How can we fix the problem of water crisis?

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Sadhguru @ Shiv Nadar University


So Sadhguru, speaking of Chennai and change. All of us here are undergoing one of the biggest changes in our lives. Because up until now, we haven’t really faced the shortage of a basic necessity, that is like, water, or food, or shelter. But now Chennai is facing one of the biggest water crises, I think in history. Where they predict in 10 years the city’s going to be dry and there won’t be any water left. The water crisis is something that you’ve been tackling with Cauvery Calling. So, as the youth of this generation, and as engineers in particular, how can we fix this problem immediately so that we don’t have to wait 10 years for the city to dry up? What can we do to solve it?


Duration: 27 min


19 min read

How can we fix the problem of water crisis?

The following is an unedited transcript of Sadhguru's video. For better readability, breaks and highlights have been added by the editors.

Questioner: So Sadhguru, speaking of Chennai and change, all of us here are undergoing one of the biggest changes in our lives – because up until now, we haven’t really faced a shortage of a basic necessity, that is like a water or food or shelter. But now Chennai is facing one of the biggest water crisis, I think in history, where they predict in ten years the city is going to be dry, and there won’t be any water left, and the water crisis is something that you have been tackling with Cauvery Calling.

So as the youth of this generation, and as engineers in particular, how can we fix this problem immediately so that, you know, we don’t have to wait ten years for the city to dry up? What can we do to solve it?

Sadhguru: Have you seen older Tamil movies or even Hindi movies, where village women are carrying big pots on their head and walking water, and the hero comes and sings a song and she also sings a song and romance happens, there she danced with a pot on her head, you’ve see these things? Well that is because the actress is carrying an empty pot.

But the real woman in the village is carrying a pot which weighs fifteen to twenty kilograms on her head. Nobody sings to her, and she cannot even open her mouth, she’s shaking like this. Have you seen them, hello? With twenty kilograms on her head, her neck and head everything is shaking with stress. She’s not going to sing a song, she’s not going to fall in love with anybody on the street. She just wants to take that damn pot and put the water in the house, because her children and her husband and her family, whatever, for them.

You thought it’s romantic, when a rural person carries a pot full of water on her head or on his head! But today that you have to carry a pot on your head, it’s come, time has come, now you think it’s a crisis. Wonderful to your humanity – fantastic sense of humanity. I’m glad you’re getting the point. Because water distress has been there in rural India for a very long time, I want you to understand this. Only when it comes to urban centers, now we thinking it’s a real crisis. No, most of the population is in rural India. The crisis has always been there, isn’t it? In the last twenty-five, thirty years there’s been a serious crisis, well now it’s come to Chennai at least now you are at least willing to talk about it, I’m glad.

So let me tell you this, what happened. I grew up around river Cauvery. I did not see Cauvery as some kind of a water source, how can I exploit it? How can I do agriculture? How can I build a dam? I didn’t think about this. I was there like any other life, like a worm or an insect, or a fish, which enjoyed the river for what it is, and made a life out of it. My experience of the river was, I was a tiny little life, and this was a massive life. I will come and go, but this flows for millions of years and continues to flow.

But in the last twenty-five years mostly, I’ve been watching this with great distress, that slowly Cauvery is depleting, not only Cauvery all rivers across India have depleted around forty percent. Rivers like Krishna have depleted over seventy percent. Narmada has depleted over sixty-five percent, like this it goes. Especially in the last seven to eight years for some reason, I still don’t have a good enough scientific reason for this, but the drop has been very sharp with Cauvery.

It is estimated on an average most Indian rivers are depleting by six to eight percent per year. I want you to calculate – how many more years for Cauvery, if you do not know this, a river which was perennial for millions of years – in the last, I think twelve or fifteen years, nearly four to five and a half months Cauvery is not touching the ocean. Recently, about four, five days ago there was news that somewhere in Tamil Nadu, I don’t remember the town – where Cauvery came, and people are bowing down, they are doing puja, they’re worshipping and welcoming Cauvery because she’s coming after six, seven months. She was dry. This has happened only in the last twelve to fifteen years. Now, is it my emotion towards Cauvery? That’s not the point. It’s your bloody survival.

People are this irresponsible, I’m talking about this – some so called very responsible persons, they said, “No, no, I’m not using Cauvery water.” What are you made off? In Cauvery basin in the last ten years, 47,192 farmers have committed suicide in this Cauvery basin, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. What more do you want? I’m asking? What does it take to wake you up? Where is the humanity, I’m asking? In this country, in the last fifteen years over 300,000, three lakh farmers have committed suicide. We’ve had four wars – three with Pakistan, one with China, in all these four wars on both sides 300,000 people did not die. They did not, that many numbers did not die, though we think a war is a great disaster. What is it that you need? You want people to hang in front of your home or in your bedroom? Only then you will respond, what is it?

