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Category Institutions
Title Conserving Water and Forest Collectively: Learning from Ladakh
Details Ladakh constitutes the easternmost trans-Himalayan part of Jammu and Kashmir State of India. Intensive sunlight and high evaporation rate are the chief characteristics of this cold arid desert of strong winds. It snows heavily in winter and even the hottest months have sporadic snow falls. There is little moisture in the atmosphere, temperature fluctuation is wide (30 to -200 C), and the rains are very rare. This gigantic mountain of rocks and sand has only a small part that can be used for cultivation and animal husbandry. In such inhospitable climate conditions, it is imperative for all inhabitants to share some of the scarce resources. Since a single altitudinal level and eco-niche does not have the potential to provide the subsistence need of the villagers, farmers require access to different eco-niches (Buzdar, 1988). Some of the natural resources such as water and forest are not enough to meet all individual needs of community members. How much need of whose should be met, in what order and when, requires evolution and compliance of rules. Hence, there exists a common property resource management institution whereby all farmers have reasonable access to scarce natural resources. Irrigation System Indus, Shayok, Syachen and Zangskar are the main rivers flowing through Ladakh. In addition, there are innumerable streams and springs that are a major source of irrigation water. However, many of the cultivated grounds are situated far from the natural course of the streams. Wherever it is possible farmers have skillfully constructed long canals over a long time period, some of them running over few kilometers traversing through rocky mountains, to bring water to irrigate the fields. Farming in this region is dependent on irrigation water, acquired from snowmelt and glaciers. Preceding winter and prevailing summer are the deciding factors for the amount of water to be obtained. Since the quantity of irrigation water is highly unpredictable, the local people have evolved traditional institutional arrangements for its equitable and timely distribution. Different villages have a slight variation in the arrangement of distribution of water. But the principles are more or less the same. Everyone cannot get their share of water daily nor do crops need irrigation daily. Therefore, there is rotation for each household to get its share of irrigation water. The farmers in big villages like Hunder and De-skyit are divided into groups commonly known as ‘schhu-cho’, and each group gets right to water according to the traditional distribution system recorded in official register called ‘bandabas’. Villagers select a ‘chhur-pon’ (Water Lord), an official supervisor in charge of water distribution. In Phey village, spring water is first collected in ponds and then is used for irrigation. Repairs and maintenance of these ponds are the sole responsibility of those households whose fields are irrigated. For distribution of water, a lottery system decides which household gets to use the irrigation water. In case the scheme is based on channels then, fields situated along the channel is irrigated in an order, irrespective of who owns it. This rotational order of water distribution scheme is recorded in the ‘bandabas’ and is referred to in resolving conflicts related to water distribution. Watering the Fields The irrigation practice of this region dates back to tenth century A D when it is said to have been introduced by the scholar saint Atisa (Bell, 1928). The application of sufficient but not excessive irrigation water is one of the most important of a farmer’s skill. Insufficient water will result in poor growth, reduction in yield and possible risk of salination. Excess can be dangerous to newly germinated crop, leach nutrients and waste of water. To avoid this situation when the crops are tender, only the skilled persons, especially the elders are involved to irrigate the field (mostly the first two irrigations, after the seeds have been sown). Later, when the crops have established well in the field, the less experienced, younger people give the irrigation. In De-Skyit village, vegetable and cereal crops are irrigated in that order followed by fodder crops and fruit trees. Fields are irrigated for the last time in the autumn after the soil is ploughed when harvesting of crop has been done. This practice causes the water to freeze in the soil, and prevents it being flown away and is available when the spring thaw occurs, so the soil is moist for ploughing. The fixed time for irrigation and harvesting of field crops ensures that there is minimal of disease or pest attack. Tsogs Management The other major resource in Ladakh that is held in common is the tsogs (forest). There exist proper rules and regulations regarding who, when, and how should access the resource. An administrative body comprising of ‘goba’, the head of a village, and his assistants, ‘member’ and ‘kutual’, are entrusted with the management of tsogs (forest) access. Considering the prevailing status of ‘tsogs’, ‘goba’ decides the date and quantity of different kinds of wood to be extracted from the ‘tsogs’. Use of axe is not allowed while collecting wood from the ‘tsogs’; and pollution of the areas surrounding the ‘chhu-mig’ (spring water) is prohibited. It is believed that such activity offends the ‘lhu’ (water God); ‘stupas’ are built near ‘chhu-mig’ so that it is not polluted. Access to the ‘tsogs’ for collection of wood is given to ‘thalpa’ (those households which contribute labour in the village level community work) households only. The fixed time forharvesting different kinds of wood from the ‘tsogs’ helps in avoiding violation of rules. The case study of four villages in Ladakh shows that if rules are simple, democratically formulated and considered legitimate, self discipline comes naturally to everyone involved in the social structure. The web of irrigation system binds the Ladakhi villagers to each other and these webs reflect a shared source of life. References Bell, Sir C. (1928). The People of Tibet. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. Buzdar, Nek (1988). Property Rights, Social Organization, and Resource Management in Northern Pakistan. Working paper No. 5. Environment and Policy Institute, Honolulu, Hawai. _________________________________________ Belief System Belief system in Ladakh includes a multiplicity of wrathful and benevolent deities, controllable through respect and offerings. lhu is a female deity associated with the water and earth. Pollution of outer environment offends them, as do chopping trees in some areas and dirtying streams and water points with human wastes. Some streams are guarded by particular touchy lhu, who will not even tolerate washing ones body or one’s clothes in them. The offender is often punished by skin diseases. People believe that a terrible lhu lived by the spring and guarded the water and bushes. It is strictly warned never to gather wood there or even go anywhere near the spring. Neither should wood be cut from the grand juniper trees in the nearby skyinling valley, because these trees were lha-shing (God-trees) inhibited by mountain Gods. To provoke them is dangerous and can cost the blasphemer his life. Once the wife of old Konchok Tashi cut off some dry branches from the tree and carried them home. The following year she was infected with lepsory, the lhu-nad (lhu-sikness). The lhu had bewitched her and she died a miserable death.
Volume No. Honey Bee, 17(3):10-11, 2006