The common man has in a unison one Mann ki Baat: ‘The administration must make answerable those destroying our Ponds, putting our lives in distress and of coming generations as well’. This sentiment has direct and indirect support of millions of people, who want clean water for humans, livestock, and irrigation for growing crops.
The world these days is seized with the abnormal climate change causing extreme adverse effects such as drier conditions that negatively affect drinking water supplies and agriculture. That has become a matter of concern giving anxious moments all the time. Imprudently, administration takes it in a casual manner and has considered it a free and inexhaustible natural resource. But that is not so. The alarm bells are ringing loud and clear around us in full view yet we choose not to hear them. It is high time we step up and take responsibility before it is too late. In many areas, water has already run out. It requires us to change our mindset, keeping in mind all the time the words of Benjamin Franklin, an American political philosopher, who said ‘When the well is dry, we’ll know the worth of water’.
A Pond is central to the life for centuries. It is used for the common benefit of the villages; for their cattle to drink and bathe and prosperity of the whole village ecosystem in rural India. We had Ponds, thousands in numbers, some naturally carved and others constructed by the Philanthropists to serve water needs in water stress area in the Jammu province.
These are called Chaapari, Talla or Talab, in local dialects. Integral to the rural landscape, these are made to disappear without any trace. Elders here had taken every care to maintain Ponds from generation to generation to sustain. Virtually most of these Ponds here have been over the passage of time under a scheme of things, in a systematic manner turned into Habitations of Jammu, a truth none can afford to deny. That makes one ponder what lies ahead of us and the coming generations, concerning the water resources shortage.
There are approximately 3600 Ponds in number here as per a recent exercise carried for a geo-referenced-UID of each water body. The figure may vary with regards to numbers, due to their present status, degree of encroachment or those altogether gone under the infrastructures raised upon. It needs to be collaborated with the revenue records for the exact figures to rely upon.
The Supreme Court in Hinch Lal Tiwari vs Kamala Devi & Ors. (2001) had observed: “It is important to notice that the material resources of the community like forests, tanks, ponds, hillock, mountain etc. are nature’s bounty. They maintain delicate ecological balance. They need to be protected for a proper and healthy environment which enables people to enjoy a quality life which is the essence of the guaranteed right under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Government, including the Revenue Authorities, has noticed that a pond is falling into disuse, should have bestowed their attention to develop the same which would, on one hand, have prevented ecological disaster and on the other provided a better environment for the benefit of the public at large. Such vigil is the best protection against knavish attempts to seek allotment in non-abadi sites.”
Authorities lose sight of the fact that the Public Trust doctrine’s emphasis upon the State to protect such resources and not to permit them to be used for private or commercial purposes. If the ponds and other such water bodies are not protected and conserved, this will in turn effect recharge of ground water, rainwater harvesting and soil preservation.
Resources like air, water and forests have such great importance to the people as a whole that the same cannot be subject to private ownership. These are gifts of nature and should be made freely available to the people besides being essential for protection of the environment.
Unfortunately these have been allowed to turn into Habitations, by none other than those who are assigned to save them. Revenue records pertaining to them have been grossly tempered with and parted away to the unscrupulous elements, on consideration. Apart from the Public Trust doctrine, transitions have been carried out in violation of the Government Order Rev/Lit/218 of 2011, Dated 28 /11/2011, pertaining to Scheme for Eviction of encroachment of Common land in light of the Cabinet Decision No 188/23/2001.
This order among many others has been enunciated without any margin of doubt to be read in between the lines, to fiddle with that. There are two main players in the sordid game: The Deputy Commissioners and the Divisional Commissioner of the concerned areas before the law. The Deputy Commissioners concerned were asked to Identify the encroached land on common lands/non partible Shamlat Lands, Kahchrai Lands and lands meant for pathways, ponds, storing grains, water bodies, passages, cremation grounds and other common use of the people of the villages. They were made responsible for implementation of the Scheme within their respective territorial jurisdictions in letter and spirit and any dereliction thereof on their part shall invite disciplinary proceedings against them. They were asked to prepare and complete the assami-wise and case-wise lists within a period of three months. The list was to be submitted to the Divisional Commissioners concerned and Financial Commissioner Revenue. Divisional Commissioner Jammu has been allowing these ponds to be encroached upon, grabbed and sold overtly or covertly, wittingly or unwittingly giving Nelson eye to these shady deals under his jurisdiction.
This is clear contempt of the Apex Court, which when approached may not take it lightly, as to why this has been overlooked. Even the writ of the Apex Court, which is for all practical purposes a binding to adhere to, doesn’t run in the corridors of the administration.
We have very little choice left not to leave any stone unturned to retrieve, preserve, protect and improve upon these Water sources, the treasure that nature has bestowed upon us. We have to ensure that the practice that is going on unchecked with the administration, in defiance to the Law of Nature and unambiguous orders from the Hon’ble Supreme to court of India not to fiddle with, to fill, sell and make money of Ponds, in utter disregard to the water needs, is not allowed. We don’t know how life emerged on Earth, but one thing is certain: life as we know it on our planet wouldn’t exist without the water that wraps around the surface, runs in rivulets, and falls from the sky. Our planet is the only one known to have life, and the only one on which liquid water can be found in abundance.
The protection of commons rights of the villagers were so zealously protected that some legislation expressly mentioned that even the vesting of the property with the State did not mean that the common rights of villagers were lost by such vesting. Thus, in Chigurupati Venkata Subbayya vs. Paladuge Anjayya, 1972(1) SCC 521 (529) the Court had observed:
“It is true that the suit lands in view of Section 3 of the Estates Abolition Act did vest in the Government. That by itself does not mean that the rights of the community over it were taken away. Our attention has not been invited to any provision of law under which the rights of the community over those lands can be said to have been taken away. The rights of the community over the suit lands were not created by the landholder. Hence those rights cannot be said to have been abrogated by Section 3) of the Estates Abolition Act.”
What we have witnessed since Independence, however, is that in large parts of the country this common village land has been grabbed by unscrupulous persons using muscle power, money power or political clout, and in many States now there is not an inch of such land left for the common use of the people of the village, though it may exist on paper. People with power and pelf operating in villages all over India systematically encroached upon common lands and put them to uses totally inconsistent with its original character, for personal aggrandizement at the cost of the village community. This was done with active connivance of the State authorities and local powerful vested interests and goondas.
The words of Aesop (620–564 BC) still hold good: We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.
The writer is a noted Environmentalist based at Jammu.