So rivers are drying up. For example, I’m telling you in Bangalore city, when I was into construction industry at that time, I got a contract in the majestic area. We just went to put some footing foundation for some building. We had contract only for the footing, rest of the building was being built by somebody else. We went to do footing, concrete footings. We could not dig beyond five feet. Because water was like, full on. We put in each pit, I’m talking about just five by five pits – in each pit we put, those days diesel engines, 10 HP diesel engines, one, one pit, two engines. We could not empty the water. We gave up. Because we did not know how to put concrete in totally wet conditions like that, because it’s full of water.

Today in Bangalore city without 1,200 feet, there is not a drop of water in the bore wells. There were over 1,000 lakes in Bangalore, three perennial rivers. Nobody knows where the rivers are anymore. It’s all built up. Only eighty-three lakes are left, out of which only seventeen lakes have freshwater, rest is just sewage. What’s our plan for the future generations? Well, I got a few years, I’m okay. Where are you guys going to live, I’m asking? You planning, I’m sure planning to go to some other country and ruin that one. This guy will come with a bag behind. I’m saying, is this the way to conduct our lives? Is this the way to conduct our lives, I’m asking? This is not about ecological nonsense. This is about our life, isn’t it? The way we’re conducting our life.

So Cauvery, or ‘Cauvery calling’ as it’s called right now is an effort to revive Cauvery and also relieve farm distress. According to the studies, they are saying forty-four percent depletion in Cauvery, but in my experience of the river – see they are counting the entire flow of water in twelve months, and they’re saying it’s forty-four percent less. But in my experience, suppose in September or October, if you look at the river – in my experience, it looks like it’s only twenty-five to thirty percent of what it was fifty years ago. Because they’re also counting the monsoon flows.

See, we need to understand this river, lake, pond, well are not sources of water. They are only destinations for water. The only and only and only source of water in this country is monsoon. I want this to sink into the young people because you are going to the cinema. You’re dressed well. You don’t want it to rain. No, learn to walk wet. What’s the problem in Chennai, hmm, hello? Because from your kindergarten they told you “Rain, rain go away” hmm? You sang this song when you were very young. They made you, without knowing why you sang – that is in London. “Rain, rain go away” is in London.

Here, media is reporting excessive rains. I want all of you to take off this kind of stupid language. There is no excessive rain ever. Whatever rain comes, we were always able to hold it in this land because we had substantial vegetation. Now it feels like excess, because we need to understand that, the nature of how this happens, the cycle I’m trying to make it very brief, so I may miss a few points – if you have questions you can ask me.

See there is something called as transpiration. From the top of the tree cover, suppose there is a layer of tree cover, let’s say there is a forest – between the trees and the cloud, there is a transpiration, it’s a kind of communication which makes the rain spread out. About thirty years ago in this country, monsoon was spread between an average of hundred to hundred-and-forty days. Today the same volume of rain is coming, but it’s happening between forty to seventy-five days. So, usually cloudburst used to happen in mountainous areas, that is high altitude mountainous areas where there is no vegetation or in desert areas. But today cloudburst is happening in Chennai, cloud bursting happening in Mumbai, sometimes in Bangalore, not yet so much in Bangalore, but in northern Karnataka because it is almost a desert, already.

Forty-two percent of Tamil Nadu’s agricultural land has been declared as fallow. What are you going to eat after twenty-five years, I want to know. You go and make a survey of the farm community, not even two percent of the farmers want their children to go into farming. Maybe many of you are from farming families. Are you? No?

Not even two percent of them want their children to go into farming because it’s slavery to go into farming. Why I’m saying its slavery is – on an average a Tamil Nadu farmer is earning 36,700 rupees per annum. A government employee at the lowest level is earning one-lakh-eight-thousand when he starts, within five years, it’s two lakhs sixteen-thousand rupees, is what he earns. In Puducherry prisons, a prisoner gets hundred-and-eighty rupees per day as wages for his work, a convict, all right? A semi-skilled one gets one-sixty, an unskilled one gets one-fifty rupees. But farmer is getting hundred rupees having his own land, growing food, feeding all of us, he gets hundred rupees per day. That also is dicey, one year it comes, one year it doesn’t come.

