- Sunita Narain: Real pride of ancient Indian science: Till the time the British came to India, the water traditions were in
vogue. British gazettes speak of these systems, at times with awe,
calling us a hydraulic society. Sir William Willcocks, a British
irrigation engineer, who was called in 1920 to advise the administration
on how to handle famines, said the best answer was to go back to the
ingenious system of flood management of Bengal. This was never done, of
Ancient Indians also understood the art of water governance. Kautilya's Arthasastra, written around 300 BC, has details of how tanks and canals are to be built and managed. The key was to clarify the enabling role of the state - the king - and the management role of local communities. The kings did not have armies of public works engineers; they provided fiscal incentives to communities and individuals who built water systems.
The British changed all this, by vesting the resource with the state and creating large bureaucracies for management.The British rulers also changed the tax system; collection of revenue became paramount, even during droughts. There was little then to invest in community assets. The decline came quickly and was cemented by polices of independent India.
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