West Bengal events promote the use of grassroots knowledge in future Indo–UK water research

gfes session 1

The India-UK Water Centre (IUKWC) launched its first set of Grassroots Field Exposure Sessions in West Bengal on 10th December 2018 to understand the pressures on the water resource in some of the state’s rural and urban environments. The two events were spread over six days and involved visits to North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas and Kolkata Municipal areas. The joint Indian and UK scientific teams spent time in Gosaba and Sandeshkhali blocks and at various sites in and around Kolkata including the Ganga Ghat, local industrial water users and East Kolkata Wetlands.

The events were convened by the IUKWC in association with activity leads from Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, Bidhan Chandra Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya, the Advanced Center for Water Resources Development and Management in India and the James Hutton Institute in the UK. The initiatives aimed to support increased collaboration between water users and researchers during the early stages of designing scientific research by promoting the assimilation of local knowledge regarding water quality and agricultural water demand.

The first event centred on the Sundarbans region where the combined effects of agricultural intensification, population increase, saline intrusion and vulnerability to natural disasters pose serious challenges to availability and quality of water supplies. These issues are resulting in intense competition between the key water sectors, irrigation and drinking. Mr Dhaval Joshi from ACWADAM, one of the organisers of the event, stressed the urgency to understand the nature and magnitude of the emergent issues from the local stakeholders’ perspective. On a day-to-day basis, citizens, local government and businesses face the realities of rural water management in deltaic regions. The event gave researchers firsthand experience and understanding of such challenges.

Dr Lalu Das from BCKV pointed out that, “Water problems in the Sundarbans are multi-fold and becoming more severe under the context of climate change. New strategies to address these issues are dependent on partnerships with universities and research organisations. The livelihoods of millions of farmers are dependent on sustainable irrigation, improvements of crop varieties and modification of cropping practices.”

The second event focused on understanding the sources of water quality issues in Kolkata, including arsenic and fluoride in groundwater and the management of industrial pollution. Dr Manoj Tiwari from IIT, Kharagpur highlighted the important role of science in understanding the impacts of issues such as unplanned housing, small scale industrial effluent discharges and the unregulated dumping of garbage on surface and groundwater quality in the region.

Dr Richard Allan from the James Hutton Institute said, “Over the last few days we have identified tangible ideas to address scientific, educational and governance challenges to improve water management in West Bengal. This includes more integrated use of existing data sets, implementation of an ecosystem services approach, integrated governance and enhanced education and social engagement programmes.”

Over the course of the events, the scientific teams interacted with NGOs such as the Tagore Society for Rural Development, Rajarhat Prasari and PETCI. Meetings were held with Gram Panchayat members, farmers, fishermen, and industries, along with representatives of the District Agriculture Development Authority, Central Ground Water Board, Indian Meteorological Department, State Pollution Control Board, and State Environmental Departments, amongst others on the field.

Prof. Harry Dixon, the UK coordinator of the IUKWC from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, explained that, “The IUKWC was established to support increased collaboration between water researchers in the UK and India. Our Grassroots Field Exposure Sessions, such as those in West Bengal last week, are designed to help the scientific community to collaborate with local organisations and individuals facing pressing water challenges. The scientists who have taken part in the event have identified a number of significant research questions, which have the potential to be addressed by future Indo-UK collaborations.”

Workshop organisers:

The events were organised by: Dr Manoj Tiwari (IIT, Kharagpur); Dr Richard Allan (James Hutton Institute, UK); Dr Lalu Das (Bidhan Chandra Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya); Mr Dhaval Joshi (Advanced Center for Water Resources Development and Management, Pune) and the IUKWC coordinators, Prof. Harry Dixon (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology) and Dr A.K. Sahai (Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology).

Event Participants:

The scientific team involved representatives from the British Geological Survey, University of Exeter, University of West England, Liverpool John Moores University, Queen Mary University of London, University College London, Loughborough University, University of Salford and the University of Surrey. Academic organisations from India included Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Kolkata, Wildlife Institute of India, Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Vellore Institute of Technology, G B Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Banaras Hindu University, JSS University, Mysuru, Assam Agricultural University.

For information about the events see:

IUKWC GFES 1: Managing and monitoring agricultural water demand

IUKWC GFES 2: Water Quality - Source Protection