Saturday, July 27, 2019

Konkan Road Trip Photos: Murud Dabhol Tural

Last week beginning Monday July 15th, I took a four day road trip to Konkan, India west coastal plains. We went first to the small village of Murud and then drove south via Dabhol to Tural highlands.

The phrase 'coastal plains' is something of a misnomer since between the high Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea there are hill ranges with altitudes reaching 50 m to 200 m ASL. Tural is a community living on one of these ranges. We stayed there in the family home of a friend.

The map below shows a portion of the Konkan region through which we traveled.

The region had come alive due to the monsoons, although that week we caught a small break in the rains. It did rain heavily in short bursts, but there were enough interludes to go for long walks and enjoy the sun too.

Some pictures of landscapes that we came across.

1) The coast near Murud. After a brutal summer, the feel of cool winds and sounds of monsoon waves crashing on the shore was very refreshing.

2) Lonely stretch of a shimmering beach near Murud.

3) Loading our car on to the ferry at Dabhol.

4) Colourful fishing boats at Dabhol jetty.

5) Continental erosion writ in mud! River Vashishti meets the Arabian Sea.

6) Rice fields in a quiet community in Tural highlands.

7) Tural highlands is capped by a flat surface.

8) This plateau cap is made up of iron rich laterite. It formed during late Miocene times (~10 million  years ago) by prolonged chemical weathering of the underlying basalt rock and pediment (layer of weathered rock debris) . The picture shows the hard laterite surface, which would have been a low lying peneplain in late Miocene times.

9) Subsequent to lateritization, the western margin (Konkan coastal region) underwent some uplift, resulting in the formation of a plateau or 'table land' as it is commonly called. As the land rose, invigorated streams cut into the laterite surface forming deeply entrenched channels.  The picture below shows a close up of the laterite plateau dissected by a dendritic stream network (blue arrows).

10) The evolution of the Konkan coastal region from a low lying undulating surface undergoing lateritization, to an uplifted and dissected plateau is depicted in the schematic below.

Source: Evolution of Laterite in Goa: Mike Widdowson  2009

11) The laterite is a commonly used building material in this region. Small quarries pockmark these highlands. The picture shows large bricks of laterite. The plateau cap is hard laterite that can't be cut into regular brick shaped pieces. Below this crust though is a softer iron rich soil. This semi indurated material is cut into brick shapes and left to dry. It hardens upon dehydration into a usable stone.

12) We took long walks in cool lush forest patches.

13) Deep in the forest we visited my friend's family temple, a hidden jewel with a spring fed bath. These temples act like a social glue, bringing families and communities together on religious and other occasions.

14) On the way back via Kumbharli Ghat we caught sight of the majestic Western Ghat Escarpment.

until next time! 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Groundwater Must Be The Focus Of India National Water Policy

India's Water Management Crisis

A piercingly clear essay by Himanshu Thakkar on why India must realign its water resources priorities from big dams and river linking projects to protecting, managing, and regulating ground water.

Just take a look at the numbers:

"Most of the water that India uses today comes from over 30 million wells and tubewells. Irrigation is India’s biggest user of water and over two thirds of irrigated area gets water from groundwater. 85% of rural domestic supply, over 55% of Urban and Industrial water supply comes from groundwater. The graph of % of water in each sub sector coming from groundwater has been going up for at least four decades. In fact, some estimates show that over 90% of additional water India used in last four decades have come from groundwater. It sounds like an immitigable blessing. That’s not how blessings work, unfortunately.

Central Ground Water Board’s data shows that in about 70% of areas, groundwater is depleting and at many places it has exhausted or is on verge of exhaustion. The quality is deteriorating. Warnings have been available for decades now, but the government has done little to address the emerging crisis.

In fact, India’s water resources establishment, lead by the Big dam ideologues at Central Water Commission have ensured that the government do not even acknowledge that groundwater is India’s water lifeline"....


Some States have taken initiatives to manage ground water. Maharashtra recently passed the Maharashtra Ground Water Act which provides a framework for management and regulation of ground water. How much diligent enforcement of the rules actually takes place remains to be seen.

Additional Reading:

The Maharashtra Groundwater (Development and Management) Act 2009 - Shashank Deshpande, Deputy Director GSDA.

