats deserve this ecological protection too and those who benefit the most from the rivers should be at the fore-front of protecting it at source.

In the town of Lijiang in the North of the province is the town of Lijiang. The old town was inhabited for long by the Naxi people, an ethnic minority population in China known for their beautiful cloth embroidery but also for the way they have integrated water into their habitat and managed it. A Water Wheel stands in the town, also declared a UNESCO Heritage site for its water wisdom and use, and still works. In fact water wheels dot the landscape and in the old town it looks like almost every house had one , to grind the corn , to lift water and to have a myriad other purpose. Lijiang has a series of canals, waterways and water bodies which dot the landscape. The Naxi were and are truly the masters of water.

The spirit of one of their systems truly captures the way the community dealt with water and recognized its quality value. It is called the Three wells model. Water from springs and small channels are led into three beautifully designed storage structures. In the language of the Naxi it is the three wells.

The first well upstream or where the water enters is used for drinking and cooking purpose only. This is the cleanest water. The second well is used for washing vegetables for here the water is less clean. The third well is used for washing clothes, dishes and for other use for this is the lowest water quality of the three yet still clean.


By not polluting the water channels and using the water therein directly, by creating a beautiful architecture around the use of water and by inculcating a discipline and a culture for water use ingrained in the behaviour of the society, the clean water of the area has been used and protected for centuries. Modernity and the lack of understanding of this concept by other communities is a concern now for the entire water system can be destroyed by the bad behaviour of the few.

In India too we see water bodies and wells being strewn with garbage and a lack of discipline in maintaining the water resource. Destroying the local will only create a dependency on the outside water and we will find that there is not enough for us to come in from the ‘outside’. Education, discipline and behavior become culture and in wise water culture is the preservation and sustainable use of the resource.

We can all learn from the Naxi people how to use water wisely. In that lies water wisdom.


A letter from Mr E.A.S. Sarma to the Environment Minister , India

May 22, 2013
Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan
Minister of State (Environment & Forests)
Govt. of India
Dear Smt. Natarajan,
Subject:- Why re-examine the Gadgil Committee report on Western Ghats? How is the new Committee competent to undertake such a re-examination?
I refer to the comprehensive report submitted by the Committee constituted under the chairmanship of Prof Madhav Gadgil (HLWG report) and the report of yet another committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Kasturirangan to re-evaluate the HLWG report.
Having interacted with Prof Madhav Gadgil in one session while he was in the process of formulating his views on Western Ghats a couple of years ago, I thought that there could be no better person than him to evaluate the ecology of the Western Ghats and recommend measures to protect it. The Committee under his chairmanship had gone about in a systematic and professional manner and come up with suggestions that would save the Western Ghats and its resources for the posterity. I felt disturbed when MOEF had displayed inexplicable hesitation in releasing that report. It was under intense public pressure that your Ministry had to place the report in the public domain.
Western Ghats are rich in biodiversity and the health and the well being of their ecology will determine the future of that region for centuries to come. As a result of indiscriminately set up industrial and mining projects, the ecology of that region has already come under a serious threat.  The region cannot bear any additional stress. If at all, the stress that already exists may have to be reduced.
In fact, on the same lines as HLWG, I had earlier requested you to set up a similar expert committee to evaluate the threats to the Eastern Ghats. Perhaps, sensing opposition from your colleagues who are clearly in league with the crony capitalist promoters of industry, you have preferred not responding to my appeal.
Many of us felt distressed and distraught when your ministry had constituted yet another committee, this time under the chairmanship of Dr. Kasturirangan, Member of Planning Commission to re-evaluate the Gadgil Committee report. How is that committee more qualified to question Gadgil Committee’s studies? Did it not result in wasting the tax payer’s money?  Apparently, the Gadgil Committee report would hurt the interests of several corporates and, therefore, is unpalatable to the rulers of UPA! The way the HLWG report has so far been handled by the Prime Minister, the Planning Commission and MOEF confirms my strong feeling that most decisions of UPA are dictated these days by crony capitalists who seem to permeate the system like never before!
What worries me most in the latest report (Kasturirangan’s) is that it contemptuously dismisses the role of the people at the grass-roots in economic decision making. The authors of the latest report seem to be oblivious of the fact that the Indian Constitution begins with the words, “We, the people of India…” Ours is a democratic system. The authority that is implicit in the Constitution emanates from the people. The Gram Sabhas are a Constitutionally created entity. The real wisdom and the knowledge about the ecology of any region rest in the local communities. To think that the ultimate wisdom rests with the Planning Commission, or the South Block, or Paryavaran Bhavan, is to delude oneself.
I feel pained to read the letter written by Prof Madhav Gadgil to Dr. Kasturirangan on the latter’s report. I have enclosed a copy of that letter for your ready reference. I am sure that several persons among the civil society have also written to you, expressing their concerns.
I realise that MOEF has fixed a ‘deadline’ for submitting comments on the report and it so happens that today is that deadline! When the ecology of the country comes under the threat of crony capitalism of the worst kind, these deadlines have no relevance.
I fully endorse what Prof Madhav Gadgil has said in his letter to Dr. Kasturirangan. I wish Dr. Kasturirangan and his colleagues in his committee had the courage and conviction to tell MOEF that they would not re-evaluate Prof Gadgil’s report.
I request MOEF to reject Dr. Kasturirangan Committee report and, instead, accept HLWG report without any hesitation. The sooner that MOEF does this, the greater will be its credibility as a body obligated under Article 48A of the Constitution to protect the environment of this country.
I am confident that you will accede to this appeal unhesitatingly.
I have marked copy of this letter to the Prime Minister and Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, hoping that they would introspect on what I have said here..
Yours sincerely,
EAS Sarma
Former Secretary to GOI