• Raghav Ruia

The Water Doctor


Rajendra Singh (above) a proud Indian conservationalist also known as the 'Waterman of India".

Dr Rajendra Sing, a man aspired to be a Ayurvedic medical practitioner, began his practice in Jaipur, in 1980. After spending a couple of years in Rajasthan, he noticed that a large number of rural inhabitants migrate away from their homes for a better standard and quality of life. With an aim to help the underprivileged, he began to offer the rural villagers his medical services, and in 1985, he left Jaipur and settled in a small village of Bhikampura in Alwar district of Rajasthan. One fine day, Dr Singh had a great revelation that changed his course of practice from being a doctor for humans to being a doctor for water bodies. This is what makes Dr Singh our very own 'waterman'. For his passion and community-based efforts towards conserving water, the 60-year-old water advocate won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership in 2001 and Stockholm Water Prize in 2015.


Dr Singh, said he observed a clear trend in the patients that came to him, they all had stomach related issues or more precisely Neoplasia. In an interview, Dr Singh recalls an event during which he was treating an elderly man in Bhikampura and he casually asked him as to why so many people get so sick. The man answered him in a very stern tone and said "Your treatment will not help us, we need access to water". This eye opening statement was enough to put ambitious Dr Singh on his path to bring water to barren villages in Alwar.


A few farmers of Alwar educated him about traditional techniques of storing the rainwater. The newly gained knowledge along with his understanding of science helped the doctor turned waterman build large crescent-shaped structures made of mud and rocks, called ‘johad’. As per Dr. Singh, these structures not only hold water that runoff from monsoon rains, but also help this water percolate into the ground with minimum evaporation and help improve the water table.

The 'Johad' Concept. Introduced by Dr Singh.
"The Johad helped bring local aquifers back into action.This technique helped us revive rivers too because as the underground water restored, it started flowing into the rivers."

Dr Singh's sensible knowledge of water flow within the earth helped him come up with this concept of Johad to help improve the flow of water.


When Dr Singh's technique worked well in Gopalpura village, Dr. Singh used the same method in other villages. Soon, the technique became popular in the area and people from many villages started calling him for help and guidance for setting up ‘johad’. In the past 34 years, Dr. Singh has helped in build 11,800 ‘johads’ in more than 500 villages across the country. This technique has helped him revive 14 rivers and water bodies including Aravari, Tapi and Sarsa in Rajasthan, Mahakali in Maharashtra and Hirehalla in Karnataka. People called him to 'treat' their water bodies just like a doctor being called to treat a patient. Dr Singh's perseverance and approachability makes him a hero of the Indian society. The name 'waterman' of India is best suited for him as almost magically using science he revives and revitalises water bodies.


Dr Singh faced 380 notices from the irrigation department in India by the year 2000. He was being charged under the Irrigation act of 1984, although he didn't stop and continued his endeavour to clean polluted rivers. Being an activist, he used his influential and respected position to help build awareness among farmers, villagers and the citizens on how to make the best use of water and not waste it. On March 28, 2000, the former President of India, Kocheril R. Narayanan visited a few villages I was working in. After his visit, all the notices against me were pulled back. Since then I have not received any legal notices. And after the Magsaysay Award in 2001, many government institutions started inviting me for lectures and training on water conservation.

According to Dr Singh, contamination of rivers began in 1932 when sewers began flowing into rivers. Today, in India the amount of waste is overflowing and hence, to keep the cities clean we dump all our waste into the ocean and waterbodies. All this started because of a dimwitted British officer appointed in Varanasi in 1932. The officer ordered the dumping of waste into rivers and oceans and soon this grim ideology was implemented all over India leaving our rivers dirty. The river Ganga which is the holiest river in India, is immensely polluted with all sorts of rubbish. According to Dr Singh the first step to reviving the river is to change the sewage system and replan the whole thing in order to prevent waste entering the Ganga.

"The pollution in these rivers is nothing but slow poison."

advocates Dr Singh. The dirt in the rivers leads to the breeding of mosquitoes and disease hence, leading to sickness that can be very harmful. As citizens of our nation we must support Dr Singh's cause and stop poisoning ourselves. Taking the easy way out dumping all our waste into the river is going to backfire one day or the other. Nature gives back! A true example of this would be the Marine Drive in Mumbai. Once every year the whole of marine drive is filled with dirty wet garbage that the sea has thrown back out. We threw one plastic bottle into the sea, a couple of months later the sea through 100 bottles back at us. As proud Indian citizens we must take this matter and try to resolve it.


Another reason for the increasing pollution in rivers like Ganga and Yamuna, as per Dr. Singh is the interruption in the natural flow of these rivers caused by hydropower projects and dams in the upper stream of these rivers. Dr Singh says that the area around these rivers is an 'ecological sensitive area' where no development should happen so that there is no disturbance caused to nature.


Dr Singh is an inspiring, self made activist and conservationist who has India's best interests in mind. A true unsung hero, he's not famous, he doesn't want fame, all he wants is improvement and he works for it. I would sincerely like to thank Dr Singh for all his efforts to improve our community. Thank you Dr Singh! You're a true Hero.

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