People think he’s hanging himself because of loans and this and that. Yes, that is the immediate reason. But the real reason is there is no fertile soil, and there’s not enough water. If there was a fertile soil and enough water, you think he doesn’t know how to make something out of it? Nothing is growing because everything has been destroyed simply because there is no organic content in the soil. The only source of organic content for the soil is the leaves from the trees and animal waste.

Eighty-seven percent of the green cover in Cauvery basin has been removed in the last fifty years. So trees are gone. Animals are all travelling abroad. If you just – you know I’m trying to push for a law, if you own one hectare of land, agricultural land, you must have minimum four, five bovine animals. A whole lot of activists in Chennai, please you guys handle handle them. They’re saying, “Oh, he’s religious, he’s trying to save cows.” You idiots, how do you fertilize the soil? How? How are you going to put organic content into the soil? Are you going to bring it from moon? Such people should be sent to Mars. Because on this planet, the only way you can put back organic content into the soil is the leaves of the tree and the animal waste. Animals are not on the farm, trees are not on the farm. How will you put it back? Soil is going fallow – forty-two percent of Tamil Nadu soil.

I want you to understand this – this is a land where for 12,000 years there’s a history, we farmed the same land and we maintained the fertility of the soil for 12,000 years, and it’s supported us all these years our entire civilization is because of this. Tamil civilization is essentially because of the fertile soil upon which we lived. In two generations, we made forty-two percent of the land fallow, unsuitable for agriculture. And no farmer wants to send his child into farming, in another twenty-five years when this generation passes, what are we going to eat? What are we going to eat, I’m saying if nobody grows food?

So, right now Cauvery Calling is a plan to both relieve farm distress, enhance the soil quality and ensure water flows in Cauvery and the wells and everything. What is the plan? See the only way is to put back green cover. Is it possible to grow forest? No, because the population pressure is such, you cannot bring back forests into farmland, it’s not going to work. Only twenty percent of the land of 85,000 square kilometers of Cauvery basin is considered forest land. Out of this eight percent is very good forest, we don’t have to touch it. Another four, five percent is medium level forest which can be enhanced. Another three, four percent is denuded forest, which can also be put back because this land is in the hands of the government, easily it can be revived, it’s just a question of time, if the necessary determination is there in the government, we can do that and it will be done.

But the remaining eighty percent is the issue. The problem is just this, very poor agricultural practices, and farmer is not substantially educated about this use of fertilizer and this and that. So completely switched, without knowing what he’s doing, and now the land doesn’t grow anything. See in ten years in just Tamil Nadu and Karnataka 47,600 farmers committing suicide, is it a joke? Hmm? Can we ignore this? I’m asking you, all of you young people, please? Can we ignore such a tragedy happening right around us?

So, we’re talking about agroforestry. In Tamil Nadu we have converted 69,760 farmers into agroforestry. In five to seven years, their incomes have gone up three-hundred to eight-hundred percent. So they’re very happy. And in that region, the wells are recharged, the water tables have come up. So what we want to do right now is turn one-third of Cauvery basin into agroforestry, because there’s a huge market for that. One-third of Cauvery basin into agroforestry means, we need to plant two-hundred-and-forty-two crore trees. Not that you and me have to go and plant, we just have to support the farmer to do it.

Now I can say this very proudly – yesterday we got this from both the governments, this is something we’ve been pitching for. When a farmer shifts from regular farming to agroforestry, he needs a little bit of financial support for the first four years, till he goes into the first cropping. Fortunately, yesterday we got this both from Karnataka government and the Tamil Nadu government. Both of them, both the chief ministers have decided and they’re going this way, that the necessary support for the first four years in the form of subsidies, and also the freedom to grow and cut whatever they grow.

See right now the laws are such even if you grow a tree in your own farm, if you cut it, they can come and arrest you, tomorrow morning. So who will grow a tree? Nobody wants to grow a tree because he cannot use it. Why will I want to grow something on my land, that I cannot use? So now we want this laws freed. In the last term of the central government, we got eighteen species released nationally, but now in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, we are pushing for this. And now they’ve agreed that, one-hundred percent both the chief ministers have agreed, that they will release all species for Tamil farmers and also Karnataka farmers, that they can grow what they want and cut it the way they want. It’s nobody’s business what a farmer does with his produce.

