It is a story that is heartwarming. It is a story that sends out rays of hope. And it is a story that shows that all it requires is for people to take initiative without waiting for the government. Like every year, this year too, the sun has been burning bright in the sky all over Rajasthan. Temperatures are swinging between 40 and 48 degrees centigrade. And water has always been in short supply in the desert state.

Villagers working in Bikaner district on the Amritham Jalam campaign. Pic: Rajasthan Patrika

The management of the state's oldest newspaper, Rajasthan Patrika, celebrating 50 years this year, thought of an innovative plan. It started a daily campaign in the paper called "Amritham Jalam" (Water is nectar) where people were urged to come forward and clean up all traditional water harvesting systems that were lying unused and dead. The rest of this report is about what happened in response.

Death of traditional systems

Hundreds of years ago, rulers in the princely state had created scores of traditional water storage systems so that rain water could be harvested and it could be put to use all through the year. It also helped to recharge ground water channels.

Maharajas, royal families and businessmen invested huge amounts on these structures. Thousands of skilled sculptors and masons worked on it trying to reflect the heritage of that time. Some of the magnificent structures were between a thousand and one hundred and fifty years old.

But after independence, piped water slowly made its entry into the towns and villages. Water came into houses for the first time and it changed the way people looked at water and the way they lived. The traditional water storages were ignored. Lack of maintenance made them crumble. Secondly, even if there was no piped water supply, the government dug thousands of tube wells in villages and even urban areas.

When the first rains came in late June, the first signs of magic appeared. Water slowly started trickling into the reservoirs and wells.

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