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Friday, January 28, 2022

The Sandip Roy Show

What makes people tick? What are the stories they carry with them? In a world of shouting heads, veteran journalist, radio commentator and novelist Sandip Roy sits down to have real conversations about the fascinating world around us and the people who shape it. Catch these engaging interviews every other Sunday

Episode 93 January 9, 2022

Mridula Ramesh on what it would take to solve India’s water crisis

How bad is India’s water crisis? What has led us to this place? And what can be done to solve it? In this episode, Sandip is joined by Mridula Ramesh to talk about India’s groundwater crisis. From the Indus Valley civilisation, to British policies that still affect us, Ramesh tells us about all that has caused India’s grave water crisis.

Ramesh is the author of the new book, Watershed: How We Destroyed India’s Water and How We Can Save It. She is founder of the Sundaram Climate Institute, which focuses on waste and water solutions.

TRANSCRIPT

[Disclaimer: This transcript is auto-generated]

Sandip Roy: Mridula Ramesh, welcome to the show.

Mridula Ramesh: Thank you, Sandeep. Thank you so much for the interest. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Sandip Roy: I usually don’t start with bad news, but we talk so much about the climate crisis, air pollution crisis. But I feel we talk far less about water crisis. And I wanted to ask you, So how bad is the water crisis in India? Are we close to any tipping point?

Mridula Ramesh: No, that’s a really interesting question. Sandeep, and I’ll respond by saying all these crises have their origin in the same thing. I mean, it’s not a separate air crisis or a climate crisis or a water crisis. They’re all interlinked. And, you know, in the framing of the climate crisis, we often the people who talk about it often talk about it in terms of carbon. But the climate itself speaks through water. So, you know, climate change is actually taking something so mundane and something we take for granted like water and turning it into something both precious and menacing at the same time. Which is why it’s sort of manifesting as this crisis and it’s manifesting more often nowadays. But to answer your specific question, which is how close to a tipping point are we? We are very close, right? And because India’s water is so varied, the tipping point will vary by city . Right. So you’re already seeing a form of a terrible form of day zero snaking its way across the country. You know, it may not be there in the lucky households who have municipal water piped them, but you’re certainly seeing it in the peripheries of many Indian cities, which neither have access to municipal water, nor are they from. They’ve exhausted their groundwater. You’re seeing it in the farms. You know, the spiking of farmer suicides when El Nino comes to visit . So you’re seeing it in every part of the country. You know, the tipping point is varied. So it’s not like the entire country is tipping over, but certain parts of the country certainly are.

Sandip Roy: Well, in in that case, though, why is it not more often an election issue, because you are you say in the book that while certainly promising free water can be an election issue, maintaining water for the long term is not. It does not get anyone elected.

Mridula Ramesh: So that was surprising for us to. So, you know, in the Climate Institute that I ran, we said, OK, sort of pontificating about it in an ivory tower that’s actually go and ask real people whether it would they would actually vote on water. And we asked over nine hundred people this question. And you know, and we asked this question during the two thousand nineteen water crisis when Chennai had,you know, the lakes were dry and in Madurai to the vast people who are getting water once in 4 dys, once a week. And the overwhelming answer was no. Right. The water management was not something they would vote on, and you see that time and time again. And one possible reason for that is the lives of the majority of Indians is so uncertain that anything beyond one to two weeks doesn’t really compute doesn’t make sense. There are so many uncertainty. You know, wherever there is, they do. They have a job. They get a regular income. You know, will how healthy will they be? Will they even live to see two or three years when water management, if everything goes right, slowly starts working its magic? So that may be an explanation.

Sandip Roy: So what would you say are currently what you’re calling the hydrological fault lines, and I’m using the plural because it’s not one fault line, not one.

Mridula Ramesh: So it begins by, you know, if you were to go, if you were, just imagine yourself as an explorer in the old world and you come to this new city and you’re observing this creature for the first time and you start describing it. So when you look at India’s water, as that creature, it’s got certain facets, right? So it’s geographically varied. It’s so variable right. So there are places that get meters of rainfall and in a few months and then you’ve got places that, you know, go for days or months without rain at all. So you’ve got that geographic variability. And the other thing is, India’s water is so seasonal right there. I think in the FAO aqua stat database, I looked at one hundred and sixty six countries where our water is more seasonal than one hundred and sixty two of them, if I’m not mistaken. And then it’s all temporal when I learned that India’s water, most of its rainfall falls in one hundred hours. You’re really thinking Sledgehammer versus this gentle massage. And then, you know, was El Nino, an Indian Ocean Dipole? All of these enter and exit the stage. It varies. So much so the key. The key challenge is to actually manage that variability and the moment you just assume it’s a straight line, plain vanilla kind of a thing, you’re creating faultline. So what are they? It is it growing and eating what is not in keeping with your local water availability? So India’s biggest breadbaskets are dry they are places that get between 500 to 700 millimeters of rain.

Mridula Ramesh: And we’re asking them to grow a crop which needs over a thousand two hundred and forty millimeters of rain. So, you know, it’s just this oddity which creates a faultline and then climate change will come and press on the fault line, you know, making the fault line a fracture because it’ll make one of the projections is that the rainfall there will actually go down over time, and as heat increases, the yields will start falling. So, you know, that is one dault line. The other one is not managing our demand, right, decimating storage. I live in a place called Chokwekullamr and kollum means pond. This house has been here for more than 80 years. There has been no pond, right? The nearest lake is now an All India radio station. A further away lake calls the corporation office another lake farther away. All part of a court. So you know you’ve you’ve started reimagining places to store your water, which is so of required for such variable water.And you said it’s more valuable as dry land. And when you do that, you’re creating another fault line , which then when climate change comes and makes water intense and you no longer have a place for it to flow into and then you get floods.

Sandip Roy: So it’s basically supply storage and demand. These three things are what we are going to have to juggle around in order to be able to have sustainable and consistent water.

Mridula Ramesh: It is recognizing India’s water. We’ve taken India’s water for granted. You know, if I ask anyone, how much water have you consume today? The answer? You know, exactly. Would you would you know what the answer is? And I would wager No, you know, we’ve become we’ve just taken it for granted. And. This is a recent oddity, right, throughout India’s history, and, you know, going back through five thousand years of history, which I’ve looked at in the book, India’s water was always very valued it . There was a price placed on it, but it wasn’t a monetary or a cash prize. It was. It was either through shramdaan through labor or a share of crops, and pricing it that way actually respected the seasonality and you know, the how the water varied across the years. But we’ve we’ve lost that if we’ve said this is something for the government to provide. It is not my responsibility.

Sandip Roy: And can you can you give the quote from because you’re talking about how we respected water in the past? There’s a bit from the Arthsahstra when you talk about Chanakya and the fines. Could you mention that?

Mridula Ramesh: No, no, I think, yeah. So when CHanakya was a very pragmatic man. Right? And there’s something which I didn’t put in the book, which was very interesting. So he said, Look, why is this bad, right? But why is this profitable? So we should tax all vices? And then he goes into detailing how water is to supply, be supplied to all the then dens of vices like gambling halls and brothels. But that’s a separate point. But when you look at how Chanakya conceptualized water, it was fascinating. And he said all water belonged to the king because managing water led to prosperity, and that held the power to the king strength. And that’s a, you know, a saying that comes again and again in the ancient age like Avaya, the Tamil poet said. Pretty much the same thing. And he said, OK, how do you manage what like ownership is centralized, but then? Water price was progressive, so, you know, depending on how a farmer drew water from an irrigation source, so if he drew it manually, which meant that Farmer was poor, right, he paid the lowest amount of tax, so he only would pay a fifth of his crop. But if he drew it through mechanical means, you would pay a higher share. So it was a it was a seasonal price, which is also a progressive price, which is rich. Farmers paid more, which is completely ultaa to what is happening today. Right. Wealthier farmers have the borewells, which allows them, especially if you combine that with free electricity. They are getting water. It essentially for free, whereas poor farmers who are typically rainfed have complete uncertainty and unpredictability, or they have to buy water from the wealthier farmers. So we’ve moved a long way from what Chanakya emphasized. You also had these

Sandip Roy:He also had thees Fines for facilities

Mridula Ramesh:That was hilarious. Yeah. So he had the Swach Bharat fines for those days. And he went into an inordinate amount of detail. So he would say , and you know.5 And he would the fine for peeing into a reservoir. a water reservoire was far more than fine, fine for peeoing into a religious place that showed how the importance for water 8 and, you know, the fine for peeing and defecating were again different. 3 You know,3 the fine for defecating was twice the fine of peeing.6 So he, you know, he really thought through this and that really conveyed the respect for water that the reservoir was more important than religious place.11:35

Sandip Roy: 11:37 What you say while going through this history? 11:36 11:38 Is that this relationship that India historically had with its water and how to manage its seasonality changed with the British. 9 It was an attitude change towards water. 3 And you say our erstwhile colonial masters foundationally destabilized India’s water regime in many ways. Could you elaborate on the ways they did it?3

Mridula Ramesh: 3 Yeah, so5 I think pretty much everything starts with philosophy, what you value, what you prize 2 and then it moves on from there. 4 And at the 6 when you look at what the British did, there are there is the overt messaging and then there is the subtext, and both are important5 In the overt messaging There was a feeling that technology can overcome the natural variability of water,5 and this is hard for me to say because I’m a tech aficionado and I’m still saying it because I think it is something that all tech aficionados should keep in mind. 4 No, you know, it’s like6 it’s a it’s a monkey with a garland or 9 a monkey putting its finger into the plug.2 You have to be aware of what you’re messing around with and incomplete knowledge and messing around with it can lead to problems.8 So if you take the Punjab,0 you know.2 It was a dry land, and what the British did was build the canals that brought water to dry land and made it rich farmland. 2 Right?4 So the text was We are the colonial masters and we will provide.9 And you know, there is a quote that says this was seen as the largest, greatest achievement. It was a wonderful engineering feat that turned dry deserts into magnificent farmland. 1 But what is the subtext and the subtext is critical.5 It provided a fantastic return on British capital in one figure that I cite is the Chenab of canal provided twenty three and a half percent return on capital. That was valuable and every step of that equilibrium transfer changed it, 3 right? So they cleared the forest. The forest is now created fresh land that could be farmed. That fact that forests stabilized India’s water forest really act like gelatin stabilizing India’s water didn’t matter.7 The the the British saw the forest as trees.

Mridula Ramesh: They missed the forest, but they got the trees.3 The second fact was, you know, de-emphasize the community, control on the water and get centralized control.3 Well, you know,5 there was always a subtle threat. You misbehave and you can turn the tap off9 . Right.0 the third thing was the railways again, very important, the forest oprovided the sleepers in the to help build the railways and the railways were helped to carry away the produce that these newly desert turned field was able to provide. And lastly, and very importantly, was the kind of taxation5 earlier. It was always a cash paid in kind. Let’s not forget, like an El Nino or Enzo, or is a periodic phenomenon right? It repeats every two to seven years.7 And when that happens, the Indian monsoon changes fundamentally.1 So once you put a fixed. 3 So when there was a variable price, 5 you know the crop would,8 the tax would adjust to the crop. So there was no need for the farmer to grow something different or to access credit. 4 But what the British did is by placing a fixed cash tax during a drought year, you would now have to borrow to pay right. And. It also incentivized farmers to go in for cash crops. 2 So the whole equilibrium changed, farmers began to grow what the external market wanted, what they could get cash to pay for the taxes and not what the local water regime would support, what the local community would want.9 And so all at once, you’re trampling all over India’s worth of assets and that seed that you can get away with growing and completely disregarding water of assets was planted there and something I don’t think we’ve really gotten over that even today.6

Sandip Roy: That’s my question. The British are gone. We dismantled so many of the regressive laws that they left and all of that. What prevented us from going back to a more sustainable water model?1

Mridula Ramesh: So I mean, like, 4 let’s take the years post independence, right? So every time an el nino in came to visit India, you know you were really held, as I put it in after the nineteen sixty five drought ship to moth them out. I do need to be food independent and there came the Green Revolution, all neat and tidy again, saying the same thing that you know, technology will prevail and you unleash the Borewell on India,2 right?3 And you put no, you know, you put a flat tariff, then you reduce the flat tariff and then you make it free altogether.1 So there are no controls and the groundwater looks endless. 5 And that’s something I can sympathize with because I mean, let me be very honest,9 I did not. 1 My eyes were completely close to this until my invisible groundwater ran out at home.7 Right, so.8 It’s like.9 We’ve we we tried to become food independent at a time when the ground water ocean seemed endless. 9 And we’ve now come to the end of the road because that ground water ocean is shrinking and become a pond.6 And we are now food secure and we need to move away. But I think current events have shown how difficult it is to move away. 5 And today, every Indian wants rice and wheat and looks at millets and any other, you know, water resilient crop as being uncool.6 So even if you ask the farmer to grow. Water silient millets is there a demand for it? 5 You know, and if there is no demand for it, will there, you know, it’s it’s just we’restuck in a bad equilibrium and it’s going to be very, very hard to move away from that.4

Sandip Roy: So has there been an effort to do that? 6 I mean, the what is it? The Food Corporation of India FCI, which is the one that is buying the crops from the farmers in Punjab and Haryana and assuring them of a fixed price? Are I mean, is it up to them to sort of make millet, you know, like 2 they they had that whole campaign of anda which you talk about is there to make eggs cool? Is there any sign that there is a make millet cool campaign?2

Mridula Ramesh: 3 It is there at the state level. Right? And if you look at it, the farm, you know, the whole saga of the farm laws, the passing, the repeal and everything else shows how difficult it’s going to be to turn the farm ship around. 9 But here is the ray of hope,1 right? 2 And it’s a slim ray of hope. But let’s take it. there is a start up. You know that we are looking that some of us are looking at investing in, which is working with Punjabi farmers.4 More than three thousand of them and getting them to conserve water.9 And it’s doing that because the paddy they grow by conserving this water, it’s a sustainable tag, which then gets a premium over the regular paddy, which they would sell to the FCI.3 So that is that is two ways it has to start demand first. So that’s why the whole egg campaign in the 80s, you know, get people to change what they eat is an important it has to start that way.9 The second thing again, you know, Orissa. Karnataka. All of them starting with their millet missions again, driving demand first and then getting farmers to change, I think is another way of going. So two things that start demand first and start decentralized might be a better way to go about it.7

Sandip Roy: So what is the I mean with the0 you brought up the farm protests and we saw this, but most of us who don’t follow farm stuff in that detail, just see it in political terms.0 You know, we see who is against whom and think of it as, Oh, is this a defeat for the BJP or whatever? But what is the water component backstory to this protest?1

Mridula Ramesh: Ok, so if you look, I mean,4 Punjab is something I looked at intensively in the book, and if you go back to the Indus period, right, there’s a wonderful study that looks at how Indus Valley farmers changed what they grew, where the Indus Valley over a thousand years1 . So they really matched. You know,3 they went from wheat to barley and back and forth, depending on how rains were in a given year,8 they really matched it. 0 And then you come, you know, 2 Wheat starts making a far wider presence in the Punjab by the British right when they really transformed everything with the canal colonies1 . But then came the Green Revolution. Paddy was just seven percent of Punjab’s crop area in nineteen in the nineteen sixties. 1 Today, it’s a major crop. Right? And now you’re taking a place which gets between five hundred to seven hundred millimetres of rain and asking it to grow something between thousand to one hundred, which needs thousand two hundred and forty millimetres of rain. That’s that. Plus wheat. Right?9 And you’re basically giving water for free. So Punjab is not as efficient a user of water as, say, China is because there is there is very little incentive to manage the water. 1 And there is a case study, which is the whole Pani Bacjao Paisa cKamaoMo scheme, which tries to do that. So in the. 1 But3 the water story really is when your overdrawing your the gap between the thousand to forty and that five hundred is really filled with Punjab’s groundwater and Haryana’s groundwater. I mean, it’s that the entire North West.5 And that groundwater is running out 9 tucked deep within the appendices of a groundwater report that is the state level committee that opined saying groundwater will run out in 20 to 25 years. 0 Right.2 So that’s the water story, because you’re getting a dry land to export its precious insurance of groundwater to the rest of India. And to the world.3

Sandip Roy: 4 Because you also mentioned that one of the theories nobody knows this for certain about why the Indus Valley civilization disappeared. Was that because of climate change or something, the water might have run out that it just ran out of water? 0 Could we, 1 as the groundwater disappears, could we see the same thing happening to today’s Punjab?5

Mridula Ramesh: So. 0 Water played a very big role in the Indus Valley’s civilizations, but disappearance or dismantling it is one of the elements, but there’s both the disappearance, the shifting of river and the change in the climate. 9 And that’s something we’ve forgotten in our history, right? 2 The climate has changed multiple times in the past, and each time it’s changed, there’s been like, Oh, you know, Great Kingdoms have fallen because it just foundationally destabilizes a society.6 And what one of the climate models say about, you know, the northwest of India is. It’s a good chance that rainfall may go down, which means we are already overdrawing something. So if your recharge goes down even further and we continue this cycle of drawing out whatever we are, the chance was running out, you know, is profound0 . And that’s the question I ask What will the next generation of farmers in India’s northwest do? 5 And you know, India’s food security depends on these, too. 1 So. I mean, if if you go by what is said, it’s not a question of if, but it may be a question of when.0 Do we actually

Sandip Roy:Do we habe Have a sense, Mridula, of how much groundwater we have in general tapped into and how much is left?1

Mridula Ramesh: 4 No. Sorry. That’s that’s that’s that’s that’s sort of the problem, right? 25:00 I mean, we have like in Delhi, for instance, 25:03 that we know it’s a lot, we know how much it,25:06 let me put it this way. 25:08 We know the flpws. We have a good estimate of the flaws, right? You know, how much is entering and how much is being taken out.25:15 But that, you know, if you look at the ground water column, some of it has been there for millions of years, and it’s very difficult to estimate exactly how much there is.25:26 And that’s the problem. It’s invisible and it’s uncertain, and it’s convenient, right? You combine all these three together and you flip on that Borwell and things flow out.25:36

Sandip Roy:25:37 What have what have we done in terms of trying to curb borewell use?

