CSR - soft drink giant restores ancient village step well

July 18th, 2008 - 11:35 am ICT by IANS  

By Rajeev Ranjan Roy
Sarai Bawari (Rajasthan), July 18 (IANS) This village is home to a 400-year-old step well whose sparkling waters brim with fish, some weighing nearly 10 kg. But don’t try to catch any - or you will be fined. The 3,000-odd residents of Sarai Bawari, on the periphery of Rajasthan capital Jaipur, say the fish keep the step well or ‘bawari’ clean, which in turn ensures a regular supply of drinking water.

That is a blessing, given that acute water scarcity is a reality in most places in the desert state of Rajasthan.

“Fish keep the bawari water clean, free of insects, and thus they help us lead a normal life in a place that suffers from water shortage. The bawari is the principal source of water for us now,” Vijay Kumar, a resident of Sarai Bawari, told IANS.

There is a penalty of Rs.500 if anyone is found guilty of catching fish from the 70-ft deep bawari. It was a conscious decision of the residents not to bathe in it or catch the fish.

“Given the utility of the bawari for us, we did not expect any dissent from any side. Even the non-vegetarians among us appreciated the move. Many of them have even withdrawn fish from their regular menu,” said Mohan Lal.

The turnaround in Sarai Bawari’s fortunes happened two and a half years ago when the bawari was renovated. Built by Rajput king Raja Man Singh, it was lying amid mounds of waste before soft drink giant Coca-Cola India decided to restore its lost glory as part of its corporate social responsibility, or CSR as it is now known in corporate jargon for a company seeking to give back in social support to its market.

Before that the villagers were dependent on four to five hand pumps. The scarce flow of water from the tap due to low water levels would often result in long queues at the hand pumps.

“The hard time is over now,” said Raj Kumar Gujjar, who like Vijay Kumar, is a Class 10 dropout. Both residents justified the decision of a Rs.500 fine in order to preserve the sanctity of the bawari.

Vijay Kumar in fact relishes feeding roasted maize to the fish in the step well almost every evening or morning, depending on when he is free. In fact, feeding the fish - and not eating them - is the mission of the entire village.

The bawari water not only quenches thirst but also takes care of irrigation needs - many small farmers now depend on its water to grow vegetables and fruits in their fields.

The womenfolk, in particular, are grateful to the bawari as they are able to discharge their household chores without worrying about water supply.

“It is all because of the water we have in the bawari. It has become the lifeline of our village,” said Santo Devi.

The step well in Sarai Bawari is proof of the effectiveness of India’s old water conservation techniques.

S. Giri Sunder, area operations director, Coca-Cola India, told IANS: “While we constantly need to find new solutions for water resource management, we also need to leverage the age-old wisdom and avenues to conserve water.

“Revival of the bawaris is a means of water sustainability and we are happy to have worked with the local community, government and other stakeholders in rejuvenating the Sarai Bawari,” Sunder added.

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