India has a variety of local community traditions of water harvesting. There are a number of scholars and activists who tend to valorise premodern wisdoms without critically evaluating their sociocultural context and realising how deeply they were embedded in the social hierarchy of their times. There has been, of course, a great deal of stress lately on a kind of "eco-golden age". This is clearly a case of an "anachronistic projection of modern phenomenon on to the screen of tradition". Seen from such a perspective, all pre-industrial societies would exhibit a kind of harmony with nature. However, most of the times, it was the demographic and technological factors that made these societies less harmful to the environment. It was not that they wished to protect the whole canopy of nature. This reappraisal demonstrates how precepts and rites, culture and customary practices and state policy interact to lay the bases of water harvesting traditions. Social customs are the necessary conditions for sustaining these traditions, while local autonomy in resource management is the critical sufficient condition but it never results in equitable access for all.