Mridula Ramesh: 25:42 Oh, so, you know, there is this case study I gave of Delhi where people have there is been there have been laws in Delhi saying borewells are forbidden, etc. But Sandeep, it’s it’s really difficult.26:04 No, it’s a pretty easy to run a borwell when it’s really difficult to curb it. And that’s why I think the latest thing is to get ground level functionaries to, you know, entrusted with making sure sealed board wells are sealed. 26:18 And then you have this whole, you know, equality argument, which is valid. You know, if a community says, Hey, you’re not giving me municipal water, how do you expect me to live?26:29 You know, I do need my bore well. And then what do you say to that? One may say that should the community have come up there in the first place26:37 , but then you get into all this urban, you know, land planning and all of that,26:43 which is, I think we don’t know. You know,26:48 there is that proverb, right? We will know the value of water when the well runs dry. And to me, at least that was when I woke up.26:57 So I think a lot of us are waking up because groundwater is running dry, and that’s probably the best control that is coming.27:06 And you know, that’s I mean, that’s sort of a parallel to the climate change crisis, right? You keep ignoring it. It’ll keep talking in a louder voice.27:12

Sandip Roy: So you. 27:14 Let’s talk about your wake up moment. So basically, this is. When was this when the water ran out in your home? And this is in Madurai?27:23

Mridula Ramesh: Yeah. This is in Madurai. So, you know, again, we call them the chokhi cooler. It’s a place for the pond and groundwater runs out, so it tells you how far we’ve come. And this was in 2013, just after my daughter was born.27:41 So you actually had time to look at it.27:43 And, you know, for that, 27:46 I was just looking at the emails from that period for the first few months. 27:49 We really thought those are fault with a borewell when we thought that it had a problem to do with the technology. We never once thought the groundwater could run out never once. And it was after months and months and months when we were buying water and realizing all at once how expensive it is to have a garden28:11 . And it, you know, our demand was just a black hole because we didn’t know where we were using it.28:16 So that’s when we said, OK, fine, we need to understand how we use our water.28:22 And we started placing meters and it’s, you know, so few people at that time had meters that it was it was an exercise in and of itself figuring out where the meters needed to be placed, water, etc.. And but once the black hole was replaced with data, you all the data to show you where to act, you know, and the interventions are both cheap and that easy.28:47 And that’s the thing, right? 28:49 The home,28:50 as long as water remains invisible, it’s going to always be a source of vulnerability.28:55

Sandip Roy: So did it surprise you where you were using a wasting most water?29:00

Mridula Ramesh: 29:02 The garden was a water guzzler. Right, and that’s another change that, you know, our modern sensibilities have brought to us that we use a lot of chemical fertilizers today and we’ve given up on compost for us where we manage our waste in homes, so we create our own compost. 29:24 And that’s a game changer because the compost really changes the soil structure, pulls in the water and holds it and the garden starts using a lot less water if you use it that way.29:36 So for us, you know, we’re realizing the garden was a water guzzler29:40 kitchen tap with another big water guzzler the moment you have the data to so easy to intervene and change that.29:47

Sandip Roy: 29:49 You say, it was easy to intervene, but but when you were doing this and you hear about rainwater harvesting and all of these, what was your what were your neighbors reactions? Were they enthused by this or were they like aeh30:05

Mridula Ramesh: A little bit of the eh, so I have to be careful, I live with a lot of my neighbors are my relatives, so.30:16 So. But, you know, if.30:20 30:24 I’m just trying to think, yeah, it’s. Oh, yeah, I mean, it’s very difficult to sort of. Persuade someone to change their ways until the crisis comes to bite.30:40 Right. 30:42 So in the initial times when our house ran out of groundwater and everybody else had it, they were OK. But in 2017, Madurai had its worst drought in a hundred and forty years.30:53 And so when everybody was spending a fortune buying water, we didn’t need to right?30:59 And that’s when questions start getting asked on What are you doing? How are you doing it or you’re using so little water? You know, how are you recycling your water, et cetera? 31:10 And that started coming through and. 31:14 Again, you know, you asked me how serious is the water crisis and are we at tipping point? And I’m just moving away from my neighbors to, you know, a global thing in two thousand fifteen, they were not that many water startups that it didn’t make sense for so many people to do it today. That’s where people are really asking, saying, Can we reuse water?31:38 How can we reduce water? Can we measure our water? 31:41 Because so many households like ours is running out and water is making itself, we feel visible.31:49

Sandip Roy:31:52 But to press this point about the difficulty of making people change their ways, I mean, I think there are some things that you that are simple and no brainer where you say turn off the tap while brushing your teeth or shaving, 32:06 you know, that is not.32:08 I just have to remember to do it, but it’s not asking too much of me. 32:14 In your book, you detail the various ways that then you sort of take a water audit of the factories that you are responsible for to figure out where the waste is happening in all of that. 32:26 Now you come from a family which has a, you know, it has a business empire, the TVs, business empire.32:32 Was it difficult for you to preach this mantra of water conservation to throughout the, you know, at least your family, the businesses they controlled? And did other businesses get interested in it?32:48

Mridula Ramesh: 32:51 Ok, so here’s the thing, right? If you Preach the water mantra through a lens of conscience. It’s not going to be very effective.33:06 Right.33:09 And this is something that I’ve learned over time that conscience is great in trying to make a change. It’s less great for trying to sustain a change. 33:20 And in my journey. I find preaching only takes you that far.33:27 Right, and nobody will make a change unless they know how the cost benefit is for them,33:34 and which is why I try not to speak that much but try to relate it to their own lived experiences.33:43 33:44 So there has been a good reception where people have gotten it impacts them, and then they come back and it’s moving forward,33:58 but here is the other thing, I think. It’s important to speak out because when I started on this journey, my many members, family, friends, et cetera, really thought this was a midlife crisis gone badly wrong.34:14 And I get a lot less of that today.34:18 Ok. And that’s because the world itself has changed.34:22 And for businesses, consumers, investors, courts and courts are all saying the same thing, right? T34:32o day, courts are very, very loath to look the other way when there is a protest and they see a company violating some law34:40 . Investors are saying we won’t put money into you.34:42 So, you know, if I was to go and tell an uncle or a cousin saying, you should save water because it’s the good thing to do. They’ll be nice to me, but, you know, not even an uncle, say another business colleague. There’ll be, you know, they’ll listen to me, but they’ll say, OK, yeah, whatever.34:59 But when the investor, a customer says, I’m not going to buy you a thing unless you’re being responsible, I think that talks a lot louder.35:07 So again, conscience is great, but I think incentives are more important.35:12

Sandip Roy:35:11 Is it time, then to talk much more in the same way as we talk about a carbon footprint, about a water footprint, of things we buy and use because I was astonished to read in your book that it takes about 2700 litres of water to make a simple cotton T-shirt.35:33

Mridula Ramesh: Yeah. And so something that’s actually why the second book got written, OK, the first book got written because I ran out of water and learned about climate change and said, You know, people need to understand it in an Indian context and language that, you know, it’s understandable.35:51 But when I started participating in climate change conversations, I said, everyone’s talking about carbon. But the climate itself talks through water. And why is no one talking about that?36:01 And you know, we seem to have crossed certain climate thresholds and India needs to, you know? Well, get conscious about its water,36:12 but try coming to this water footprint. What is really interesting is two things. One is the bulk of the two thousand seven hundred liters in growing the cotton crop.36:24 That’s very often rain fed, so it has everything to do with the yield of the cotton. 36:30 And India has a horribly, you know, it’s a very low yield, right? So China’s water footprint is far lower than India’s simply because China has a better yield. 36:42 And that really has to do with the dynamics in what I call the last mile of farming.36:49 You know, the path to reaching the small and medium farm.36:52

Mridula Ramesh: The second aspect of the water footprint in the T-shirt’s life cycle is how you treat you, so both of us are wearing colored clothes, right?37:03 So providing the color what is called processing or dyeing and that uses of water and treating it costs money,37:12 right?37:13 And you know, what astonished me is that a ten dollar T-shirt in Nineteen Ninety One sells for about nine dollars, 70 cents in 202137:27 . There’s not a heck of a lot of sustainability that you can do when margins are so slim, right? And then there is two things that we need to say Look, this is important and we need to pay just a little. We’re talking five to six rupees per T-shirt extra. That’s all we’re talking about extremely responsible treatment of water, 37:48 and that somehow hasn’t percolated the consciousness. I mean, I talked to buyers, I talked to customers and customers are getting it. I think hopefully they can convince their buyers that, Hey, what I buy, it’s important. 38:02 This is important to me. I buy your stuff if you don’t do it.38:05

Sandip Roy: Are places like Tirupur where so much of our T-shirts come from? Are they not reading with the same water? I mean, has their wake up moment not come?38:15

Mridula Ramesh: Yeah, they have. Their wake up moment came right because that that dam held up all the effluents to think and the farmers started to protest. And in 2011, the whole sector got shut down. Right. And for us, the whole industry, an industry that provides it’s one of the biggest employers of women outside agriculture got shut down38:36 because, you know, it was just a crisis of unprecedented magnitude. 38:40 So they wake up. Moment came. But unfortunately, what happened is with us in so many other sectors, we started following a K-shaped model.38:52 So there is this the larger groups who are catering to the more, you know, sustainable brands, etc. they are now treating their water. 39:00 They are being responsible and they’ve moved on.39:03 But what about the, you know, the hole in the wall outfits for whom you know that bpaisas of margin still make a difference? I think they’re the message hasn’t sunk through again. It’s not just conscience, it is. It is a question of paying that three to four rupees 39:21 and making sure it goes to those people to think so39:24 . I mean, I was talking to a person who set up an effluent plant in Tirupur So you can have this, you can have the law. But you know, again and again, the theme in the book is. Policy and laws only go so far39:38 because there’s such a diverse country and the lived experience of the law really requires the local community to be vigilant as well as incentives to be structurally aligned.39:51

Sandip Roy: And so what can the government do in in this regard, because if we believe that water is a right to be provided by government 40:05 as we seem to do, the problem, you say, is that then we suck it out of the ground and use it without responsibility. 40:14 So one thing is to if you privatize water, which many places have done and then you have to pay for it and then you are more watchful of it.40:23 But could it not be a right provided by the government and yet used responsibly? Is there a model for that?40:30

Mridula Ramesh: 40:33 Well, Israel and Singapore do it right, 40:35 but I think I’m not and. Ok.40:41 Let me start again. 40:41 Israel and Singapore do it, and you know, one of the things that I say is let’s don’t try to solve India’s water problems at one, and it’s just you will get discouraged even before you start.40:53 But Chennai is 4 Israels, Delhi is like several Singapore’s.41:00 So let us start one neighborhood at a time. And perhaps you know that’s where you need everyone to push.41:07 You know, one thing that I really learned on this journey is democracy is not really an armchair sport.41:14 It’s not we at the local level, you need people to get involved in whatever way possible. 41:21 You know, whether you stand shoulder to shoulder with the local government and saying, OK, I, it’s my tax. I will also help in sort of rejuvenating it, coming up with ideas, you know, persuading your neighbor that perhaps you should start monitoring your water demand.41:38 And I see that every success put in the story is that it’s all hands pushing together because otherwise it’s going to be so as if the government provides water and it doesn’t charge for it. I don’t think we value it. 41:55 And yeah, and at the same time, for the economically vulnerable, you do need water provided at very concessional rates.42:05 It also you need the government and the private sector to work together and civil society and individual citizens and academics and scientists, all of us.42:14

Sandip Roy: Yeah, because I think one of the fears that people have when it comes to converting drinking water into a private good that especially in a country like India, it could adversely affect women and lower castes and classes because so much of Dalit politics has often been about access to the tank.42:35

Mridula Ramesh: No, no, no, absolutely. I mean, we found that in our tank studies as well. I’m not glossing over the caste issue at all42:43 . Are very real and very valid point. But you know, I I will push back on the women thing,42:50 right?42:50 Because in our studies, we find that women, you know, it’s not a utopia today. 42:55 42:56 It’s, you know, it’s most, you know, 42:59 many of the households that we looked at got water often in the middle of the night once every few days, especially in the summer. 43:08 And it was the women who had to run, jostle, fight, push, beg, bribe, cajole and carry those pots of water home. 43:17 So, yeah, on the women thing, I will push back saying, you know, it is a pretty bad situation today. 43:25 And if you can get some efficiency in the system because there is a problem with efficiency, that is tremendous leakages and losses that women perhaps may become better. But point well on the tank ecosystems, we’ve seen it too.43:41

Sandip Roy: 43:40 There are several stories of experiments that have worked, and I wanted you to explain one of them, so perhaps you could talk about what happened in Alvar and how they managed to change things around.43:55

Mridula Ramesh: C O, 43:58 Rajendraji and I have spoken so many times about this, and I think, you know,

Sandip Roy: You should explain who that

Mridula Ramesh: Is. Introduce Rajendra Singh. He’s the water man of India.44:08 And you know, one of the things you know, when I was going back and asking him again and again about the stories, he said, Look, I was a ayurbedic, dr? So that I came there and I wanted to help. 44:20 My focus was teaching the children. Then, you know, addressing night blindness, which was common in that area44:28 . And he said, you know, a villager came to him and said, We don’t want this. You know, we you’re giving us something that they really don’t want any need water.44:37 And he like, you know, even when people intervene, they don’t often ask the population in which they’re intervening what they want, right? 44:48 And he asked that such an important question. He said, I don’t know. And can you tell me, you know, and that was that that to me was like, you know, I got goosebumps hearing that. 44:59 And that’s when he learned about the traditional technologies of the johads and how the fractures worked and recharging groundwater, and how it was so important to build those check dams to trap the rain flowing down the slopes. 45:16 And then, you know, they repaired one, and that’s what he said. First, people heckled. You know, there was no support, et cetera. 45:25 But when the rains came, the rains did come. Of the johad filled and surprisingly so did a Well, that was near the johad. And you know. Success breeds success,45:40 so they changed, and as they changed, this is another important thing in water, right? It’s not one element alone. It’s not just providing water, it’s all the different parts, the pieces of the equilibrium that looked so unimportant that become important. 45:57 They realized that they needed the upstream forest to hold back the seats so that the Jahar, they wouldn’t have to keep digging all the time.46:05

