In­dia Plans Solid Steps to Face Loom­ing Wa­ter Cri­sis

The Economic Times - - Front Page -

Mad­hvi Sally & Hi­mang­shu Watts

New Delhi: IIn­dia is in the grip of a wa­ter cri­sis that has been years in the mak­ing even as tem­per­a­tures shoot up to a scorch­ing 46 de­grees Cel­sius. With the sit­u­a­tion ex­pected to de­te­ri­o­rate fur­ther, the govern­ment is plan­ning to make de­mand man­age­ment a pri­or­ity by fund­ing drip ir­ri­ga­tion for farm­ers, pe­nal­is­ing over­ex­ploita­tion of ground­wa­ter and en­act­ing a model wa­ter law, an of­fi­cial said, adding that at this level of short­age, China had de­clared a cri­sis. “Wa­ter cri­sis is in­deed loom­ing large at us,” wa­ter re­sources, river de­vel­op­ment and Ganga re­ju­ve­na­tion sec­re­tary Shashi Shekhar told ET.

“If we go by fig­ures, in 2000, we started with 2,000 cu­bic me­tres wa­ter per per­son per year. To­day, we have reached about 1,500 m3 and in next 15 years it will go to 1,100 m3. At 1,500 cu­bic me­tres per per­son per year it­self it is called a cri­sis. China has de­clared it a cri­sis at 1,500 cu­bic me­tres per per­son per year. We are likely to go be­low that.”

Mea­sures to mit­i­gate scarcity head the govern­ment’s agenda as two failed mon­soons have left many parts of the country parched and very lit­tle wa­ter left in reser­voirs. Shekhar said the cri­sis has been in the mak­ing for many years as tra­di­tional ponds and wa­ter bod­ies have not been main­tained, while in­dus­trial de­mand along with wa­ter-in­ten­sive agri­cul­ture had rav­aged ground­wa­ter re­serves.

In Ma­ha­rash­tra, one of the worst-af­fected states, wa­ter is be­ing trans­ported by train to parched ar­eas, and a de­bate is rag­ing over us­ing it for ir­ri­gat­ing sug­ar­cane or in pro­cesses such as mak­ing beer-mak­ing rather than sav­ing what’s left for drink­ing pur­poses.

Mea­sures to mit­i­gate scarcity head govt’s agenda as two failed mon­soons have left many parts of the country parched

A max­i­mum tem­per­a­ture of 46 de­grees Cel­sius was recorded at Tit­la­garh in Odisha, with the In­dia Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal De­part­ment fore­cast­ing heat­wave con­di­tions per­sist­ing over the next week or so.


Shekhar said drip ir­ri­ga­tion was nec­es­sary to cur­tail de­mand and the govern­ment had to sup­port farm­ers in this ef­fort. “So I am say­ing that if you ask farm­ers to take such a risk of sprin­kler, drip ir­ri­ga­tion, change in crop pat­tern, it be­comes dif­fi­cult,” he said. “They don’t have that type of money to take that sort of risk. So the govern­ment will have to come to take that re­spon­si­bil­ity. When peo­ple see de­vel­op­ment and in­come ris­ing they will fol­low.”

He said sim­i­lar steps had suc­ceeded in Greece, where the govern­ment had fully funded a drip ir­ri­ga­tion pro­gramme and paid for seeds, re­cov­er­ing 10% of the amount from the sale of toma­toes in the first year. In the fol­low­ing years, the govern­ment con­tin­ued with 100% fund­ing but grad­u­ally in­creased the amount it re­cov­ered from the sale of pro­duce un­til the mar­ket took over and the area de­vel­oped.

Wa­ter-man­age­ment ini­tia­tives will be launched in Ma­ha­rash­tra, Haryana, Gu­jarat, Ra­jasthan and Kar­nataka, he said.

“It is the first time we are mov­ing away from the sup­ply side. We are go­ing to the de­mand side which is the prob­lem,” Shekhar said. “How you change the mind­set of farm­ers, in­cen­tivise them to move away from wa­ter-guz­zling crops, take them to the de­vel­op­ment process and see ev­ery­one gets eq­ui­table dis­tri­bu­tion of wa­ter is what we will work on. It is right now in pipe­line and Cabi­net clear­ance will take place. Hope­fully by the end of this year we should start the project.”


The govern­ment also plans to amend ground­wa­ter rules, which spec­ify re­stric­tions that kick in af­ter a re­gion is de­clared a ‘dark zone,’ a term for highly stressed ar­eas where the ground­wa­ter is de­plet­ing faster than it is recharged. In a dark zone, drilling of wells and use of elec­tric­ity to pump out wa­ter is reg­u­lated. How­ever, the dec­la­ra­tion of such zones faces op­po­si­tion. Shekhar said the ru- les would be amended so that re­stric­tions are trig­gered au­to­mat­i­cally af­ter a thresh­old is crossed. Wa­ter man­age­ment is pri­mar­ily a state sub­ject, leav­ing lit­tle room for the Cen­tre to in­ter­vene but the govern­ment plans to en­act a model law for wa­ter con­ser­va­tion. “We are mak­ing a model law which will be ready in next 15 days,” he said. “Model law is a frame­work which means we send it to a state and they may or may not agree (to im­ple­ment it). When we talk about river-basin man­age­ment, it has to be en­tire basin ap­proach, the al­lo­ca­tion, the river’s econ­omy, river health. We have com­pletely ig­nored rivers’ health. All rivers are dry. If rivers don’t flow they don’t recharge the ground wa­ter.”

In the model law, ground wa­ter should be given greater im­por­tance than sur­face wa­ter, he said.

“That is what will give us re­silience against cli­mate change. That is what will hold wa­ter for 365 days,” he said, adding that “85% of drink­ing wa­ter comes from ground wa­ter. Un­for­tu­nately in our de­vel­op­ment process we ne­glected ground­wa­ter, which we thought was in plenty.”

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