A Decade Of The Maharashtra Ground Water Legislation: Analysis Of The Implementation Process - Sanjiv Phansalkar and Vivek Kher.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Papers: Indus Civilization- Resilience, Fragility And Rural Complexity

Diversity, variability, adaptation and ‘fragility’in the Indus Civilization- Cameron A. Petrie

We are inheritors of a rural civilisation’: rural complexity and the ceramic economy in the Indus Civilisation in northwest India - Danika Parikh and Cameron A. Petrie

These two recently published papers are worth reading.

The first one reviews settlement patterns, water availability, agricultural strategies and craft production in urban and rural Indus settlements. It draws inferences on the type of power structures and hierarchies that may have prevailed within cities and villages and between different regions. And there is the perennial question on the link between climate change, water stress and the decline of urban sphere of the Indus civilization. There were different response from the urban and rural spheres to environmental stress, with the more flexible and adaptable rural lifeways showing more resilience and sustainability.

"Petrie et al. (2017; Petrie 2017) have suggested that the weakening of the ISM around c. 2200–2100 bc meant that the climate in the subsequent period became ‘unpredictably unpredictable’. By this we meant that before and during the Indus urban phase, populations were familiar with ‘predictable unpredictable’ conditions and their farming strategies were tailored to make use of water supplied by combinations of rainfall, inundation, small-scale irrigation and/or lifted water (cf. Miller 2006). Populations in specific areas across the Indus zone might have been able to survive one, two, or even more years of drought, either through reliance on their own resources, or through support from other regions. However, when this range was exceeded, such as when populations were faced with protracted periods of drought, the local and medium-to-long range provisioning and support networks may not have been able to sustain the status quo. I have suggested that in such a situation, farmers may have had to engage in constant risk mitigation, thereby reducing opportunities to produce surpluses, and in such situations it is possible that living in large groups (i.e. urban centres) was not an option".

The Indus cultural sphere lasted a long time after its cities declined. In the graphic below the upper left and right panels show distribution of settlements during the urban phase with modern winter (left) and summer (right) rainfall contours overlain. The bottom panel shows the post urban settlement patterns. There are denser habitations nearer the Himalaya front in the post urban phase. This shift from Rajasthan, Cholistan and Haryana eastwards and closer to the Himalaya foothills followed more reliable monsoons in that region. Gujarat on the other hand wasn't depopulated as much suggesting regional differences in monsoon strength and varied water harvesting strategies. However, the urban center of Dholavira and nearby settlements were abandoned.

Source: Cameron Petrie

Even the decline of the cities was not a sudden event. Indus societies did not collapse due to any one catastrophic environmental change such as one big river changing course or a very rapid decline in monsoon. Urbanization was at a peak between 2600 B.C and 1900 B.C. But at Mohenjodaro for example, signs of abandonment and depopulation begin by 2200 B.C. On the other, Harappa continued to be occupied throughout the urban phase and well into the late Harappan Phase, although analysis of skeletons do suggest increasing physical stress.

The second paper by Danika Parikh and Cameron Petrie concentrates on bringing out the complexities and variation in rural lifeways and economies. Ceramic products from four Indus age villages in Haryana are analyzed and described and some interesting inferences drawn on urban rural (in)dependence and the socio-economic role of villages in the larger Indus sphere.

"The regional rural ceramic economy innorthwest India was clearly complex and shows a considerable degree of variation. Rural communities produced some ceramic forms similar to Classic Harappan forms, and others that were quite different, and they used some decorativemotifs that were common and others that we had previously not seen. This pattern of similar ceramic forms but different techniques and decoration is particularly interesting, given what we understand of how pottery production is learned. Pottery forming is often learned through ‘vertical transmission’, inter-generationally; shape and decorative motifs are more easily imitated and are often transmitted horizontally, or peer-to-peer (Knappett 2011, 106–107; see also Gosselain 2000). The use of different techniques to produce the same forms suggests that Classic Harappan and Haryana Harappan ceramicmaterial was not produced in the same workshops, and that these potters are unlikely to have been members of the same communities of practice".

The rural populations were not only engaged in agro-pastoralism. Villages had varied occupations such as functioning as workshops for specialized craft production and as factory sites making goods for larger towns and cities.

Open Access.