Mridula Ramesh: So they created the forest, and they also said it’s a sacred forest, so you can’t go and hunt there or take wood from that.46:14 The second thing was demand. Weve been talking a lot about demand. So they said, you know, we can’t grow crops that don’t work with the local water availability.46:26 We cannot have outside cattle come and graze. And then when the river became perennial and you know that that’s the interesting thing of hydrogeologist, right? The jihad, which is a check down, holds back the rain. Some of it, you know, goes and recharges groundwater. 46:43 But some of it goes to help replenish those lean season or summer flows in the river and the river came back to life. 46:52 And then when the river came back to life, there were fish in the river, and then there was an outside contractor who came.46:58 So that’s why they set up a parliament so that the local community could once again have control over how the river’s waters would be used.47:07 Same thing you see in apartment complexes that who’ve gotten their water right. 47:14 There are rules on how you use your water and metering for how you use it, and often something that many of us miss is using different qualities of water within the same house.47:27 You don’t need the same quality of water in your kitchen, tap and in your toilet to flush.47:31 Right. 47:32 So rules like that, how do you treat your sewage? How will we use are treated sewage all of that. So the community sort of is the best controller of the local behavior47:42 , right?47:44

Sandip Roy: 47:44 But how scalable is something like what happened in Alvar? Can’t it be taken up on a much larger scale to replenish tanks in many other communities?47:54

Mridula Ramesh: Sandip if I see a ray of hope in the climate change crisis, it’s the fact that at least in dry places, people have finally understood the magic and the glory of tanks48:08 . I think we’ve it took us many, many blows, but we’re finally getting it right and you’re seeing it in city after city48:16 that at least it’s not48:19 . I’m not saying encroachments have stopped. In our study of 50 tanks, there were three that looked very likely to get encroached any time now.48:27 But people are beginning to get it, 48:32 OK, because the moment you live next to a tank. You’re paying less in buying water. 48:39 So in our study, we found people were paying on average about four hundred rupees a month in buying water because those the municipal water was not enough. But if you lived next to a functional tank, was this a dysfunctional that we paid a hundred rupees less? 48:54 That’s a lot of money.48:57 And so, you know, like NGOs and the private sector is coming and saying, OK, we’ll start rejuvenating tanks.49:04 And I think in Madurai, 19 times got rejuvenated when I wrote about it last. And the water levels went up by hundred to two hundred feet. 49:15 Same thing happening in Chennai. Is it happening? Are all tanks being done?49:20 No. But you know, we finally, after lots and lots of knocks on our head, we finally seem to have gotten that message.49:28

Sandip Roy:49:27 But do we get complacent once the water level goes up? Do we go back to our bad old ways? 49:32 But this tanks require maintenance?49:34

Mridula Ramesh: No, of course we were right, and of course we will. And that’s why we said when we looked at what tanks did in the past, tanks give prestige.49:44 Yes, absolutely. Hear you on the caste dynamics. But they also gave cash flow to the disempowered communities because functional tanks held fish and the were 11 in one tank that we wrote about. I wrote about like there were 11 varieties of fish 50:04 and that diversity with the rise and fall of water levels right in that cash flow went to the community50:11 and you know, it provided a place for livestock to be watered and maintained, etc.. It provided both status and cash flow. 50:22 Today, a sewage filled, garbage filled, you know, mosquito infested tank provides neither status nor cash flow. 50:32 So one way we thought of redoing that in the institute was to really re-imagine them as sites for local tourism. 50:39 So if you provide things like cycling tracks, walking tracks, places to sit, performance spaces,50:47 our performance arts have really, you know, they are crying out for a place to showcase their wonderful ingenuity and talent and charm to the local population.50:59 Maybe the tank next to the tank, you can have a place to do that. A selfie sport Wi-Fi hotspots. This suggestion came from someone younger in our team51:09 and you know it, that whatever works right to get them again, to become centers of community 51:16 and one time that has done some of this in MNadyuri had no water fully encroached. Ok? Zero jobs after getting, you know, the quotes for a newspaper article got courts incolved and world clear out encouragement. There was water. Then they started providing these tourist facilities 1200 jobs51:40 . Right. The moment you have the hundred jobs that complacency, there is a chance that the complacency will go down because if the complacency goes up, the water goes down and the jobs disappear, the people who are employed will start shouting, No.51:54

Sandip Roy: 51:55 Now, a lot of people who are listening to this, the I think, often feel helpless when we talk about things like climate change, water and all of that because they feel like this is something very huge.52:08 We know what can I do with what keeping my tap off while shaving really going to make that difference? 52:16 So if you live in an ordinary house, you’re not in a big apartment complex or something like that. What can you do in terms of your gray water, your rainwater, your sewage?52:27

Mridula Ramesh:52:29 For us, our reject water, so52:33 I’ll say what I did in my house, and then the first thing is if you have a garden, please compost.52:40 It’s just, I mean, it’s a52:42 it’s a game changer on how much you know, how much less water your garden uses and how it holds onto the rain. 52:51 That’s number one. Number two, even in a small house, you know the this this is a very, very old house. 52:59 So if we can do it here, people can do it elsewhere. Also, though. Changing the plumbing is not that difficult, but once you do it, it gives you water resilience just going forward,53:12 so the quality you use to flush your toilets is really not the quality you need in your kitchen.tap53:17 I mean, that’s like the big thing. If you do have an RO plant, right, 53:23 and auto plants people are finding or, you know, the problems of technology. Most of us don’t need an RO plant53:29 like our groundwater has a trace of well over a thousand five hundred53:34 . So we do53:36 . But if you can actually get involved and see how much you’re rejecting and how much you’re actually saving, you can save a lot of water there. Secondly, you can collect the reject again.53:48

Mridula Ramesh: I mean, this is hard for people to do, but it’s so so you don’t need to do that. Often you check the quality to make sure it’s not very salty. 53:56 But if it’s not, you can reuse it again53:59 . Right? So I think it’s the more you just say, OK, I just need to reuse it as much as possible. 54:05 But again, I think the biggest change Sandip is think about water. Acknowledge water.54:14 How many of us do we just take it for granted? 54:17 It’s invisible to us at the moment. You acknowledge it. Like every few months, we come up with something new54:26 . And I think every one of us can come up with something new as long as we acknowledge water, like during the last rains, we found our rainwater fed. Our rainwater was running into the road and he said, No, we want that rainwater. We don’t want it to run away. And we just put grills like we just dug a ditch in the path and we put grills and connected it to a rainwater harvesting pit. Not very expensive, you know, not very rocket science. We did its job.54:57 So again, I think, like in everything else, philosophy first acknowledge water55:03

Sandip Roy:55:04 Before I let you go. Mridula These were the small things we can do, but we often look at government for the big things. And one of the big projects that people have been talking about for so long when it comes to water is the linking of the rivers. What do you think55:20 we should? I mean, does this not harken back to the same of what we were talking about in terms of thinking technology in the end will change everything.55:32

Mridula Ramesh: So here’s the thing, right? 55:34 Let me look at the pros and cons of this. Madurai is a beneficiary of the river linking project. The Periyar was linked to the Vaigai and the benefit has been real.55:49 The linking Project really looks to address the geographic variability of India’s water, and because it plans for so much storage, it addresses the seasonality of India’s water as well. Those are the positives of it. 56:06 And thirdly, I think it works in a democratic construct at a macro scale. 56:15 Now let me come up with the issues with it. The first objection I have is actually pragmatic.56:23 So the river interlinking project and these are just several links, and the full benefit of the project will only come if you have all the links and all the storage together. The first link has taken decades and it’s not operationalized. 56:38 It’s not linked as we speak.56:42 Can we build the same water resilience using decentralized interventions which are cheaper, both on capital and on political capital.56:56 So the first objection that I have is pragmatism, right? 57:00 The second objection I have is that very many of these links could submerge of forest. Right. The link between forest and water is so, so, so important, it’s profound.57:20 So by weakening forests, we are weakening what we’re trying to achieve. 57:27 And the there I think there is a lack of understanding which is beginning to unravel. You know how we look at forests and the link between forests and water.57:39

Mridula Ramesh: And perhaps as we try to do that. You know, and I mean that again goes back to forest valuation, right?57:48 Like are still very much caught up in the British mentality of 60 percent of sixty seven percent of a forest value today, the NPV. You know what you need to pay if you want to divert it isn’t the value of the timber value of the trees. 58:03 The hydrological value is only three percent58:07 , right?58:10 And the problem with that is today, if you start up came, then I’m talking in my world the start up game and it said, You know what? I’ll stop flooding. I’ll give you summer water. I’ll clean your water. I’ll add to rainfall. I’ll be hard, achingly beautiful. And I’ll give all, you know, medicinal plants, et cetera, et cetera. This is a machine I’m going to create.58:31 I think it will be unicorn that more time. But we are paying less than an entry level office workers wages per hectare of this machine. And I think that is all there is.58:42 58:44 There needs to be a greater understanding and perhaps with that greater understanding, we’ll start revisiting this and maybe tweaking it. So we get what we want, which is overcoming the variability of India’s water and getting water to people who need it. But at this, but in a way that’s, dare I say, sustainable.59:07

Sandip Roy: 59:09 That magic words that we use all the time, not always sure what it means, but you said your daughter was born in 201359:19

Mridula Ramesh: 2012 end oif

Sandip Roy: So do you see her she’s grown up with this in a way that you haven’t, do you see in her attitude towards water, even though she’s a young girl right now? Different because she’s grown up with water conservation as part of her upbringing. In a way yours wasn’t, I’m sure.59:43

Mridula Ramesh: Yeah. So, you know, she’s like, Mon you keep talking about farming sewage at the dining table? I will say the sewwagfe on is fabulous.59:54 So what you’re talking about? 59:56 But, you know, jokes about Sandy. I think what is great and you know, this is something you ask me, how do you convince people? And I think some schools are beginning to get it right and they get it.1:07 And this is something I learned from an Odisha government teacher, actually. And he showed in a symposium I attended that when people are taught with examples in their immediate vicinity, they learn very well.1:21 So, you know, when my daughter was in third class, the school asked them to say, OK, estimate how much water you use with buckets. And not only in your house, but in the next house and in, you know, two of your neighbors also comes back to your neighbor point. 1:39 So in our house, of course, we have 15 meters, so she got the exact answer. And then, you know, I feel a little awkward going and telling my relatives like, you know, how are you measuring? 1:49 My daughter has no such compunction. You know, what are you doing? And you just go off and say, Why don’t you know this?1:56 And I think the way we teach our children, you know, and I think today, the next generation is really, you know, they’re going to suffer.1:06 So I think they get the fact that they’re going to be paying the price. And I think they’re very sensitive to these issues.1:12

Sandip Roy: Mridual Ramesh, thank you so much for joining us. It was a great pleasure talking to you.

