Rajendra Singh is a highly respected social activist working with water and river issues in India. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, in 1985 he went to live in rural Rajasthan, to introduce modern education and medicine there but soon the villagers made clear their primary need was for water. Harnessing the villagers’ capacities and their traditional wisdom, Johads (small earthen dams to trap water) were quickly built and the first fruits of these labours were realised in the very next rains when the nature began to flow again.
The area dramatically transformed, progressively becoming more productive, and healthier. Rajendra and Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), the organization he chairs to further this work, began in each village by persuading the Village Council, a traditional body comprised of representatives from each household, where decisions are taken by consensus, to contribute labor and materials towards building and maintaining the johads.
Over 30 years of working in that region, rivulets, dry for eighty years, were revived. He helped the villagers build several thousand Johads at strategic points. Major impacts of this sustained work have made the area rejuvenated with: Recharged aquifers, much improved ground water levels and more surface water; increased agricultural and milk production securing food supplies; thriving communities, especially for women and children; disciplined use of natural resources; ecological restoration.
His application of this unique strategy of community-driven, decentralized water management & conservation has regenerated healthy, prosperous communities; strengthened democracy and political transparency; changed paradigm of water and climate change adaptation.
Working with actual communities, Rajendra Singh demonstrates that using the inherent capacities of a community as well as introducing appropriate modern knowledge, strengthens a community’s capacity to adapt to existential threats such as climate change.
At a national level:
He launched the Rashtriya Jal Biradari (National Water Community) in 2001 to provide a platform for concerned citizens to discuss and debate water issues and now has over 5000 members.
He started the Jal Jan Jodo (Linking Water and People) campaign in 2013 focusing on education of communities in river catchment areas about the causes and prevention of pollution, encroachment and over-exploitation of the river waters.
At a Global Level:
Rajendra Singh has started World Water Walks for Peace from April’2015. The five continent water walks is inspiring to say the least- the kind of personal and professional commitment to educating global citizens to embrace grassroot solutions and to insist on water conservation reform from corporations and governments is remarkable. Till now these water walks has been organized in Korea, Israel, Germany, UK, Sweden, USA, Turkey, France and many more to come in future.
His organization TBS runs training programs for school children and rural youth, NGOs and Government authorities on natural resource management. They also give vocational guidance on becoming entrepreneurs, river warriors and climate crusaders.
Rajendra Singh is commonly referred to as “Waterman of India” and at times as the “Water Gandhi”.
In 2015, Rajendra Singh has won the Stockholm Water Prize, also known as “the Nobel Prize for Water”. In its citation, the judges say: “Today’s water problems cannot be solved by science or technology alone. They are human problems of governance, policy, leadership, and social resilience.”… “Rajendra Singh’s life work has been in building social capacity to solve local water problems through participatory action, empowerment of women, linking indigenous know-how with modern scientific and technical approaches and upending traditional patterns of development and resource use.”
In 2008, The Guardian named him in its list of “50 people who could save the planet”.
In 2005, Rajendra Singh won the India’s most prestigious Jamna Lal Bajaj Award for the Oustanding Contribution in Application of Science and Technology for Rural Development.
In 2001, Rajendra Singh won the Asia’s most prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for the Community Leadership. The Magsaysay Awards are widely seen as Asia’s version of the Nobel Prizes. Its citation says: “In electing Rajendra Singh to receive the 2001 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes his leading Rajasthani villagers in the steps of their ancestors to rehabilitate their degraded habitat and bring its dormant rivers back to life.”
In 1998, Rajendra Singh has been christened as the Man of the year by THE WEEK Magazine.
Mr Sanjay Singh, The National Convenor of the Abhiyan, is taking Leadership role in building the Network of CSOs, CBOs, Professionals, Academicians on the issue of water rights throughout the Nation.
Forty-year-old Sanjay Singh, who holds a doctorate degree in sociology, knows the dreaded Chambal region, which was once infested with the dacoit gangs, immortalised by many a Bollywood films, like the back of his hand.
Mr Singh has been active in the region for nearly 20 years during which he has taken up a number issues that were closely associated with the living conditions of the people in this arid, remote and backward area.
The efforts made by Singh yielded positive results in his home district of Jalaun and the poor people in the villages started seeking work under the MNREGS from the local authorities. “Earlier, the labourers, especially women, working under the MNREGS, were exploited. They were paid less wages and were not given work also,” he pointed out.
Singh has also formed a voluntary organisation “Parmarth”, which is currently active in 600 villages in Jalaun, Hamirpur, Jhansi, Lalitpur districts in UP and Teekamgarh and Chatarpur districts in Madhya Pradesh.