The Diversionary Trajectory

Academic research aspires to improve the understanding of a subject and provide deeper insights about the subject and its applications. However, highbrow research is of little importance to the society, which will appreciate research only if it helps resolve problems and address challenges on the ground. This was ACWADAM's point of departure from conventional approaches in water management.

Seven geologists from the Savitribai Phule Pune University (formerly Pune University) felt that research should not remain confined to the lecture-halls of academia and founded ACWADAM in 1998. They believed that education and research programmes on groundwater should be strategically designed to enable community-level decisions on managing resources like groundwater. Managing common pool resources – particularly groundwater – requires demystification of science. The need to lay emphasis on a participatory approach, in applying the science of hydrogeology to understand aquifers, thereby facilitating community decisions and action on groundwater management and governance was perceived to be equally important. This vision became the foundation of our work and continues to drive all our efforts even today.

The Journey So Far

India has emerged as a hotspot of groundwater extraction, contamination and complex derivatives of the combination of demand, supply and availability of groundwater resources. It is believed that India is the largest user of groundwater in the world today. ACWADAM's mission has been considerably aligned to the uniqueness of India's groundwater dependency. Our work has been driven by the purpose of generating knowledge in a participatory mode and developing capacities on using such (hydrogeological) knowledge in practice and policy.

Embedding groundwater management within the larger context of rural livelihoods and natural resources management formed the cornerstone of ACWADAM's work during the last two decades. Strategies for groundwater management were developed on the basis of hydrogeological understanding of the groundwater resources in the context of communities and livelihoods. This approach has defined a 'typology' of groundwater conditions and situations – at various levels from national to local – with large-scale capacity building, hand- holding of organisations in the field and science-based advocacy with communities as well as policy makers.

ACWADAM has partnered a wide range of organisations. Most of these have been part of India's vibrant civil society, commonly referred to as Non-government organisations or NGOs. It has also partnered both Central and State Governments through their line departments on certain aspects of groundwater management across the country. ACWADAM'S work is now embedded across India's geodiverse landscape including fieldwork, research and training in challenging areas such as the flood plains of north Bihar, the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, tribal hinterlands of Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh and the mountainous terrain of The Himalaya and Western Ghats. ACWADAM is playing a pivotal role in the development of a rationale regarding knowledge-driven management of the spring water resources in the Himalayan region of Nepal and India through engagement with various partners, including some State Governments.

ACWADAM also generated interest for major policy reforms to address groundwater problems in India, including significant inputs to developing the National Aquifer Mapping Programme during the 12 th Five Year Plan. Its founders are also advising various ministries on strategic institutional reforms on groundwater.

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The Journey Ahead

Knowledge dissemination and action research form the core of ACWADAM's activities, without entering into hands-on programme implementation. Hence, ACWADAM never works in isolation. It has, through various partnerships demonstrated the power of collaboration, participation and demystification (of science) in its work. The work-so- far has also strengthened its resolve to develop a national strategy for groundwater management and governance alongside the mapping of aquifers.

ACWADAM has also come to believe that the efficiency of programmes such as watershed development, drinking water and sanitation security and revitalising rain-fed agriculture can be significantly improved by integrating the science of groundwater during the planning and execution phases of these programmes. ACWADAM has also begun to expand its partnerships beyond India and has undertaken training and research programmes in neighbouring Nepal, while expanding its scope of activities within India. Its recent efforts have helped develop and test many 'alternatives' to the business-as- usual approaches on groundwater recharge and conservation during the drought that affected many regions of the country.