Mridula Ramesh: Thank you, Sandy. Thank you very much.1:19


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Mridula Ramesh on what it would take to solve India’s water crisisHow bad is India's water crisis? What has led us to this place? And what can be done to solve it? In this episode, Sandip is joined by Mridula Ramesh to talk about India's groundwater crisis. From the Indus Valley civilisation, to British policies that still affect us, Ramesh tells us about all that has caused India's grave water crisis. Ramesh is the author of the new book, Watershed: How We Destroyed India's Water and How We Can Save It. She is founder of the Sundaram Climate Institute, which focuses on waste and water solutions. TRANSCRIPT [Disclaimer: This transcript is auto-generated] Sandip Roy: Mridula Ramesh, welcome to the show. Mridula Ramesh: Thank you, Sandeep. Thank you so much for the interest. It's a pleasure to be here. Sandip Roy: I usually don't start with bad news, but we talk so much about the climate crisis, air pollution crisis. But I feel we talk far less about water crisis. And I wanted to ask you, So how bad is the water crisis in India? Are we close to any tipping point? Mridula Ramesh: No, that's a really interesting question. Sandeep, and I'll respond by saying all these crises have their origin in the same thing. I mean, it's not a separate air crisis or a climate crisis or a water crisis. They're all interlinked. And, you know, in the framing of the climate crisis, we often the people who talk about it often talk about it in terms of carbon. But the climate itself speaks through water. So, you know, climate change is actually taking something so mundane and something we take for granted like water and turning it into something both precious and menacing at the same time. Which is why it's sort of manifesting as this crisis and it's manifesting more often nowadays. But to answer your specific question, which is how close to a tipping point are we? We are very close, right? And because India's water is so varied, the tipping point will vary by city . Right. So you're already seeing a form of a terrible form of day zero snaking its way across the country. You know, it may not be there in the lucky households who have municipal water piped them, but you're certainly seeing it in the peripheries of many Indian cities, which neither have access to municipal water, nor are they from. They've exhausted their groundwater. You're seeing it in the farms. You know, the spiking of farmer suicides when El Nino comes to visit . So you're seeing it in every part of the country. You know, the tipping point is varied. So it's not like the entire country is tipping over, but certain parts of the country certainly are. Sandip Roy: Well, in in that case, though, why is it not more often an election issue, because you are you say in the book that while certainly promising free water can be an election issue, maintaining water for the long term is not. It does not get anyone elected. Mridula Ramesh: So that was surprising for us to. So, you know, in the Climate Institute that I ran, we said, OK, sort of pontificating about it in an ivory tower that's actually go and ask real people whether it would they would actually vote on water. And we asked over nine hundred people this question. And you know, and we asked this question during the two thousand nineteen water crisis when Chennai had,you know, the lakes were dry and in Madurai to the vast people who are getting water once in 4 dys, once a week. And the overwhelming answer was no. Right. The water management was not something they would vote on, and you see that time and time again. And one possible reason for that is the lives of the majority of Indians is so uncertain that anything beyond one to two weeks doesn't really compute doesn't make sense. There are so many uncertainty. You know, wherever there is, they do. They have a job. They get a regular income. You know, will how healthy will they be? Will they even live to see two or three years when water management, if everything goes right, slowly starts working its magic? So that may be an explanation. Sandip Roy: So what would you say are currently what you're calling the hydrological fault lines, and I'm using the plural because it's not one fault line, not one. Mridula Ramesh: So it begins by, you know, if you were to go, if you were, just imagine yourself as an explorer in the old world and you come to this new city and you're observing this creature for the first time and you start describing it. So when you look at India's water, as that creature, it's got certain facets, right? So it's geographically varied. It's so variable right. So there are places that get meters of rainfall and in a few months and then you've got places that, you know, go for days or months without rain at all. So you've got that geographic variability. And the other thing is, India's water is so seasonal right there. I think in the FAO aqua stat database, I looked at one hundred and sixty six countries where our water is more seasonal than one hundred and sixty two of them, if I'm not mistaken. And then it's all temporal when I learned that India's water, most of its rainfall falls in one hundred hours. You're really thinking Sledgehammer versus this gentle massage. And then, you know, was El Nino, an Indian Ocean Dipole? All of these enter and exit the stage. It varies. So much so the key. The key challenge is to actually manage that variability and the moment you just assume it's a straight line, plain vanilla kind of a thing, you're creating faultline. So what are they? It is it growing and eating what is not in keeping with your local water availability? So India's biggest breadbaskets are dry they are places that get between 500 to 700 millimeters of rain. Mridula Ramesh: And we're asking them to grow a crop which needs over a thousand two hundred and forty millimeters of rain. So, you know, it's just this oddity which creates a faultline and then climate change will come and press on the fault line, you know, making the fault line a fracture because it'll make one of the projections is that the rainfall there will actually go down over time, and as heat increases, the yields will start falling. So, you know, that is one dault line. The other one is not managing our demand, right, decimating storage. I live in a place called Chokwekullamr and kollum means pond. This house has been here for more than 80 years. There has been no pond, right? The nearest lake is now an All India radio station. A further away lake calls the corporation office another lake farther away. All part of a court. So you know you've you've started reimagining places to store your water, which is so of required for such variable water.And you said it's more valuable as dry land. And when you do that, you're creating another fault line , which then when climate change comes and makes water intense and you no longer have a place for it to flow into and then you get floods. Sandip Roy: So it's basically supply storage and demand. These three things are what we are going to have to juggle around in order to be able to have sustainable and consistent water. Mridula Ramesh: It is recognizing India's water. We've taken India's water for granted. You know, if I ask anyone, how much water have you consume today? The answer? You know, exactly. Would you would you know what the answer is? And I would wager No, you know, we've become we've just taken it for granted. And. This is a recent oddity, right, throughout India's history, and, you know, going back through five thousand years of history, which I've looked at in the book, India's water was always very valued it . There was a price placed on it, but it wasn't a monetary or a cash prize. It was. It was either through shramdaan through labor or a share of crops, and pricing it that way actually respected the seasonality and you know, the how the water varied across the years. But we've we've lost that if we've said this is something for the government to provide. It is not my responsibility. Sandip Roy: And can you can you give the quote from because you're talking about how we respected water in the past? There's a bit from the Arthsahstra when you talk about Chanakya and the fines. Could you mention that? Mridula Ramesh: No, no, I think, yeah. So when CHanakya was a very pragmatic man. Right? And there's something which I didn't put in the book, which was very interesting. So he said, Look, why is this bad, right? But why is this profitable? So we should tax all vices? And then he goes into detailing how water is to supply, be supplied to all the then dens of vices like gambling halls and brothels. But that's a separate point. But when you look at how Chanakya conceptualized water, it was fascinating. And he said all water belonged to the king because managing water led to prosperity, and that held the power to the king strength. And that's a, you know, a saying that comes again and again in the ancient age like Avaya, the Tamil poet said. Pretty much the same thing. And he said, OK, how do you manage what like ownership is centralized, but then? Water price was progressive, so, you know, depending on how a farmer drew water from an irrigation source, so if he drew it manually, which meant that Farmer was poor, right, he paid the lowest amount of tax, so he only would pay a fifth of his crop. But if he drew it through mechanical means, you would pay a higher share. So it was a it was a seasonal price, which is also a progressive price, which is rich. Farmers paid more, which is completely ultaa to what is happening today. Right. Wealthier farmers have the borewells, which allows them, especially if you combine that with free electricity. They are getting water. It essentially for free, whereas poor farmers who are typically rainfed have complete uncertainty and unpredictability, or they have to buy water from the wealthier farmers. So we've moved a long way from what Chanakya emphasized. You also had these Sandip Roy:He also had thees Fines for facilities Mridula Ramesh:That was hilarious. Yeah. So he had the Swach Bharat fines for those days. And he went into an inordinate amount of detail. So he would say , and you know.5 And he would the fine for peeing into a reservoir. a water reservoire was far more than fine, fine for peeoing into a religious place that showed how the importance for water 8 and, you know, the fine for peeing and defecating were again different. 3 You know,3 the fine for defecating was twice the fine of peeing.6 So he, you know, he really thought through this and that really conveyed the respect for water that the reservoir was more important than religious place.11:35 Sandip Roy: 11:37 What you say while going through this history? 11:36 11:38 Is that this relationship that India historically had with its water and how to manage its seasonality changed with the British. 9 It was an attitude change towards water. 3 And you say our erstwhile colonial masters foundationally destabilized India's water regime in many ways. Could you elaborate on the ways they did it?3 Mridula Ramesh: 3 Yeah, so5 I think pretty much everything starts with philosophy, what you value, what you prize 2 and then it moves on from there. 4 And at the 6 when you look at what the British did, there are there is the overt messaging and then there is the subtext, and both are important5 In the overt messaging There was a feeling that technology can overcome the natural variability of water,5 and this is hard for me to say because I'm a tech aficionado and I'm still saying it because I think it is something that all tech aficionados should keep in mind. 4 No, you know, it's like6 it's a it's a monkey with a garland or 9 a monkey putting its finger into the plug.2 You have to be aware of what you're messing around with and incomplete knowledge and messing around with it can lead to problems.8 So if you take the Punjab,0 you know.2 It was a dry land, and what the British did was build the canals that brought water to dry land and made it rich farmland. 2 Right?4 So the text was We are the colonial masters and we will provide.9 And you know, there is a quote that says this was seen as the largest, greatest achievement. It was a wonderful engineering feat that turned dry deserts into magnificent farmland. 1 But what is the subtext and the subtext is critical.5 It provided a fantastic return on British capital in one figure that I cite is the Chenab of canal provided twenty three and a half percent return on capital. That was valuable and every step of that equilibrium transfer changed it, 3 right? So they cleared the forest. The forest is now created fresh land that could be farmed. That fact that forests stabilized India's water forest really act like gelatin stabilizing India's water didn't matter.7 The the the British saw the forest as trees. Mridula Ramesh: They missed the forest, but they got the trees.3 The second fact was, you know, de-emphasize the community, control on the water and get centralized control.3 Well, you know,5 there was always a subtle threat. You misbehave and you can turn the tap off9 . Right.0 the third thing was the railways again, very important, the forest oprovided the sleepers in the to help build the railways and the railways were helped to carry away the produce that these newly desert turned field was able to provide. And lastly, and very importantly, was the kind of taxation5 earlier. It was always a cash paid in kind. Let's not forget, like an El Nino or Enzo, or is a periodic phenomenon right? It repeats every two to seven years.7 And when that happens, the Indian monsoon changes fundamentally.1 So once you put a fixed. 3 So when there was a variable price, 5 you know the crop would,8 the tax would adjust to the crop. So there was no need for the farmer to grow something different or to access credit. 4 But what the British did is by placing a fixed cash tax during a drought year, you would now have to borrow to pay right. And. It also incentivized farmers to go in for cash crops. 2 So the whole equilibrium changed, farmers began to grow what the external market wanted, what they could get cash to pay for the taxes and not what the local water regime would support, what the local community would want.9 And so all at once, you're trampling all over India's worth of assets and that seed that you can get away with growing and completely disregarding water of assets was planted there and something I don't think we've really gotten over that even today.6 Sandip Roy: That's my question. The British are gone. We dismantled so many of the regressive laws that they left and all of that. What prevented us from going back to a more sustainable water model?1 Mridula Ramesh: So I mean, like, 4 let's take the years post independence, right? So every time an el nino in came to visit India, you know you were really held, as I put it in after the nineteen sixty five drought ship to moth them out. I do need to be food independent and there came the Green Revolution, all neat and tidy again, saying the same thing that you know, technology will prevail and you unleash the Borewell on India,2 right?3 And you put no, you know, you put a flat tariff, then you reduce the flat tariff and then you make it free altogether.1 So there are no controls and the groundwater looks endless. 5 And that's something I can sympathize with because I mean, let me be very honest,9 I did not. 1 My eyes were completely close to this until my invisible groundwater ran out at home.7 Right, so.8 It's like.9 We've we we tried to become food independent at a time when the ground water ocean seemed endless. 9 And we've now come to the end of the road because that ground water ocean is shrinking and become a pond.6 And we are now food secure and we need to move away. But I think current events have shown how difficult it is to move away. 5 And today, every Indian wants rice and wheat and looks at millets and any other, you know, water resilient crop as being uncool.6 So even if you ask the farmer to grow. Water silient millets is there a demand for it? 5 You know, and if there is no demand for it, will there, you know, it's it's just we'restuck in a bad equilibrium and it's going to be very, very hard to move away from that.4 Sandip Roy: So has there been an effort to do that? 6 I mean, the what is it? The Food Corporation of India FCI, which is the one that is buying the crops from the farmers in Punjab and Haryana and assuring them of a fixed price? Are I mean, is it up to them to sort of make millet, you know, like 2 they they had that whole campaign of anda which you talk about is there to make eggs cool? Is there any sign that there is a make millet cool campaign?2 Mridula Ramesh: 3 It is there at the state level. Right? And if you look at it, the farm, you know, the whole saga of the farm laws, the passing, the repeal and everything else shows how difficult it's going to be to turn the farm ship around. 9 But here is the ray of hope,1 right? 2 And it's a slim ray of hope. But let's take it. there is a start up. You know that we are looking that some of us are looking at investing in, which is working with Punjabi farmers.4 More than three thousand of them and getting them to conserve water.9 And it's doing that because the paddy they grow by conserving this water, it's a sustainable tag, which then gets a premium over the regular paddy, which they would sell to the FCI.3 So that is that is two ways it has to start demand first. So that's why the whole egg campaign in the 80s, you know, get people to change what they eat is an important it has to start that way.9 The second thing again, you know, Orissa. Karnataka. All of them starting with their millet missions again, driving demand first and then getting farmers to change, I think is another way of going. So two things that start demand first and start decentralized might be a better way to go about it.7 Sandip Roy: So what is the I mean with the0 you brought up the farm protests and we saw this, but most of us who don't follow farm stuff in that detail, just see it in political terms.0 You know, we see who is against whom and think of it as, Oh, is this a defeat for the BJP or whatever? But what is the water component backstory to this protest?1 Mridula Ramesh: Ok, so if you look, I mean,4 Punjab is something I looked at intensively in the book, and if you go back to the Indus period, right, there's a wonderful study that looks at how Indus Valley farmers changed what they grew, where the Indus Valley over a thousand years1 . So they really matched. You know,3 they went from wheat to barley and back and forth, depending on how rains were in a given year,8 they really matched it. 0 And then you come, you know, 2 Wheat starts making a far wider presence in the Punjab by the British right when they really transformed everything with the canal colonies1 . But then came the Green Revolution. Paddy was just seven percent of Punjab's crop area in nineteen in the nineteen sixties. 1 Today, it's a major crop. Right? And now you're taking a place which gets between five hundred to seven hundred millimetres of rain and asking it to grow something between thousand to one hundred, which needs thousand two hundred and forty millimetres of rain. That's that. Plus wheat. Right?9 And you're basically giving water for free. So Punjab is not as efficient a user of water as, say, China is because there is there is very little incentive to manage the water. 1 And there is a case study, which is the whole Pani Bacjao Paisa cKamaoMo scheme, which tries to do that. So in the. 1 But3 the water story really is when your overdrawing your the gap between the thousand to forty and that five hundred is really filled with Punjab's groundwater and Haryana's groundwater. I mean, it's that the entire North West.5 And that groundwater is running out 9 tucked deep within the appendices of a groundwater report that is the state level committee that opined saying groundwater will run out in 20 to 25 years. 0 Right.2 So that's the water story, because you're getting a dry land to export its precious insurance of groundwater to the rest of India. And to the world.3 Sandip Roy: 4 Because you also mentioned that one of the theories nobody knows this for certain about why the Indus Valley civilization disappeared. Was that because of climate change or something, the water might have run out that it just ran out of water? 0 Could we, 1 as the groundwater disappears, could we see the same thing happening to today's Punjab?5 Mridula Ramesh: So. 0 Water played a very big role in the Indus Valley's civilizations, but disappearance or dismantling it is one of the elements, but there's both the disappearance, the shifting of river and the change in the climate. 9 And that's something we've forgotten in our history, right? 2 The climate has changed multiple times in the past, and each time it's changed, there's been like, Oh, you know, Great Kingdoms have fallen because it just foundationally destabilizes a society.6 And what one of the climate models say about, you know, the northwest of India is. It's a good chance that rainfall may go down, which means we are already overdrawing something. So if your recharge goes down even further and we continue this cycle of drawing out whatever we are, the chance was running out, you know, is profound0 . And that's the question I ask What will the next generation of farmers in India's northwest do? 5 And you know, India's food security depends on these, too. 1 So. I mean, if if you go by what is said, it's not a question of if, but it may be a question of when.0 Do we actually Sandip Roy:Do we habe Have a sense, Mridula, of how much groundwater we have in general tapped into and how much is left?1 Mridula Ramesh: 4 No. Sorry. That's that's that's that's that's sort of the problem, right? 25:00 I mean, we have like in Delhi, for instance, 25:03 that we know it's a lot, we know how much it,25:06 let me put it this way. 25:08 We know the flpws. We have a good estimate of the flaws, right? You know, how much is entering and how much is being taken out.25:15 But that, you know, if you look at the ground water column, some of it has been there for millions of years, and it's very difficult to estimate exactly how much there is.25:26 And that's the problem. It's invisible and it's uncertain, and it's convenient, right? You combine all these three together and you flip on that Borwell and things flow out.25:36 Sandip Roy:25:37 What have what have we done in terms of trying to curb borewell use? Mridula Ramesh: 25:42 Oh, so, you know, there is this case study I gave of Delhi where people have there is been there have been laws in Delhi saying borewells are forbidden, etc. But Sandeep, it's it's really difficult.26:04 No, it's a pretty easy to run a borwell when it's really difficult to curb it. And that's why I think the latest thing is to get ground level functionaries to, you know, entrusted with making sure sealed board wells are sealed. 26:18 And then you have this whole, you know, equality argument, which is valid. You know, if a community says, Hey, you're not giving me municipal water, how do you expect me to live?26:29 You know, I do need my bore well. And then what do you say to that? One may say that should the community have come up there in the first place26:37 , but then you get into all this urban, you know, land planning and all of that,26:43 which is, I think we don't know. You know,26:48 there is that proverb, right? We will know the value of water when the well runs dry. And to me, at least that was when I woke up.26:57 So I think a lot of us are waking up because groundwater is running dry, and that's probably the best control that is coming.27:06 And you know, that's I mean, that's sort of a parallel to the climate change crisis, right? You keep ignoring it. It'll keep talking in a louder voice.27:12 Sandip Roy: So you. 27:14 Let's talk about your wake up moment. So basically, this is. When was this when the water ran out in your home? And this is in Madurai?27:23 Mridula Ramesh: Yeah. This is in Madurai. So, you know, again, we call them the chokhi cooler. It's a place for the pond and groundwater runs out, so it tells you how far we've come. And this was in 2013, just after my daughter was born.27:41 So you actually had time to look at it.27:43 And, you know, for that, 27:46 I was just looking at the emails from that period for the first few months. 27:49 We really thought those are fault with a borewell when we thought that it had a problem to do with the technology. We never once thought the groundwater could run out never once. And it was after months and months and months when we were buying water and realizing all at once how expensive it is to have a garden28:11 . And it, you know, our demand was just a black hole because we didn't know where we were using it.28:16 So that's when we said, OK, fine, we need to understand how we use our water.28:22 And we started placing meters and it's, you know, so few people at that time had meters that it was it was an exercise in and of itself figuring out where the meters needed to be placed, water, etc.. And but once the black hole was replaced with data, you all the data to show you where to act, you know, and the interventions are both cheap and that easy.28:47 And that's the thing, right? 28:49 The home,28:50 as long as water remains invisible, it's going to always be a source of vulnerability.28:55 Sandip Roy: So did it surprise you where you were using a wasting most water?29:00 Mridula Ramesh: 29:02 The garden was a water guzzler. Right, and that's another change that, you know, our modern sensibilities have brought to us that we use a lot of chemical fertilizers today and we've given up on compost for us where we manage our waste in homes, so we create our own compost. 29:24 And that's a game changer because the compost really changes the soil structure, pulls in the water and holds it and the garden starts using a lot less water if you use it that way.29:36 So for us, you know, we're realizing the garden was a water guzzler29:40 kitchen tap with another big water guzzler the moment you have the data to so easy to intervene and change that.29:47 Sandip Roy: 29:49 You say, it was easy to intervene, but but when you were doing this and you hear about rainwater harvesting and all of these, what was your what were your neighbors reactions? Were they enthused by this or were they like aeh30:05 Mridula Ramesh: A little bit of the eh, so I have to be careful, I live with a lot of my neighbors are my relatives, so.30:16 So. But, you know, if.30:20 30:24 I'm just trying to think, yeah, it's. Oh, yeah, I mean, it's very difficult to sort of. Persuade someone to change their ways until the crisis comes to bite.30:40 Right. 