Sacred Water and Sanctified Vegetation: Tanks and Trees in India

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"Indian villages are famous for their traditional water management. This includes, in particular, village tanks (also called village ponds), one of the most notable examples of riparian commons. There are between 1.2 to 1.5 million tanks still in use and sustaining everyday life in the 0.66 million villages in India. Tanks have been the most important source of irrigation in India. Some tanks may date as far back as the Rig Vedic period, around 1500 B. C. "Studies of village settlement and collective efforts to create tanks are well documented. Similarly, studies of tanks as the source of irrigation, fish, ground water recharge and other products also exist. "The traditional knowledge of tank construction, maintenance, and customary planting and sanctification of tree groves on earthen embankments and islands within the impounded area has, however, been overlooked. These islands, known locally as lakheta, are constructed of soil and act as refuges for plants and animals. Such groves are prominent parts of the village commons in India, and serve vital social, religious, ecological, and economic functions. "Rulers, zamindars (landlords), talukdars (feudal lords) and village communities took a keen interest in tank construction in pre-independent India. Abolition of zamindari and talukdari in the post-independent era led to an end of private ownership, and the ownership of confiscated tanks were vested mostly in State Governments and, in some cases, in village panchayats. Thus, tanks became commons, and all farmers in the command area received access to water and groves. This, however, also results in a gradual breakdown of the traditional system of repair and maintenance of the tanks. In the process of destruction of village tank commons, many revert to private and/or open access regimes. The paper presents the traditional knowledge connected with the collective creation of groves on tank embankments and tank islands. The compensatory conservation of wild vegetation adjoining the tanks, in lieu of the vegetation that may have been submerged because of the tank construction, is discussed. The functions that these riparian commons continue to serve are addressed. Drawing upon the specific case of 12 village tanks in the Kota district of Rajasthan, the paper discusses institutional arrangements connected with participatory efforts to revive, create, and support modern and viable common regimes of groves on tank embankments and tank islands, and the compensatory sanctification of the adjoining vegetation."
IASC, common pool resources, water resources, institutional analysis, participatory management, trees