Because sixty-five percent of the population, we’re keeping them in this level of abject poverty. And how do you think the nation will move forward? There is technology, there is business, there is industry all this is wonderful. But nation means, the real wealth is the richness of the soil and the water. If these two things are not there, there is no real nation. Forever we’ve been proud of our soil. Here we call this Tamil Manna. Even today, a farmer when he steps into his land, he will bow down to the soil. In other countries, they call this dirt. Here we call this our mother because we know this very body is this soil. How healthy this soil is determines how healthy and strong we are, and how well we are.

I want you to understand the soil dynamics – what it is, the Indian soil especially. There is no scientific explanation for this, but there is scientific data to say this. The number of species present in the Indian soil is the highest in the world, for some reason. Nobody knows why, but that’s how it is. What scientists are saying now is – if you take a spoonful of soil, a teaspoon full of soil, in this soil there could be anywhere between 10-50,000 species of microbes. In one teaspoon of soil, there are more microbes than the number of human beings on this planet. That’s how rich it is. That’s how alive it is. But now we’re killing it, with just chemicals without necessary organic content.

This is not my work. This is not the work of a single organization. This is a generational work. I want you to be a part of this because this needs to happen. As a generation if we don’t do this, we have failed as a generation. Because this is far more serious than most people understand. If we don’t fix this now, we’re destroying the future of this nation.

So what can Chennai people do for Cauvery calling? See farmers are on the, you know, they’re willing. Right now, in the last forty days our forty-five vehicles have covered over 6000 villages, enrolling 2.7 lakh farmers to agroforestry – just educating them how to do it, what to do it, about 2.7 lakh farmers have enrolled. Now with sustained work for last few years, we’ve got both the governments to give subsidy, and to clear the tree cutting laws for the farmers. So the farmers are on, the government is on.

Now the challenge is to raise the saplings. Two-hundred-and-forty-two crore saplings, no government department is geared to raise this kind of volume. They will have to create a whole new department to do this. All that will take too much time, it’s not worth going that way. I’m asking the citizens of this country – because one sapling raising, because there are many species, some costs less, some costs more, on an average it costs forty-two rupees per sapling.

I’m asking, can’t the citizens of this nation stand up and raise the saplings? That you don’t have to do it – we are training farmers to use this as a business, that they can raise the saplings and sell it back to us. We’re training thousands of farmers to make this a business in the next two, three years time, that they can raise the saplings and give it to us. We have started about thirty-three nurseries. We want to start somewhere around three-hundred to three-hundred-and-fifty nurseries along the Cauvery basin to service all the farmers in the area – there are five million farmers in this region.

All we’re asking for the citizens is, make this forty-two rupees. A beggar, I’m if he positions himself in the right place, many beggars are earning over 3.5 lakhs per year. So a beggar in Chennai can easily plant or contribute one tree a week. Yes or no? If a beggar in Chennai can contribute one tree a week, what should rest of the citizens do? It’s for you to decide. It’s not for me to tell you, “Plant this many, plan that many.” It’s for you to decide.

I’m telling you, this is far more serious than anybody understands, far more serious. If we don’t act now, it will not happen. I’m asking all of you. You said there are two lakh engineering students. If you take all the students in Tamil Nadu there are I think about twenty-five lakh students. You all have your phones, smartphones, let me see how smart you are. Please use this damn thing. And let me see, you make the students in Tamil Nadu, twenty-five lakh students, at least one sapling a month, forty-two rupees can’t you do? All you have to do is miss one coffee.

Anyway let me tell you seventy percent of the coffee beans come from Coorg in this country. That’s where Cauvery starts. From third of September, I’m riding personally with a group of people from Talacauvery to Thiruvarur, on a motorcycle at this age, hmm, okay? With eight-hundred-and-sixty-five events on the way. Variety of events, ancillary unit – event.

See if youth of this nation don’t stand up for their own future, I don’t think you can call them youth. They become old, when they are young. Yes! If you do not stand up for your own future, what is it? Don’t think just an engineering degree is going to make your life. It doesn’t matter what qualification you have, what wealth you have, unless you run away from the country, in this country if we do not revive the soil and water sources in this country, you will not live well. You may have qualifications, you may have money, you may have wealth, you cannot live well because you will have to carry a pot in Chennai.

Please let’s make this happen, hmm, will you? Twenty-five lakh students are there in Chennai. Please spend some time on your phone and activate them. One tree a month for next three years if they do this – what we want is only two-hundred-and-forty-two crores. If every citizen plants, two trees, it’s over. But there are a lot of irresponsible ones, littering ones, so you have to plant for them also. Yes, there are those people, what to do, we have to take care of them. Please let’s make it happen. Please.

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