30:42 So in the initial times when our house ran out of groundwater and everybody else had it, they were OK. But in 2017, Madurai had its worst drought in a hundred and forty years.30:53 And so when everybody was spending a fortune buying water, we didn't need to right?30:59 And that's when questions start getting asked on What are you doing? How are you doing it or you're using so little water? You know, how are you recycling your water, et cetera? 31:10 And that started coming through and. 31:14 Again, you know, you asked me how serious is the water crisis and are we at tipping point? And I'm just moving away from my neighbors to, you know, a global thing in two thousand fifteen, they were not that many water startups that it didn't make sense for so many people to do it today. That's where people are really asking, saying, Can we reuse water?31:38 How can we reduce water? Can we measure our water? 31:41 Because so many households like ours is running out and water is making itself, we feel visible.31:49 Sandip Roy:31:52 But to press this point about the difficulty of making people change their ways, I mean, I think there are some things that you that are simple and no brainer where you say turn off the tap while brushing your teeth or shaving, 32:06 you know, that is not.32:08 I just have to remember to do it, but it's not asking too much of me. 32:14 In your book, you detail the various ways that then you sort of take a water audit of the factories that you are responsible for to figure out where the waste is happening in all of that. 32:26 Now you come from a family which has a, you know, it has a business empire, the TVs, business empire.32:32 Was it difficult for you to preach this mantra of water conservation to throughout the, you know, at least your family, the businesses they controlled? And did other businesses get interested in it?32:48 Mridula Ramesh: 32:51 Ok, so here's the thing, right? If you Preach the water mantra through a lens of conscience. It's not going to be very effective.33:06 Right.33:09 And this is something that I've learned over time that conscience is great in trying to make a change. It's less great for trying to sustain a change. 33:20 And in my journey. I find preaching only takes you that far.33:27 Right, and nobody will make a change unless they know how the cost benefit is for them,33:34 and which is why I try not to speak that much but try to relate it to their own lived experiences.33:43 33:44 So there has been a good reception where people have gotten it impacts them, and then they come back and it's moving forward,33:58 but here is the other thing, I think. It's important to speak out because when I started on this journey, my many members, family, friends, et cetera, really thought this was a midlife crisis gone badly wrong.34:14 And I get a lot less of that today.34:18 Ok. And that's because the world itself has changed.34:22 And for businesses, consumers, investors, courts and courts are all saying the same thing, right? T34:32o day, courts are very, very loath to look the other way when there is a protest and they see a company violating some law34:40 . Investors are saying we won't put money into you.34:42 So, you know, if I was to go and tell an uncle or a cousin saying, you should save water because it's the good thing to do. They'll be nice to me, but, you know, not even an uncle, say another business colleague. There'll be, you know, they'll listen to me, but they'll say, OK, yeah, whatever.34:59 But when the investor, a customer says, I'm not going to buy you a thing unless you're being responsible, I think that talks a lot louder.35:07 So again, conscience is great, but I think incentives are more important.35:12 Sandip Roy:35:11 Is it time, then to talk much more in the same way as we talk about a carbon footprint, about a water footprint, of things we buy and use because I was astonished to read in your book that it takes about 2700 litres of water to make a simple cotton T-shirt.35:33 Mridula Ramesh: Yeah. And so something that's actually why the second book got written, OK, the first book got written because I ran out of water and learned about climate change and said, You know, people need to understand it in an Indian context and language that, you know, it's understandable.35:51 But when I started participating in climate change conversations, I said, everyone's talking about carbon. But the climate itself talks through water. And why is no one talking about that?36:01 And you know, we seem to have crossed certain climate thresholds and India needs to, you know? Well, get conscious about its water,36:12 but try coming to this water footprint. What is really interesting is two things. One is the bulk of the two thousand seven hundred liters in growing the cotton crop.36:24 That's very often rain fed, so it has everything to do with the yield of the cotton. 36:30 And India has a horribly, you know, it's a very low yield, right? So China's water footprint is far lower than India's simply because China has a better yield. 36:42 And that really has to do with the dynamics in what I call the last mile of farming.36:49 You know, the path to reaching the small and medium farm.36:52 Mridula Ramesh: The second aspect of the water footprint in the T-shirt's life cycle is how you treat you, so both of us are wearing colored clothes, right?37:03 So providing the color what is called processing or dyeing and that uses of water and treating it costs money,37:12 right?37:13 And you know, what astonished me is that a ten dollar T-shirt in Nineteen Ninety One sells for about nine dollars, 70 cents in 202137:27 . There's not a heck of a lot of sustainability that you can do when margins are so slim, right? And then there is two things that we need to say Look, this is important and we need to pay just a little. We're talking five to six rupees per T-shirt extra. That's all we're talking about extremely responsible treatment of water, 37:48 and that somehow hasn't percolated the consciousness. I mean, I talked to buyers, I talked to customers and customers are getting it. I think hopefully they can convince their buyers that, Hey, what I buy, it's important. 38:02 This is important to me. I buy your stuff if you don't do it.38:05 Sandip Roy: Are places like Tirupur where so much of our T-shirts come from? Are they not reading with the same water? I mean, has their wake up moment not come?38:15 Mridula Ramesh: Yeah, they have. Their wake up moment came right because that that dam held up all the effluents to think and the farmers started to protest. And in 2011, the whole sector got shut down. Right. And for us, the whole industry, an industry that provides it's one of the biggest employers of women outside agriculture got shut down38:36 because, you know, it was just a crisis of unprecedented magnitude. 38:40 So they wake up. Moment came. But unfortunately, what happened is with us in so many other sectors, we started following a K-shaped model.38:52 So there is this the larger groups who are catering to the more, you know, sustainable brands, etc. they are now treating their water. 39:00 They are being responsible and they've moved on.39:03 But what about the, you know, the hole in the wall outfits for whom you know that bpaisas of margin still make a difference? I think they're the message hasn't sunk through again. It's not just conscience, it is. It is a question of paying that three to four rupees 39:21 and making sure it goes to those people to think so39:24 . I mean, I was talking to a person who set up an effluent plant in Tirupur So you can have this, you can have the law. But you know, again and again, the theme in the book is. Policy and laws only go so far39:38 because there's such a diverse country and the lived experience of the law really requires the local community to be vigilant as well as incentives to be structurally aligned.39:51 Sandip Roy: And so what can the government do in in this regard, because if we believe that water is a right to be provided by government 40:05 as we seem to do, the problem, you say, is that then we suck it out of the ground and use it without responsibility. 40:14 So one thing is to if you privatize water, which many places have done and then you have to pay for it and then you are more watchful of it.40:23 But could it not be a right provided by the government and yet used responsibly? Is there a model for that?40:30 Mridula Ramesh: 40:33 Well, Israel and Singapore do it right, 40:35 but I think I'm not and. Ok.40:41 Let me start again. 40:41 Israel and Singapore do it, and you know, one of the things that I say is let's don't try to solve India's water problems at one, and it's just you will get discouraged even before you start.40:53 But Chennai is 4 Israels, Delhi is like several Singapore's.41:00 So let us start one neighborhood at a time. And perhaps you know that's where you need everyone to push.41:07 You know, one thing that I really learned on this journey is democracy is not really an armchair sport.41:14 It's not we at the local level, you need people to get involved in whatever way possible. 41:21 You know, whether you stand shoulder to shoulder with the local government and saying, OK, I, it's my tax. I will also help in sort of rejuvenating it, coming up with ideas, you know, persuading your neighbor that perhaps you should start monitoring your water demand.41:38 And I see that every success put in the story is that it's all hands pushing together because otherwise it's going to be so as if the government provides water and it doesn't charge for it. I don't think we value it. 41:55 And yeah, and at the same time, for the economically vulnerable, you do need water provided at very concessional rates.42:05 It also you need the government and the private sector to work together and civil society and individual citizens and academics and scientists, all of us.42:14 Sandip Roy: Yeah, because I think one of the fears that people have when it comes to converting drinking water into a private good that especially in a country like India, it could adversely affect women and lower castes and classes because so much of Dalit politics has often been about access to the tank.42:35 Mridula Ramesh: No, no, no, absolutely. I mean, we found that in our tank studies as well. I'm not glossing over the caste issue at all42:43 . Are very real and very valid point. But you know, I I will push back on the women thing,42:50 right?42:50 Because in our studies, we find that women, you know, it's not a utopia today. 42:55 42:56 It's, you know, it's most, you know, 42:59 many of the households that we looked at got water often in the middle of the night once every few days, especially in the summer. 43:08 And it was the women who had to run, jostle, fight, push, beg, bribe, cajole and carry those pots of water home. 43:17 So, yeah, on the women thing, I will push back saying, you know, it is a pretty bad situation today. 43:25 And if you can get some efficiency in the system because there is a problem with efficiency, that is tremendous leakages and losses that women perhaps may become better. But point well on the tank ecosystems, we've seen it too.43:41 Sandip Roy: 43:40 There are several stories of experiments that have worked, and I wanted you to explain one of them, so perhaps you could talk about what happened in Alvar and how they managed to change things around.43:55 Mridula Ramesh: C O, 43:58 Rajendraji and I have spoken so many times about this, and I think, you know, Sandip Roy: You should explain who that Mridula Ramesh: Is. Introduce Rajendra Singh. He's the water man of India.44:08 And you know, one of the things you know, when I was going back and asking him again and again about the stories, he said, Look, I was a ayurbedic, dr? So that I came there and I wanted to help. 44:20 My focus was teaching the children. Then, you know, addressing night blindness, which was common in that area44:28 . And he said, you know, a villager came to him and said, We don't want this. You know, we you're giving us something that they really don't want any need water.44:37 And he like, you know, even when people intervene, they don't often ask the population in which they're intervening what they want, right? 44:48 And he asked that such an important question. He said, I don't know. And can you tell me, you know, and that was that that to me was like, you know, I got goosebumps hearing that. 44:59 And that's when he learned about the traditional technologies of the johads and how the fractures worked and recharging groundwater, and how it was so important to build those check dams to trap the rain flowing down the slopes. 45:16 And then, you know, they repaired one, and that's what he said. First, people heckled. You know, there was no support, et cetera. 45:25 But when the rains came, the rains did come. Of the johad filled and surprisingly so did a Well, that was near the johad. And you know. Success breeds success,45:40 so they changed, and as they changed, this is another important thing in water, right? It's not one element alone. It's not just providing water, it's all the different parts, the pieces of the equilibrium that looked so unimportant that become important. 45:57 They realized that they needed the upstream forest to hold back the seats so that the Jahar, they wouldn't have to keep digging all the time.46:05 Mridula Ramesh: So they created the forest, and they also said it's a sacred forest, so you can't go and hunt there or take wood from that.46:14 The second thing was demand. Weve been talking a lot about demand. So they said, you know, we can't grow crops that don't work with the local water availability.46:26 We cannot have outside cattle come and graze. And then when the river became perennial and you know that that's the interesting thing of hydrogeologist, right? The jihad, which is a check down, holds back the rain. Some of it, you know, goes and recharges groundwater. 46:43 But some of it goes to help replenish those lean season or summer flows in the river and the river came back to life. 46:52 And then when the river came back to life, there were fish in the river, and then there was an outside contractor who came.46:58 So that's why they set up a parliament so that the local community could once again have control over how the river's waters would be used.47:07 Same thing you see in apartment complexes that who've gotten their water right. 47:14 There are rules on how you use your water and metering for how you use it, and often something that many of us miss is using different qualities of water within the same house.47:27 You don't need the same quality of water in your kitchen, tap and in your toilet to flush.47:31 Right. 47:32 So rules like that, how do you treat your sewage? How will we use are treated sewage all of that. So the community sort of is the best controller of the local behavior47:42 , right?47:44 Sandip Roy: 47:44 But how scalable is something like what happened in Alvar? Can't it be taken up on a much larger scale to replenish tanks in many other communities?47:54 Mridula Ramesh: Sandip if I see a ray of hope in the climate change crisis, it's the fact that at least in dry places, people have finally understood the magic and the glory of tanks48:08 . I think we've it took us many, many blows, but we're finally getting it right and you're seeing it in city after city48:16 that at least it's not48:19 . I'm not saying encroachments have stopped. In our study of 50 tanks, there were three that looked very likely to get encroached any time now.48:27 But people are beginning to get it, 48:32 OK, because the moment you live next to a tank. You're paying less in buying water. 48:39 So in our study, we found people were paying on average about four hundred rupees a month in buying water because those the municipal water was not enough. But if you lived next to a functional tank, was this a dysfunctional that we paid a hundred rupees less? 48:54 That's a lot of money.48:57 And so, you know, like NGOs and the private sector is coming and saying, OK, we'll start rejuvenating tanks.49:04 And I think in Madurai, 19 times got rejuvenated when I wrote about it last. And the water levels went up by hundred to two hundred feet. 49:15 Same thing happening in Chennai. Is it happening? Are all tanks being done?49:20 No. But you know, we finally, after lots and lots of knocks on our head, we finally seem to have gotten that message.49:28 Sandip Roy:49:27 But do we get complacent once the water level goes up? Do we go back to our bad old ways? 49:32 But this tanks require maintenance?49:34 Mridula Ramesh: No, of course we were right, and of course we will. And that's why we said when we looked at what tanks did in the past, tanks give prestige.49:44 Yes, absolutely. Hear you on the caste dynamics. But they also gave cash flow to the disempowered communities because functional tanks held fish and the were 11 in one tank that we wrote about. I wrote about like there were 11 varieties of fish 50:04 and that diversity with the rise and fall of water levels right in that cash flow went to the community50:11 and you know, it provided a place for livestock to be watered and maintained, etc.. It provided both status and cash flow. 50:22 Today, a sewage filled, garbage filled, you know, mosquito infested tank provides neither status nor cash flow. 50:32 So one way we thought of redoing that in the institute was to really re-imagine them as sites for local tourism. 50:39 So if you provide things like cycling tracks, walking tracks, places to sit, performance spaces,50:47 our performance arts have really, you know, they are crying out for a place to showcase their wonderful ingenuity and talent and charm to the local population.50:59 Maybe the tank next to the tank, you can have a place to do that. A selfie sport Wi-Fi hotspots. This suggestion came from someone younger in our team51:09 and you know it, that whatever works right to get them again, to become centers of community 51:16 and one time that has done some of this in MNadyuri had no water fully encroached. Ok? Zero jobs after getting, you know, the quotes for a newspaper article got courts incolved and world clear out encouragement. There was water. Then they started providing these tourist facilities 1200 jobs51:40 . Right. The moment you have the hundred jobs that complacency, there is a chance that the complacency will go down because if the complacency goes up, the water goes down and the jobs disappear, the people who are employed will start shouting, No.51:54 Sandip Roy: 51:55 Now, a lot of people who are listening to this, the I think, often feel helpless when we talk about things like climate change, water and all of that because they feel like this is something very huge.52:08 We know what can I do with what keeping my tap off while shaving really going to make that difference? 52:16 So if you live in an ordinary house, you're not in a big apartment complex or something like that. What can you do in terms of your gray water, your rainwater, your sewage?52:27 Mridula Ramesh:52:29 For us, our reject water, so52:33 I'll say what I did in my house, and then the first thing is if you have a garden, please compost.52:40 It's just, I mean, it's a52:42 it's a game changer on how much you know, how much less water your garden uses and how it holds onto the rain. 52:51 That's number one. Number two, even in a small house, you know the this this is a very, very old house. 52:59 So if we can do it here, people can do it elsewhere. Also, though. Changing the plumbing is not that difficult, but once you do it, it gives you water resilience just going forward,53:12 so the quality you use to flush your toilets is really not the quality you need in your kitchen.tap53:17 I mean, that's like the big thing. If you do have an RO plant, right, 53:23 and auto plants people are finding or, you know, the problems of technology. Most of us don't need an RO plant53:29 like our groundwater has a trace of well over a thousand five hundred53:34 . So we do53:36 . But if you can actually get involved and see how much you're rejecting and how much you're actually saving, you can save a lot of water there. Secondly, you can collect the reject again.53:48 Mridula Ramesh: I mean, this is hard for people to do, but it's so so you don't need to do that. Often you check the quality to make sure it's not very salty. 53:56 But if it's not, you can reuse it again53:59 . Right? So I think it's the more you just say, OK, I just need to reuse it as much as possible. 54:05 But again, I think the biggest change Sandip is think about water. Acknowledge water.54:14 How many of us do we just take it for granted? 54:17 It's invisible to us at the moment. You acknowledge it. Like every few months, we come up with something new54:26 . And I think every one of us can come up with something new as long as we acknowledge water, like during the last rains, we found our rainwater fed. Our rainwater was running into the road and he said, No, we want that rainwater. We don't want it to run away. And we just put grills like we just dug a ditch in the path and we put grills and connected it to a rainwater harvesting pit. Not very expensive, you know, not very rocket science. We did its job.54:57 So again, I think, like in everything else, philosophy first acknowledge water55:03 Sandip Roy:55:04 Before I let you go. Mridula These were the small things we can do, but we often look at government for the big things. And one of the big projects that people have been talking about for so long when it comes to water is the linking of the rivers. What do you think55:20 we should? I mean, does this not harken back to the same of what we were talking about in terms of thinking technology in the end will change everything.55:32 Mridula Ramesh: So here's the thing, right? 55:34 Let me look at the pros and cons of this. Madurai is a beneficiary of the river linking project. The Periyar was linked to the Vaigai and the benefit has been real.55:49 The linking Project really looks to address the geographic variability of India's water, and because it plans for so much storage, it addresses the seasonality of India's water as well. Those are the positives of it. 56:06 And thirdly, I think it works in a democratic construct at a macro scale. 56:15 Now let me come up with the issues with it. The first objection I have is actually pragmatic.56:23 So the river interlinking project and these are just several links, and the full benefit of the project will only come if you have all the links and all the storage together. The first link has taken decades and it's not operationalized. 56:38 It's not linked as we speak.56:42 Can we build the same water resilience using decentralized interventions which are cheaper, both on capital and on political capital.56:56 So the first objection that I have is pragmatism, right? 57:00 The second objection I have is that very many of these links could submerge of forest. Right. The link between forest and water is so, so, so important, it's profound.57:20 So by weakening forests, we are weakening what we're trying to achieve. 57:27 And the there I think there is a lack of understanding which is beginning to unravel. You know how we look at forests and the link between forests and water.57:39 Mridula Ramesh: And perhaps as we try to do that. You know, and I mean that again goes back to forest valuation, right?57:48 Like are still very much caught up in the British mentality of 60 percent of sixty seven percent of a forest value today, the NPV. You know what you need to pay if you want to divert it isn't the value of the timber value of the trees. 58:03 The hydrological value is only three percent58:07 , right?58:10 And the problem with that is today, if you start up came, then I'm talking in my world the start up game and it said, You know what? I'll stop flooding. I'll give you summer water. I'll clean your water. I'll add to rainfall. I'll be hard, achingly beautiful. And I'll give all, you know, medicinal plants, et cetera, et cetera. This is a machine I'm going to create.58:31 I think it will be unicorn that more time. But we are paying less than an entry level office workers wages per hectare of this machine. And I think that is all there is.58:42 58:44 There needs to be a greater understanding and perhaps with that greater understanding, we'll start revisiting this and maybe tweaking it. So we get what we want, which is overcoming the variability of India's water and getting water to people who need it. But at this, but in a way that's, dare I say, sustainable.59:07 Sandip Roy: 59:09 That magic words that we use all the time, not always sure what it means, but you said your daughter was born in 201359:19 Mridula Ramesh: 2012 end oif Sandip Roy: So do you see her she's grown up with this in a way that you haven't, do you see in her attitude towards water, even though she's a young girl right now? Different because she's grown up with water conservation as part of her upbringing. In a way yours wasn't, I'm sure.59:43 Mridula Ramesh: Yeah. So, you know, she's like, Mon you keep talking about farming sewage at the dining table? I will say the sewwagfe on is fabulous.59:54 So what you're talking about? 59:56 But, you know, jokes about Sandy. I think what is great and you know, this is something you ask me, how do you convince people? And I think some schools are beginning to get it right and they get it.1:07 And this is something I learned from an Odisha government teacher, actually. And he showed in a symposium I attended that when people are taught with examples in their immediate vicinity, they learn very well.1:21 So, you know, when my daughter was in third class, the school asked them to say, OK, estimate how much water you use with buckets. And not only in your house, but in the next house and in, you know, two of your neighbors also comes back to your neighbor point. 1:39 So in our house, of course, we have 15 meters, so she got the exact answer. And then, you know, I feel a little awkward going and telling my relatives like, you know, how are you measuring? 1:49 My daughter has no such compunction. You know, what are you doing? And you just go off and say, Why don't you know this?1:56 And I think the way we teach our children, you know, and I think today, the next generation is really, you know, they're going to suffer.1:06 So I think they get the fact that they're going to be paying the price. And I think they're very sensitive to these issues.1:12 Sandip Roy: Mridual Ramesh, thank you so much for joining us. It was a great pleasure talking to you. Mridula Ramesh: Thank you, Sandy. Thank you very much.1:19 You can follow us and leave us feedback on Facebook and Twitter @expresspodcasts, or send us an email at podcasts@indianexpress.com. If you like this show, please subscribe and leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts, so other people can find us. You can also find us on https://www.indianexpress.com/audio.
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[Disclaimer: This transcript is auto-generated]

