Lessons from the past

about 7 days ago
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The stories of drought in Maharashtra are scary. We are five months away from monsoon and already there are pictures of people standing in queue for water and bore wells being dug in literally every available surface.

Maybe we need to take a lesson or two from our ancient times. The Arthashastra of Kautilya gives an extensive account of dams and bunds that were built for irrigation during the period of the Mauryan Empire. The water supply systems were well managed within the framework of strict rules and regulations. Different types of taxes were collected from the cultivators depending upon the nature of irrigation. The tax rate was 25% of the produce in respect of water drawn from natural sources like rivers, tanks and springs.

For water drawn from storages built by the King, the tax rate varied according to the method of drawing water. For instance, it was 20% of the produce for water drawn manually, 25% for water drawn by bullocks and 33% for that diverted through channels.

Exemptions from payment of water rates were given for building or improving irrigation facilities. The period of exemption was 5 years for new tanks and bunds, 4 years for renovating old works and 3 years for clearing the works over-grown with weeds.

Water bodies like reservoirs, bunds and tanks were also privately owned and the owner was free to sell or mortgage them. The owner could also sell water to others in return for a share of the produce. In the absence of the owner, the water bodies were to be maintained by the people of the village.

A set of punishments were prescribed for various violations of water laws like - causing damage to another’s ploughed or sown field by letting water overflow from a tank/ reservoir; causing damage to gardens, parks and bunds, owner of the higher tank preventing the filling of the lower tank; failure to maintain the water body; out-of-turn drawing of water from a tank; building a well or a tank on someone else’s land; selling or mortgaging a water body meant for charitable purposes.

The most serious of all - death penalty was prescribed for breaking a reservoir or tank full of water.

For all the politicians constantly talking about the religion and waxing eloquent about the rich culture and heritage, aren’t these the ideals which we should be inculcating in public life than mere name changing gimmicks? Wish these politicians really read our ancient books…..

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