SoBo can't get all of Mumbai's water

Updated: Jun 16, 2019, 08:38 IST | Prutha Bhosle

Amla Ruia rejects the unequal water distribution policy of Mumbai; appeals all to equally conserve the precious resource

SoBo can't get all of Mumbai's water
Amla Ruia's quest to save water began in the late 90s, when Rajasthan faced severe fam

In 2006 when Amla Ruia embarked upon a journey to fight drought in Rajasthan's Alwar district by constructing the first check dam in the region, about 500 villagers assembled, offering their labour. "It was so good to see they were ready to help themselves and end the water crisis," Ruia, also known as the Water Mother, shares. If only Mumbaikars shared the same consciousness and decided to take matters into their hands, she adds, as she begins to discuss the water problem the city is currently staring at.

Ruia's plush Lower Parel home on the 35th floor of St Regis Hotel — her husband Ashok Ruia, who passed away in January, was the patriarch of the industrialist family that runs the hotel — overlooks the contrast of the co-existing Mumbai slums and skyscrapers. As we peer through her rain-soaked window, she explains how Maharashtra receives more rainfall than Rajasthan. "Mumbai, specifically, receives 90 inches of rain annually, whereas Rajasthan gets only 12 inches. There is absolutely no comparison. Mumbai could have been self-sufficient if we would have managed our water better," she says.

Founder of the Aakar Charitable Trust — a social organisation that has built over 351 check dams in the states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana and Odisha — Ruia feels every problem comes with a solution. "Roof water harvesting is Mumbai's best bid. Each society must have borewells, from which at least 60 to 70 per cent of our needs are fulfilled. This water can be used for washing clothes, utensils and flushing toilets. The remaining 30 per cent can be used from the municipal corporation for drinking purpose and food preparation. If this becomes a government mandate, we won't have to rely on Powai and Tansa lakes for water," she informs.

She has placed placards near taps in her Lower Parel home so her staff uses water consciously. Pics/Ashish Raje
She has placed placards near taps in her Lower Parel home so her staff uses water consciously. Pics/Ashish Raje

This model, she believes, will also take care of the whole flooding problem of Mumbai during monsoon. "You can recharge your borewells and prevent flooding, all at once." Ruia's quest to save water began in the late 90s, when Rajasthan faced severe famine. "One day I saw pictures of the drought on TV. I was so moved at the plight of the people that while my father-in-law had started sending water tankers and food to the famine-stricken villages, I knew I had to find a permanent solution to their problem. So, in 2006, I began working on building check dams in parched areas of Rajasthan," she recalls.

After constructing dams, Ruia hands them over to the villagers, who take full responsibility of their operations. "This becomes their source of livelihood. The Alwar dam that I first constructed today generates R7 crore income annually for the villagers."

Ruia feels Mumbai should use its wells judiciously. "In Rajasthani culture, the well-to-do families have to repair old wells when a child is born. It is a part of the kua pujan (well ceremony). Here in Mumbai, we have so many wells that lie in a dilapidated state. We should all take the onus of repairing and using these wells to store water."

For Ruia, the awareness that water needs to be conserved begins at home. While her home gets 24X7 water supply, she ensures her baths are as short as possible. "Once I asked my househelp the amount of water I use for my baths. She said I must be using about one-and-a-half buckets of water," she shares, adding that she has instructed her staff of about 20 to use water consciously. "I have even placed placards near every tap in the kitchen and the laundry room. My staff has been told not to keep the tap running and fix leakages immediately," she adds.

Ruia agrees that an unequal water distribution policy exists in Mumbai, where South Mumbai gets surplus water, but the western suburbs face cuts. "Since the British era, all the government officers were stationed in areas like Malabar Hills, and it was a norm to provide them surplus water. It is unfortunate that we are continuing with that norm even today. The elites need to realise this problem and use water only when needed."

Remembering the famous Hindu philosophy, Aham Brahmasmi, Ruia says, "In our culture, we are supposed to teach a 12-year-old the meaning of Aham Brahmasmi. It means that I am a part of the cosmos and the whole cosmos belongs to me. So when I begin the journey of life, I will not take all and deprive the rest; I will share instead." An emotion, she reckons, should resonate within every Mumbaikar.

90 inches
Amount of rainfall Mumbai gets annually

Also Read: Greener pastures in SoBo?

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