Sandip Roy: Mridula Ramesh, welcome to the show.

Mridula Ramesh: Thank you, Sandeep. Thank you so much for the interest. It's a pleasure to be here.

Sandip Roy: I usually don't start with bad news, but we talk so much about the climate crisis, air pollution crisis. But I feel we talk far less about water crisis. And I wanted to ask you, So how bad is the water crisis in India? Are we close to any tipping point?

Mridula Ramesh: No, that's a really interesting question. Sandeep, and I'll respond by saying all these crises have their origin in the same thing. I mean, it's not a separate air crisis or a climate crisis or a water crisis. They're all interlinked. And, you know, in the framing of the climate crisis, we often the people who talk about it often talk about it in terms of carbon. But the climate itself speaks through water. So, you know, climate change is actually taking something so mundane and something we take for granted like water and turning it into something both precious and menacing at the same time. Which is why it's sort of manifesting as this crisis and it's manifesting more often nowadays. But to answer your specific question, which is how close to a tipping point are we? We are very close, right? And because India's water is so varied, the tipping point will vary by city . Right. So you're already seeing a form of a terrible form of day zero snaking its way across the country. You know, it may not be there in the lucky households who have municipal water piped them, but you're certainly seeing it in the peripheries of many Indian cities, which neither have access to municipal water, nor are they from. They've exhausted their groundwater. You're seeing it in the farms. You know, the spiking of farmer suicides when El Nino comes to visit . So you're seeing it in every part of the country. You know, the tipping point is varied. So it's not like the entire country is tipping over, but certain parts of the country certainly are.

Sandip Roy: Well, in in that case, though, why is it not more often an election issue, because you are you say in the book that while certainly promising free water can be an election issue, maintaining water for the long term is not. It does not get anyone elected.

Mridula Ramesh: So that was surprising for us to. So, you know, in the Climate Institute that I ran, we said, OK, sort of pontificating about it in an ivory tower that's actually go and ask real people whether it would they would actually vote on water. And we asked over nine hundred people this question. And you know, and we asked this question during the two thousand nineteen water crisis when Chennai had,you know, the lakes were dry and in Madurai to the vast people who are getting water once in 4 dys, once a week. And the overwhelming answer was no. Right. The water management was not something they would vote on, and you see that time and time again. And one possible reason for that is the lives of the majority of Indians is so uncertain that anything beyond one to two weeks doesn't really compute doesn't make sense. There are so many uncertainty. You know, wherever there is, they do. They have a job. They get a regular income. You know, will how healthy will they be? Will they even live to see two or three years when water management, if everything goes right, slowly starts working its magic? So that may be an explanation.

Sandip Roy: So what would you say are currently what you're calling the hydrological fault lines, and I'm using the plural because it's not one fault line, not one.

Mridula Ramesh: So it begins by, you know, if you were to go, if you were, just imagine yourself as an explorer in the old world and you come to this new city and you're observing this creature for the first time and you start describing it. So when you look at India's water, as that creature, it's got certain facets, right? So it's geographically varied. It's so variable right. So there are places that get meters of rainfall and in a few months and then you've got places that, you know, go for days or months without rain at all. So you've got that geographic variability. And the other thing is, India's water is so seasonal right there. I think in the FAO aqua stat database, I looked at one hundred and sixty six countries where our water is more seasonal than one hundred and sixty two of them, if I'm not mistaken. And then it's all temporal when I learned that India's water, most of its rainfall falls in one hundred hours. You're really thinking Sledgehammer versus this gentle massage. And then, you know, was El Nino, an Indian Ocean Dipole? All of these enter and exit the stage. It varies. So much so the key. The key challenge is to actually manage that variability and the moment you just assume it's a straight line, plain vanilla kind of a thing, you're creating faultline. So what are they? It is it growing and eating what is not in keeping with your local water availability? So India's biggest breadbaskets are dry they are places that get between 500 to 700 millimeters of rain.

Mridula Ramesh: And we're asking them to grow a crop which needs over a thousand two hundred and forty millimeters of rain. So, you know, it's just this oddity which creates a faultline and then climate change will come and press on the fault line, you know, making the fault line a fracture because it'll make one of the projections is that the rainfall there will actually go down over time, and as heat increases, the yields will start falling. So, you know, that is one dault line. The other one is not managing our demand, right, decimating storage. I live in a place called Chokwekullamr and kollum means pond. This house has been here for more than 80 years. There has been no pond, right? The nearest lake is now an All India radio station. A further away lake calls the corporation office another lake farther away. All part of a court. So you know you've you've started reimagining places to store your water, which is so of required for such variable water.And you said it's more valuable as dry land. And when you do that, you're creating another fault line , which then when climate change comes and makes water intense and you no longer have a place for it to flow into and then you get floods.

Sandip Roy: So it's basically supply storage and demand. These three things are what we are going to have to juggle around in order to be able to have sustainable and consistent water.

Mridula Ramesh: It is recognizing India's water. We've taken India's water for granted. You know, if I ask anyone, how much water have you consume today? The answer? You know, exactly. Would you would you know what the answer is? And I would wager No, you know, we've become we've just taken it for granted. And. This is a recent oddity, right, throughout India's history, and, you know, going back through five thousand years of history, which I've looked at in the book, India's water was always very valued it . There was a price placed on it, but it wasn't a monetary or a cash prize. It was. It was either through shramdaan through labor or a share of crops, and pricing it that way actually respected the seasonality and you know, the how the water varied across the years. But we've we've lost that if we've said this is something for the government to provide. It is not my responsibility.

Sandip Roy: And can you can you give the quote from because you're talking about how we respected water in the past? There's a bit from the Arthsahstra when you talk about Chanakya and the fines. Could you mention that?

Mridula Ramesh: No, no, I think, yeah. So when CHanakya was a very pragmatic man. Right? And there's something which I didn't put in the book, which was very interesting. So he said, Look, why is this bad, right? But why is this profitable? So we should tax all vices? And then he goes into detailing how water is to supply, be supplied to all the then dens of vices like gambling halls and brothels. But that's a separate point. But when you look at how Chanakya conceptualized water, it was fascinating. And he said all water belonged to the king because managing water led to prosperity, and that held the power to the king strength. And that's a, you know, a saying that comes again and again in the ancient age like Avaya, the Tamil poet said. Pretty much the same thing. And he said, OK, how do you manage what like ownership is centralized, but then? Water price was progressive, so, you know, depending on how a farmer drew water from an irrigation source, so if he drew it manually, which meant that Farmer was poor, right, he paid the lowest amount of tax, so he only would pay a fifth of his crop. But if he drew it through mechanical means, you would pay a higher share. So it was a it was a seasonal price, which is also a progressive price, which is rich. Farmers paid more, which is completely ultaa to what is happening today. Right. Wealthier farmers have the borewells, which allows them, especially if you combine that with free electricity. They are getting water. It essentially for free, whereas poor farmers who are typically rainfed have complete uncertainty and unpredictability, or they have to buy water from the wealthier farmers. So we've moved a long way from what Chanakya emphasized. You also had these

Sandip Roy:He also had thees Fines for facilities

Mridula Ramesh:That was hilarious. Yeah. So he had the Swach Bharat fines for those days. And he went into an inordinate amount of detail. So he would say , and you know.5 And he would the fine for peeing into a reservoir. a water reservoire was far more than fine, fine for peeoing into a religious place that showed how the importance for water 8 and, you know, the fine for peeing and defecating were again different. 3 You know,3 the fine for defecating was twice the fine of peeing.6 So he, you know, he really thought through this and that really conveyed the respect for water that the reservoir was more important than religious place.11:35

Sandip Roy: 11:37 What you say while going through this history? 11:36 11:38 Is that this relationship that India historically had with its water and how to manage its seasonality changed with the British. 9 It was an attitude change towards water. 3 And you say our erstwhile colonial masters foundationally destabilized India's water regime in many ways. Could you elaborate on the ways they did it?3

Mridula Ramesh: 3 Yeah, so5 I think pretty much everything starts with philosophy, what you value, what you prize 2 and then it moves on from there. 4 And at the 6 when you look at what the British did, there are there is the overt messaging and then there is the subtext, and both are important5 In the overt messaging There was a feeling that technology can overcome the natural variability of water,5 and this is hard for me to say because I'm a tech aficionado and I'm still saying it because I think it is something that all tech aficionados should keep in mind. 4 No, you know, it's like6 it's a it's a monkey with a garland or 9 a monkey putting its finger into the plug.2 You have to be aware of what you're messing around with and incomplete knowledge and messing around with it can lead to problems.8 So if you take the Punjab,0 you know.2 It was a dry land, and what the British did was build the canals that brought water to dry land and made it rich farmland. 2 Right?4 So the text was We are the colonial masters and we will provide.9 And you know, there is a quote that says this was seen as the largest, greatest achievement. It was a wonderful engineering feat that turned dry deserts into magnificent farmland. 1 But what is the subtext and the subtext is critical.5 It provided a fantastic return on British capital in one figure that I cite is the Chenab of canal provided twenty three and a half percent return on capital. That was valuable and every step of that equilibrium transfer changed it, 3 right? So they cleared the forest. The forest is now created fresh land that could be farmed. That fact that forests stabilized India's water forest really act like gelatin stabilizing India's water didn't matter.7 The the the British saw the forest as trees.

