They say about her that she has mastered the art of giving. Rohini Nilekani made news a few months ago when she raised nearly Rs 163 crore by selling off her shares in Infosys for philanthropic work. She explained it away by saying it is her moral obligation to give the money away. Over the past decade, she has invested in causes that span the environment, education and water. A former journalist and the wife of former Infosys CEO and current chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India, Nandan Nilekani, Rohini is known for being an activist in corporate circles.
Edited Excerpts from an Interview
What is the particular zone of alarm about the water crisis that we are facing in India and other countries in the developing world?
We all know that there is a water crisis but it may not affect us on a day-today basis because we are urban dwellers. We have our own systems of dealing with the crisis such as private back-up infrastructure, municipal water supply etc. However, there might be slums in our neighbourhood that don’t enjoy the same access.
In the eight years since Arghyam (her foundation, which focusses on providing sustainable water for all) was set up and we have been funding people and projects from around the country, I have realised that there is a severe water crisis. The problem of groundwater use and availability is even more startling. Even though we have spent more than 1.75 lakh crore on our surface irrigation infrastructure, all of us are heavily dependent on groundwater, which is depleting at an alarming speed.
What are the solutions for the water crisis in India?
Fortunately, water is a renewable resource. So, we can solve these problems if we start understanding the crisis and acknowledge the problem. We have to resolve the conflicts of competing water use even as the population grows and urban centres expand. It is important to realise that water issues have contextual solutions. In India’s hydrogeology, there are many types — there’s the hard rock area, the Indo-Gangetic basin — and there are different problems and different solutions.
Are we on the right track to solving our water woes?
A lot has happened in the Twelfth Five-Year Plan. A lot of consultation has happened across the board with non-governmental organisations, communities, multinational companies and citizens groups. All the documents that have come out of them are going to shift the paradigm in how water is managed. Water guzzlers in the energy and beverages sectors are looking at the good, sustainable practices they are instituting and looking forward to engaging with communities.