How the “Waterman of India” Revived Five Rivers and Brought Back Water to Over 1,000 Villages

Rajendra Singh is considered a hero in the state of Rajasthan, in India, for single handedly reviving five rivers that had been dried up for decades. His exceptional work and dedication have earned him the nickname ‘Waterman of India’.

Singh, who studied Ayurvedic medicine at college, had always dreamed of becoming a farmer. So when he moved to Rajasthan’s Alwar district after graduating in 1985, he was interested in healing not just his people, but also the semi-arid region’s ailing ecosystem.

Singh noticed that the district’s population was dwindling – most villagers had left their homes after the local Arvari River had dried up in the ’40s, and the only people who remained were either too old or too poor to move elsewhere. Singh, driven by a strong desire to help the villagers, took on the task of bringing water back to those lands.


Photo: Abhinav619

He came up with a unique strategy, drawing on principles from the ancient Indian knowledge of geology, hydrology, and ecology. He introduced the concept of ‘johads’ – rainwater storage tanks built with stone, dirt, concrete, or whatever materials are available. Singh built the johads on streams that flowed into the river, hoping to replenish both ground and surface water levels. He also built ‘check dams’ across streams to improve the downstream flow.

A johad stores water collected during the rainy season so that it can be used for human or animal consumption throughout the year. Also the stored water slowly percolates into the ground and replenishes groundwater supplies.


Photo: HydrateLife

Check dams are very similar to johads, only instead of collecting rainwater, they are set up on small rivers and streams. They don’t completely stop the flow of water; instead they form pools that locals can use for their needs. Excess water keeps flowing downstream. Like johads, check dams also help replenish groundwater supplies.

For two years, Singh worked tirelessly, building johads and check dams that didn’t yield much success. Local elders ridiculed him, but he continued to work with enthusiasm. And his zeal proved infectious – seeing he was sincere in wanting to help bring water back to their lands, the locals soon began to chip in, offering suggestions on appropriate locations to build more dams and johads.


Photo: The Hindu

Eventually, his strategy worked. The water captured by the johads during the monsoons gradually rejuvenated vegetation in over 1,000 villages. Aquifers used for local drinking water were refilled, and the water retention capacity of the soil increased.

It wasn’t long before the Arvari River came back to life, along with four other rivers in the region. Since the beginning of his amazing campaigns, groundwater levels have increased by about 20 feet and the forest cover has increased by 33 percent. People who had abandoned the districts slowly began to move back home, returning to their traditional way of life.


Photo: Abhinav619

Rajendra Singh’s feat is what we call a real-life miracle. Bringing a river that had dried up decades before back to life with rudimentary tools was something not even the Waterman himself thought possible. “It was not our intention to re-create the river, for we never had it in our wildest dreams,” he once confessed.

Inspired by his success, Singh founded a nonprofit called Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), through which he helps thousands of people solve problems of water shortage. Since the 1980s, TBS has built over 4,500 johads that collect rainwater in 850 villages in 11 districts in India.


The organisation actively tries to stop private industries from depleting freshwater sources. TBS activists have  prevented nearly 40 water-intensive industrial companies from setting up factories in their regions. TBS also helps villagers set up ‘river parliaments’, through which they sustain their own water sources.

His actions were not without consequences, though. After convincing the government to shut down 470 mines because their pits were so big they collected most of the rainwater and so the groundwater never got replenished and the ponds and lakes stayed dry, Rajendra Singh was badly beaten by people involved in the mining industry. But that didn’t stop him. If anything, it strengthened the Waterman’s resolve.


“Water is a very emotional, spiritual thing,” Singh explained. He added that the Arvari River, once considered lost, is now sacred to the local people. Lots of older residents request that their ashes be sprinkled over the Arvari, instead of the holy Ganges River.

Sources: HydrateLife, Wikipedia

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