Mridula Ramesh: They missed the forest, but they got the trees.3 The second fact was, you know, de-emphasize the community, control on the water and get centralized control.3 Well, you know,5 there was always a subtle threat. You misbehave and you can turn the tap off9 . Right.0 the third thing was the railways again, very important, the forest oprovided the sleepers in the to help build the railways and the railways were helped to carry away the produce that these newly desert turned field was able to provide. And lastly, and very importantly, was the kind of taxation5 earlier. It was always a cash paid in kind. Let's not forget, like an El Nino or Enzo, or is a periodic phenomenon right? It repeats every two to seven years.7 And when that happens, the Indian monsoon changes fundamentally.1 So once you put a fixed. 3 So when there was a variable price, 5 you know the crop would,8 the tax would adjust to the crop. So there was no need for the farmer to grow something different or to access credit. 4 But what the British did is by placing a fixed cash tax during a drought year, you would now have to borrow to pay right. And. It also incentivized farmers to go in for cash crops. 2 So the whole equilibrium changed, farmers began to grow what the external market wanted, what they could get cash to pay for the taxes and not what the local water regime would support, what the local community would want.9 And so all at once, you're trampling all over India's worth of assets and that seed that you can get away with growing and completely disregarding water of assets was planted there and something I don't think we've really gotten over that even today.6

Sandip Roy: That's my question. The British are gone. We dismantled so many of the regressive laws that they left and all of that. What prevented us from going back to a more sustainable water model?1

Mridula Ramesh: So I mean, like, 4 let's take the years post independence, right? So every time an el nino in came to visit India, you know you were really held, as I put it in after the nineteen sixty five drought ship to moth them out. I do need to be food independent and there came the Green Revolution, all neat and tidy again, saying the same thing that you know, technology will prevail and you unleash the Borewell on India,2 right?3 And you put no, you know, you put a flat tariff, then you reduce the flat tariff and then you make it free altogether.1 So there are no controls and the groundwater looks endless. 5 And that's something I can sympathize with because I mean, let me be very honest,9 I did not. 1 My eyes were completely close to this until my invisible groundwater ran out at home.7 Right, so.8 It's like.9 We've we we tried to become food independent at a time when the ground water ocean seemed endless. 9 And we've now come to the end of the road because that ground water ocean is shrinking and become a pond.6 And we are now food secure and we need to move away. But I think current events have shown how difficult it is to move away. 5 And today, every Indian wants rice and wheat and looks at millets and any other, you know, water resilient crop as being uncool.6 So even if you ask the farmer to grow. Water silient millets is there a demand for it? 5 You know, and if there is no demand for it, will there, you know, it's it's just we'restuck in a bad equilibrium and it's going to be very, very hard to move away from that.4

Sandip Roy: So has there been an effort to do that? 6 I mean, the what is it? The Food Corporation of India FCI, which is the one that is buying the crops from the farmers in Punjab and Haryana and assuring them of a fixed price? Are I mean, is it up to them to sort of make millet, you know, like 2 they they had that whole campaign of anda which you talk about is there to make eggs cool? Is there any sign that there is a make millet cool campaign?2

Mridula Ramesh: 3 It is there at the state level. Right? And if you look at it, the farm, you know, the whole saga of the farm laws, the passing, the repeal and everything else shows how difficult it's going to be to turn the farm ship around. 9 But here is the ray of hope,1 right? 2 And it's a slim ray of hope. But let's take it. there is a start up. You know that we are looking that some of us are looking at investing in, which is working with Punjabi farmers.4 More than three thousand of them and getting them to conserve water.9 And it's doing that because the paddy they grow by conserving this water, it's a sustainable tag, which then gets a premium over the regular paddy, which they would sell to the FCI.3 So that is that is two ways it has to start demand first. So that's why the whole egg campaign in the 80s, you know, get people to change what they eat is an important it has to start that way.9 The second thing again, you know, Orissa. Karnataka. All of them starting with their millet missions again, driving demand first and then getting farmers to change, I think is another way of going. So two things that start demand first and start decentralized might be a better way to go about it.7

Sandip Roy: So what is the I mean with the0 you brought up the farm protests and we saw this, but most of us who don't follow farm stuff in that detail, just see it in political terms.0 You know, we see who is against whom and think of it as, Oh, is this a defeat for the BJP or whatever? But what is the water component backstory to this protest?1

Mridula Ramesh: Ok, so if you look, I mean,4 Punjab is something I looked at intensively in the book, and if you go back to the Indus period, right, there's a wonderful study that looks at how Indus Valley farmers changed what they grew, where the Indus Valley over a thousand years1 . So they really matched. You know,3 they went from wheat to barley and back and forth, depending on how rains were in a given year,8 they really matched it. 0 And then you come, you know, 2 Wheat starts making a far wider presence in the Punjab by the British right when they really transformed everything with the canal colonies1 . But then came the Green Revolution. Paddy was just seven percent of Punjab's crop area in nineteen in the nineteen sixties. 1 Today, it's a major crop. Right? And now you're taking a place which gets between five hundred to seven hundred millimetres of rain and asking it to grow something between thousand to one hundred, which needs thousand two hundred and forty millimetres of rain. That's that. Plus wheat. Right?9 And you're basically giving water for free. So Punjab is not as efficient a user of water as, say, China is because there is there is very little incentive to manage the water. 1 And there is a case study, which is the whole Pani Bacjao Paisa cKamaoMo scheme, which tries to do that. So in the. 1 But3 the water story really is when your overdrawing your the gap between the thousand to forty and that five hundred is really filled with Punjab's groundwater and Haryana's groundwater. I mean, it's that the entire North West.5 And that groundwater is running out 9 tucked deep within the appendices of a groundwater report that is the state level committee that opined saying groundwater will run out in 20 to 25 years. 0 Right.2 So that's the water story, because you're getting a dry land to export its precious insurance of groundwater to the rest of India. And to the world.3

Sandip Roy: 4 Because you also mentioned that one of the theories nobody knows this for certain about why the Indus Valley civilization disappeared. Was that because of climate change or something, the water might have run out that it just ran out of water? 0 Could we, 1 as the groundwater disappears, could we see the same thing happening to today's Punjab?5

Mridula Ramesh: So. 0 Water played a very big role in the Indus Valley's civilizations, but disappearance or dismantling it is one of the elements, but there's both the disappearance, the shifting of river and the change in the climate. 9 And that's something we've forgotten in our history, right? 2 The climate has changed multiple times in the past, and each time it's changed, there's been like, Oh, you know, Great Kingdoms have fallen because it just foundationally destabilizes a society.6 And what one of the climate models say about, you know, the northwest of India is. It's a good chance that rainfall may go down, which means we are already overdrawing something. So if your recharge goes down even further and we continue this cycle of drawing out whatever we are, the chance was running out, you know, is profound0 . And that's the question I ask What will the next generation of farmers in India's northwest do? 5 And you know, India's food security depends on these, too. 1 So. I mean, if if you go by what is said, it's not a question of if, but it may be a question of when.0 Do we actually

Sandip Roy:Do we habe Have a sense, Mridula, of how much groundwater we have in general tapped into and how much is left?1

Mridula Ramesh: 4 No. Sorry. That's that's that's that's that's sort of the problem, right? 25:00 I mean, we have like in Delhi, for instance, 25:03 that we know it's a lot, we know how much it,25:06 let me put it this way. 25:08 We know the flpws. We have a good estimate of the flaws, right? You know, how much is entering and how much is being taken out.25:15 But that, you know, if you look at the ground water column, some of it has been there for millions of years, and it's very difficult to estimate exactly how much there is.25:26 And that's the problem. It's invisible and it's uncertain, and it's convenient, right? You combine all these three together and you flip on that Borwell and things flow out.25:36

Sandip Roy:25:37 What have what have we done in terms of trying to curb borewell use?

Mridula Ramesh: 25:42 Oh, so, you know, there is this case study I gave of Delhi where people have there is been there have been laws in Delhi saying borewells are forbidden, etc. But Sandeep, it's it's really difficult.26:04 No, it's a pretty easy to run a borwell when it's really difficult to curb it. And that's why I think the latest thing is to get ground level functionaries to, you know, entrusted with making sure sealed board wells are sealed. 26:18 And then you have this whole, you know, equality argument, which is valid. You know, if a community says, Hey, you're not giving me municipal water, how do you expect me to live?26:29 You know, I do need my bore well. And then what do you say to that? One may say that should the community have come up there in the first place26:37 , but then you get into all this urban, you know, land planning and all of that,26:43 which is, I think we don't know. You know,26:48 there is that proverb, right? We will know the value of water when the well runs dry. And to me, at least that was when I woke up.26:57 So I think a lot of us are waking up because groundwater is running dry, and that's probably the best control that is coming.27:06 And you know, that's I mean, that's sort of a parallel to the climate change crisis, right? You keep ignoring it. It'll keep talking in a louder voice.27:12

Sandip Roy: So you. 27:14 Let's talk about your wake up moment. So basically, this is. When was this when the water ran out in your home? And this is in Madurai?27:23

Mridula Ramesh: Yeah. This is in Madurai. So, you know, again, we call them the chokhi cooler. It's a place for the pond and groundwater runs out, so it tells you how far we've come. And this was in 2013, just after my daughter was born.27:41 So you actually had time to look at it.27:43 And, you know, for that, 27:46 I was just looking at the emails from that period for the first few months. 27:49 We really thought those are fault with a borewell when we thought that it had a problem to do with the technology. We never once thought the groundwater could run out never once. And it was after months and months and months when we were buying water and realizing all at once how expensive it is to have a garden28:11 . And it, you know, our demand was just a black hole because we didn't know where we were using it.28:16 So that's when we said, OK, fine, we need to understand how we use our water.28:22 And we started placing meters and it's, you know, so few people at that time had meters that it was it was an exercise in and of itself figuring out where the meters needed to be placed, water, etc.. And but once the black hole was replaced with data, you all the data to show you where to act, you know, and the interventions are both cheap and that easy.28:47 And that's the thing, right? 28:49 The home,28:50 as long as water remains invisible, it's going to always be a source of vulnerability.28:55

Sandip Roy: So did it surprise you where you were using a wasting most water?29:00

Mridula Ramesh: 29:02 The garden was a water guzzler. Right, and that's another change that, you know, our modern sensibilities have brought to us that we use a lot of chemical fertilizers today and we've given up on compost for us where we manage our waste in homes, so we create our own compost. 29:24 And that's a game changer because the compost really changes the soil structure, pulls in the water and holds it and the garden starts using a lot less water if you use it that way.29:36 So for us, you know, we're realizing the garden was a water guzzler29:40 kitchen tap with another big water guzzler the moment you have the data to so easy to intervene and change that.29:47

Sandip Roy: 29:49 You say, it was easy to intervene, but but when you were doing this and you hear about rainwater harvesting and all of these, what was your what were your neighbors reactions? Were they enthused by this or were they like aeh30:05

Mridula Ramesh: A little bit of the eh, so I have to be careful, I live with a lot of my neighbors are my relatives, so.30:16 So. But, you know, if.30:20 30:24 I'm just trying to think, yeah, it's. Oh, yeah, I mean, it's very difficult to sort of. Persuade someone to change their ways until the crisis comes to bite.30:40 Right. 30:42 So in the initial times when our house ran out of groundwater and everybody else had it, they were OK. But in 2017, Madurai had its worst drought in a hundred and forty years.30:53 And so when everybody was spending a fortune buying water, we didn't need to right?30:59 And that's when questions start getting asked on What are you doing? How are you doing it or you're using so little water? You know, how are you recycling your water, et cetera? 31:10 And that started coming through and. 31:14 Again, you know, you asked me how serious is the water crisis and are we at tipping point? And I'm just moving away from my neighbors to, you know, a global thing in two thousand fifteen, they were not that many water startups that it didn't make sense for so many people to do it today. That's where people are really asking, saying, Can we reuse water?31:38 How can we reduce water? Can we measure our water? 31:41 Because so many households like ours is running out and water is making itself, we feel visible.31:49

Sandip Roy:31:52 But to press this point about the difficulty of making people change their ways, I mean, I think there are some things that you that are simple and no brainer where you say turn off the tap while brushing your teeth or shaving, 32:06 you know, that is not.32:08 I just have to remember to do it, but it's not asking too much of me. 32:14 In your book, you detail the various ways that then you sort of take a water audit of the factories that you are responsible for to figure out where the waste is happening in all of that. 32:26 Now you come from a family which has a, you know, it has a business empire, the TVs, business empire.32:32 Was it difficult for you to preach this mantra of water conservation to throughout the, you know, at least your family, the businesses they controlled? And did other businesses get interested in it?32:48

Mridula Ramesh: 32:51 Ok, so here's the thing, right? If you Preach the water mantra through a lens of conscience. It's not going to be very effective.33:06 Right.33:09 And this is something that I've learned over time that conscience is great in trying to make a change. It's less great for trying to sustain a change. 33:20 And in my journey. I find preaching only takes you that far.33:27 Right, and nobody will make a change unless they know how the cost benefit is for them,33:34 and which is why I try not to speak that much but try to relate it to their own lived experiences.33:43 33:44 So there has been a good reception where people have gotten it impacts them, and then they come back and it's moving forward,33:58 but here is the other thing, I think. It's important to speak out because when I started on this journey, my many members, family, friends, et cetera, really thought this was a midlife crisis gone badly wrong.34:14 And I get a lot less of that today.34:18 Ok. And that's because the world itself has changed.34:22 And for businesses, consumers, investors, courts and courts are all saying the same thing, right? T34:32o day, courts are very, very loath to look the other way when there is a protest and they see a company violating some law34:40 . Investors are saying we won't put money into you.34:42 So, you know, if I was to go and tell an uncle or a cousin saying, you should save water because it's the good thing to do. They'll be nice to me, but, you know, not even an uncle, say another business colleague. There'll be, you know, they'll listen to me, but they'll say, OK, yeah, whatever.34:59 But when the investor, a customer says, I'm not going to buy you a thing unless you're being responsible, I think that talks a lot louder.35:07 So again, conscience is great, but I think incentives are more important.35:12

Sandip Roy:35:11 Is it time, then to talk much more in the same way as we talk about a carbon footprint, about a water footprint, of things we buy and use because I was astonished to read in your book that it takes about 2700 litres of water to make a simple cotton T-shirt.35:33

Mridula Ramesh: Yeah. And so something that's actually why the second book got written, OK, the first book got written because I ran out of water and learned about climate change and said, You know, people need to understand it in an Indian context and language that, you know, it's understandable.35:51 But when I started participating in climate change conversations, I said, everyone's talking about carbon. But the climate itself talks through water. And why is no one talking about that?36:01 And you know, we seem to have crossed certain climate thresholds and India needs to, you know? Well, get conscious about its water,36:12 but try coming to this water footprint. What is really interesting is two things. One is the bulk of the two thousand seven hundred liters in growing the cotton crop.36:24 That's very often rain fed, so it has everything to do with the yield of the cotton. 36:30 And India has a horribly, you know, it's a very low yield, right? So China's water footprint is far lower than India's simply because China has a better yield. 36:42 And that really has to do with the dynamics in what I call the last mile of farming.36:49 You know, the path to reaching the small and medium farm.36:52

Mridula Ramesh: The second aspect of the water footprint in the T-shirt's life cycle is how you treat you, so both of us are wearing colored clothes, right?37:03 So providing the color what is called processing or dyeing and that uses of water and treating it costs money,37:12 right?37:13 And you know, what astonished me is that a ten dollar T-shirt in Nineteen Ninety One sells for about nine dollars, 70 cents in 202137:27 . There's not a heck of a lot of sustainability that you can do when margins are so slim, right? And then there is two things that we need to say Look, this is important and we need to pay just a little. We're talking five to six rupees per T-shirt extra. That's all we're talking about extremely responsible treatment of water, 37:48 and that somehow hasn't percolated the consciousness. I mean, I talked to buyers, I talked to customers and customers are getting it. I think hopefully they can convince their buyers that, Hey, what I buy, it's important. 38:02 This is important to me. I buy your stuff if you don't do it.38:05

Sandip Roy: Are places like Tirupur where so much of our T-shirts come from? Are they not reading with the same water? I mean, has their wake up moment not come?38:15

