Rajendra Singh has been called the ‘River-maker’ for his work in bringing

dead rivers back to life in India’s desert state of Rajasthan. At a time when

there is widespread recognition of the scarcity of water, it is not surprising

that he has received many awards for his work, including the prestigious

Ramon Magsaysay award for community leadership.2 After all, it seems

obvious that quenching thirst in a dry and dusty region is in everyone’s

interest. Well, it may surprise you to learn that this was not the case, and

that Rajendra Singh has faced strong opposition from rural élites and gov-

ernment officials, who for different reasons felt that his work was counter to

their interests. On one occasion he suffered a fractured skull after a particu-

larly heated debate with rural government officials! The rural élites – mainly

power brokers and money lenders – were concerned that more water in

the landscape would lead to economic empowerment of the poor, which

could liberate these farmers from their clutches. The government irrigation

department felt that the traditional systems of water harvesting advocated

by Rajendra Singh challenged their scientific knowledge base and threat-

ened their authority and power. So although everyone in that part of India

recognized water scarcity as a serious problem, their interests were very

divergent. In a sense Rajendra Singh had it easy because at least there was

agreement about the common problem, namely the shortage of water in

the dark zone, that part of the country where there was no groundwater.