Mridula Ramesh: Yeah, they have. Their wake up moment came right because that that dam held up all the effluents to think and the farmers started to protest. And in 2011, the whole sector got shut down. Right. And for us, the whole industry, an industry that provides it's one of the biggest employers of women outside agriculture got shut down38:36 because, you know, it was just a crisis of unprecedented magnitude. 38:40 So they wake up. Moment came. But unfortunately, what happened is with us in so many other sectors, we started following a K-shaped model.38:52 So there is this the larger groups who are catering to the more, you know, sustainable brands, etc. they are now treating their water. 39:00 They are being responsible and they've moved on.39:03 But what about the, you know, the hole in the wall outfits for whom you know that bpaisas of margin still make a difference? I think they're the message hasn't sunk through again. It's not just conscience, it is. It is a question of paying that three to four rupees 39:21 and making sure it goes to those people to think so39:24 . I mean, I was talking to a person who set up an effluent plant in Tirupur So you can have this, you can have the law. But you know, again and again, the theme in the book is. Policy and laws only go so far39:38 because there's such a diverse country and the lived experience of the law really requires the local community to be vigilant as well as incentives to be structurally aligned.39:51

Sandip Roy: And so what can the government do in in this regard, because if we believe that water is a right to be provided by government 40:05 as we seem to do, the problem, you say, is that then we suck it out of the ground and use it without responsibility. 40:14 So one thing is to if you privatize water, which many places have done and then you have to pay for it and then you are more watchful of it.40:23 But could it not be a right provided by the government and yet used responsibly? Is there a model for that?40:30

Mridula Ramesh: 40:33 Well, Israel and Singapore do it right, 40:35 but I think I'm not and. Ok.40:41 Let me start again. 40:41 Israel and Singapore do it, and you know, one of the things that I say is let's don't try to solve India's water problems at one, and it's just you will get discouraged even before you start.40:53 But Chennai is 4 Israels, Delhi is like several Singapore's.41:00 So let us start one neighborhood at a time. And perhaps you know that's where you need everyone to push.41:07 You know, one thing that I really learned on this journey is democracy is not really an armchair sport.41:14 It's not we at the local level, you need people to get involved in whatever way possible. 41:21 You know, whether you stand shoulder to shoulder with the local government and saying, OK, I, it's my tax. I will also help in sort of rejuvenating it, coming up with ideas, you know, persuading your neighbor that perhaps you should start monitoring your water demand.41:38 And I see that every success put in the story is that it's all hands pushing together because otherwise it's going to be so as if the government provides water and it doesn't charge for it. I don't think we value it. 41:55 And yeah, and at the same time, for the economically vulnerable, you do need water provided at very concessional rates.42:05 It also you need the government and the private sector to work together and civil society and individual citizens and academics and scientists, all of us.42:14

Sandip Roy: Yeah, because I think one of the fears that people have when it comes to converting drinking water into a private good that especially in a country like India, it could adversely affect women and lower castes and classes because so much of Dalit politics has often been about access to the tank.42:35

Mridula Ramesh: No, no, no, absolutely. I mean, we found that in our tank studies as well. I'm not glossing over the caste issue at all42:43 . Are very real and very valid point. But you know, I I will push back on the women thing,42:50 right?42:50 Because in our studies, we find that women, you know, it's not a utopia today. 42:55 42:56 It's, you know, it's most, you know, 42:59 many of the households that we looked at got water often in the middle of the night once every few days, especially in the summer. 43:08 And it was the women who had to run, jostle, fight, push, beg, bribe, cajole and carry those pots of water home. 43:17 So, yeah, on the women thing, I will push back saying, you know, it is a pretty bad situation today. 43:25 And if you can get some efficiency in the system because there is a problem with efficiency, that is tremendous leakages and losses that women perhaps may become better. But point well on the tank ecosystems, we've seen it too.43:41

Sandip Roy: 43:40 There are several stories of experiments that have worked, and I wanted you to explain one of them, so perhaps you could talk about what happened in Alvar and how they managed to change things around.43:55

Mridula Ramesh: C O, 43:58 Rajendraji and I have spoken so many times about this, and I think, you know,

Sandip Roy: You should explain who that

Mridula Ramesh: Is. Introduce Rajendra Singh. He's the water man of India.44:08 And you know, one of the things you know, when I was going back and asking him again and again about the stories, he said, Look, I was a ayurbedic, dr? So that I came there and I wanted to help. 44:20 My focus was teaching the children. Then, you know, addressing night blindness, which was common in that area44:28 . And he said, you know, a villager came to him and said, We don't want this. You know, we you're giving us something that they really don't want any need water.44:37 And he like, you know, even when people intervene, they don't often ask the population in which they're intervening what they want, right? 44:48 And he asked that such an important question. He said, I don't know. And can you tell me, you know, and that was that that to me was like, you know, I got goosebumps hearing that. 44:59 And that's when he learned about the traditional technologies of the johads and how the fractures worked and recharging groundwater, and how it was so important to build those check dams to trap the rain flowing down the slopes. 45:16 And then, you know, they repaired one, and that's what he said. First, people heckled. You know, there was no support, et cetera. 45:25 But when the rains came, the rains did come. Of the johad filled and surprisingly so did a Well, that was near the johad. And you know. Success breeds success,45:40 so they changed, and as they changed, this is another important thing in water, right? It's not one element alone. It's not just providing water, it's all the different parts, the pieces of the equilibrium that looked so unimportant that become important. 45:57 They realized that they needed the upstream forest to hold back the seats so that the Jahar, they wouldn't have to keep digging all the time.46:05

Mridula Ramesh: So they created the forest, and they also said it's a sacred forest, so you can't go and hunt there or take wood from that.46:14 The second thing was demand. Weve been talking a lot about demand. So they said, you know, we can't grow crops that don't work with the local water availability.46:26 We cannot have outside cattle come and graze. And then when the river became perennial and you know that that's the interesting thing of hydrogeologist, right? The jihad, which is a check down, holds back the rain. Some of it, you know, goes and recharges groundwater. 46:43 But some of it goes to help replenish those lean season or summer flows in the river and the river came back to life. 46:52 And then when the river came back to life, there were fish in the river, and then there was an outside contractor who came.46:58 So that's why they set up a parliament so that the local community could once again have control over how the river's waters would be used.47:07 Same thing you see in apartment complexes that who've gotten their water right. 47:14 There are rules on how you use your water and metering for how you use it, and often something that many of us miss is using different qualities of water within the same house.47:27 You don't need the same quality of water in your kitchen, tap and in your toilet to flush.47:31 Right. 47:32 So rules like that, how do you treat your sewage? How will we use are treated sewage all of that. So the community sort of is the best controller of the local behavior47:42 , right?47:44

Sandip Roy: 47:44 But how scalable is something like what happened in Alvar? Can't it be taken up on a much larger scale to replenish tanks in many other communities?47:54

Mridula Ramesh: Sandip if I see a ray of hope in the climate change crisis, it's the fact that at least in dry places, people have finally understood the magic and the glory of tanks48:08 . I think we've it took us many, many blows, but we're finally getting it right and you're seeing it in city after city48:16 that at least it's not48:19 . I'm not saying encroachments have stopped. In our study of 50 tanks, there were three that looked very likely to get encroached any time now.48:27 But people are beginning to get it, 48:32 OK, because the moment you live next to a tank. You're paying less in buying water. 48:39 So in our study, we found people were paying on average about four hundred rupees a month in buying water because those the municipal water was not enough. But if you lived next to a functional tank, was this a dysfunctional that we paid a hundred rupees less? 48:54 That's a lot of money.48:57 And so, you know, like NGOs and the private sector is coming and saying, OK, we'll start rejuvenating tanks.49:04 And I think in Madurai, 19 times got rejuvenated when I wrote about it last. And the water levels went up by hundred to two hundred feet. 49:15 Same thing happening in Chennai. Is it happening? Are all tanks being done?49:20 No. But you know, we finally, after lots and lots of knocks on our head, we finally seem to have gotten that message.49:28

Sandip Roy:49:27 But do we get complacent once the water level goes up? Do we go back to our bad old ways? 49:32 But this tanks require maintenance?49:34

Mridula Ramesh: No, of course we were right, and of course we will. And that's why we said when we looked at what tanks did in the past, tanks give prestige.49:44 Yes, absolutely. Hear you on the caste dynamics. But they also gave cash flow to the disempowered communities because functional tanks held fish and the were 11 in one tank that we wrote about. I wrote about like there were 11 varieties of fish 50:04 and that diversity with the rise and fall of water levels right in that cash flow went to the community50:11 and you know, it provided a place for livestock to be watered and maintained, etc.. It provided both status and cash flow. 50:22 Today, a sewage filled, garbage filled, you know, mosquito infested tank provides neither status nor cash flow. 50:32 So one way we thought of redoing that in the institute was to really re-imagine them as sites for local tourism. 50:39 So if you provide things like cycling tracks, walking tracks, places to sit, performance spaces,50:47 our performance arts have really, you know, they are crying out for a place to showcase their wonderful ingenuity and talent and charm to the local population.50:59 Maybe the tank next to the tank, you can have a place to do that. A selfie sport Wi-Fi hotspots. This suggestion came from someone younger in our team51:09 and you know it, that whatever works right to get them again, to become centers of community 51:16 and one time that has done some of this in MNadyuri had no water fully encroached. Ok? Zero jobs after getting, you know, the quotes for a newspaper article got courts incolved and world clear out encouragement. There was water. Then they started providing these tourist facilities 1200 jobs51:40 . Right. The moment you have the hundred jobs that complacency, there is a chance that the complacency will go down because if the complacency goes up, the water goes down and the jobs disappear, the people who are employed will start shouting, No.51:54

Sandip Roy: 51:55 Now, a lot of people who are listening to this, the I think, often feel helpless when we talk about things like climate change, water and all of that because they feel like this is something very huge.52:08 We know what can I do with what keeping my tap off while shaving really going to make that difference? 52:16 So if you live in an ordinary house, you're not in a big apartment complex or something like that. What can you do in terms of your gray water, your rainwater, your sewage?52:27

Mridula Ramesh:52:29 For us, our reject water, so52:33 I'll say what I did in my house, and then the first thing is if you have a garden, please compost.52:40 It's just, I mean, it's a52:42 it's a game changer on how much you know, how much less water your garden uses and how it holds onto the rain. 52:51 That's number one. Number two, even in a small house, you know the this this is a very, very old house. 52:59 So if we can do it here, people can do it elsewhere. Also, though. Changing the plumbing is not that difficult, but once you do it, it gives you water resilience just going forward,53:12 so the quality you use to flush your toilets is really not the quality you need in your kitchen.tap53:17 I mean, that's like the big thing. If you do have an RO plant, right, 53:23 and auto plants people are finding or, you know, the problems of technology. Most of us don't need an RO plant53:29 like our groundwater has a trace of well over a thousand five hundred53:34 . So we do53:36 . But if you can actually get involved and see how much you're rejecting and how much you're actually saving, you can save a lot of water there. Secondly, you can collect the reject again.53:48

Mridula Ramesh: I mean, this is hard for people to do, but it's so so you don't need to do that. Often you check the quality to make sure it's not very salty. 53:56 But if it's not, you can reuse it again53:59 . Right? So I think it's the more you just say, OK, I just need to reuse it as much as possible. 54:05 But again, I think the biggest change Sandip is think about water. Acknowledge water.54:14 How many of us do we just take it for granted? 54:17 It's invisible to us at the moment. You acknowledge it. Like every few months, we come up with something new54:26 . And I think every one of us can come up with something new as long as we acknowledge water, like during the last rains, we found our rainwater fed. Our rainwater was running into the road and he said, No, we want that rainwater. We don't want it to run away. And we just put grills like we just dug a ditch in the path and we put grills and connected it to a rainwater harvesting pit. Not very expensive, you know, not very rocket science. We did its job.54:57 So again, I think, like in everything else, philosophy first acknowledge water55:03

Sandip Roy:55:04 Before I let you go. Mridula These were the small things we can do, but we often look at government for the big things. And one of the big projects that people have been talking about for so long when it comes to water is the linking of the rivers. What do you think55:20 we should? I mean, does this not harken back to the same of what we were talking about in terms of thinking technology in the end will change everything.55:32

Mridula Ramesh: So here's the thing, right? 55:34 Let me look at the pros and cons of this. Madurai is a beneficiary of the river linking project. The Periyar was linked to the Vaigai and the benefit has been real.55:49 The linking Project really looks to address the geographic variability of India's water, and because it plans for so much storage, it addresses the seasonality of India's water as well. Those are the positives of it. 56:06 And thirdly, I think it works in a democratic construct at a macro scale. 56:15 Now let me come up with the issues with it. The first objection I have is actually pragmatic.56:23 So the river interlinking project and these are just several links, and the full benefit of the project will only come if you have all the links and all the storage together. The first link has taken decades and it's not operationalized. 56:38 It's not linked as we speak.56:42 Can we build the same water resilience using decentralized interventions which are cheaper, both on capital and on political capital.56:56 So the first objection that I have is pragmatism, right? 57:00 The second objection I have is that very many of these links could submerge of forest. Right. The link between forest and water is so, so, so important, it's profound.57:20 So by weakening forests, we are weakening what we're trying to achieve. 57:27 And the there I think there is a lack of understanding which is beginning to unravel. You know how we look at forests and the link between forests and water.57:39

Mridula Ramesh: And perhaps as we try to do that. You know, and I mean that again goes back to forest valuation, right?57:48 Like are still very much caught up in the British mentality of 60 percent of sixty seven percent of a forest value today, the NPV. You know what you need to pay if you want to divert it isn't the value of the timber value of the trees. 58:03 The hydrological value is only three percent58:07 , right?58:10 And the problem with that is today, if you start up came, then I'm talking in my world the start up game and it said, You know what? I'll stop flooding. I'll give you summer water. I'll clean your water. I'll add to rainfall. I'll be hard, achingly beautiful. And I'll give all, you know, medicinal plants, et cetera, et cetera. This is a machine I'm going to create.58:31 I think it will be unicorn that more time. But we are paying less than an entry level office workers wages per hectare of this machine. And I think that is all there is.58:42 58:44 There needs to be a greater understanding and perhaps with that greater understanding, we'll start revisiting this and maybe tweaking it. So we get what we want, which is overcoming the variability of India's water and getting water to people who need it. But at this, but in a way that's, dare I say, sustainable.59:07

Sandip Roy: 59:09 That magic words that we use all the time, not always sure what it means, but you said your daughter was born in 201359:19

Mridula Ramesh: 2012 end oif

Sandip Roy: So do you see her she's grown up with this in a way that you haven't, do you see in her attitude towards water, even though she's a young girl right now? Different because she's grown up with water conservation as part of her upbringing. In a way yours wasn't, I'm sure.59:43

Mridula Ramesh: Yeah. So, you know, she's like, Mon you keep talking about farming sewage at the dining table? I will say the sewwagfe on is fabulous.59:54 So what you're talking about? 59:56 But, you know, jokes about Sandy. I think what is great and you know, this is something you ask me, how do you convince people? And I think some schools are beginning to get it right and they get it.1:07 And this is something I learned from an Odisha government teacher, actually. And he showed in a symposium I attended that when people are taught with examples in their immediate vicinity, they learn very well.1:21 So, you know, when my daughter was in third class, the school asked them to say, OK, estimate how much water you use with buckets. And not only in your house, but in the next house and in, you know, two of your neighbors also comes back to your neighbor point. 1:39 So in our house, of course, we have 15 meters, so she got the exact answer. And then, you know, I feel a little awkward going and telling my relatives like, you know, how are you measuring? 1:49 My daughter has no such compunction. You know, what are you doing? And you just go off and say, Why don't you know this?1:56 And I think the way we teach our children, you know, and I think today, the next generation is really, you know, they're going to suffer.1:06 So I think they get the fact that they're going to be paying the price. And I think they're very sensitive to these issues.1:12

Sandip Roy: Mridual Ramesh, thank you so much for joining us. It was a great pleasure talking to you.

Mridula Ramesh: Thank you, Sandy. Thank you very much.1:19

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