Road Ra­jya


India Today - - CONTENTS - By Amar­nath K. Menon

The Modi gov­ern­ment scores on al­most all so­cial in­di­ca­tors, ex­cept wa­ter avail­abil­ity

BUOYED BY A COM­MAND­ING MA­JOR­ITY in the Lok Sabha and the tactical sup­port from friendly op­po­si­tion par­ties in the Ra­jya Sabha, the Naren­dra Modi gov­ern­ment has been on a leg­isla­tive over­drive, chas­ing so­cial goals to en­sure sus­tain­able growth is a tad eas­ier. So even though not all mea­sures are backed by bud­getary in­tent, there is a per­cep­tion that things have im­proved, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas. The MOTN sur­vey shows that this is es­pe­cially true for the avail­abil­ity of potable wa­ter as well as for ir­ri­ga­tion, power and the con­di­tion of roads. Peo­ple say these have im­proved strik­ingly in the past two years.

The re­con­sti­tu­tion of wa­ter-re­lated de­part­ments into the newly named Jal Shakti min­istry dis­plays a re­solve to address the coun­try’s wa­ter woes. Prime Min­is­ter Modi has pledged to make wa­ter con­ser­va­tion a mass move­ment on the lines of the Swachh Bharat clean­li­ness cam­paign. To walk the talk on this is a daunt­ing task, for the cri­sis lies more in the mis­man­age­ment of wa­ter.

Per capita avail­abil­ity is on the de­cline but con­sump­tion by ir­ri­ga­tion and in­dus­try, in­clud­ing wa­ter-guz­zling ther­mal plants, re­mains high. The area un­der ir­ri­ga­tion has in­creased but still cov­ers only half the sown area. That 24 mil­lion hectares is still to be ir­ri­gated re­flects the fail­ure of ir­ri­ga­tion out­comes over the decades. The use

of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and weather tech­nol­ogy-driven so­lu­tions, though still a nascent ini­tia­tive, seem promis­ing. The new push for zero-bud­get nat­u­ral farm­ing is ap­peal­ing to farm­ers but is yet to prove its eco­nomic vi­a­bil­ity. Mean­while, in­dus­try con­tin­ues to guz­zle wa­ter.

The warn­ing bells are ring­ing. In a cou­ple of years, 21 ma­jor In­dian cities could run out of ground­wa­ter. Chennai is al­ready there and Ben­galuru and Delhi are not far be­hind. The NITI Aayog is work­ing on a de­tailed plan list­ing var­i­ous tech­nolo­gies that can be used in dif­fer­ent states to de­sali­nate sea wa­ter. The Jal Shakti Ab­hiyan tar­gets har­vest­ing rain­wa­ter in over 1,590 wa­ter-stressed blocks of 256 crit­i­cally wa­ter-starved dis­tricts. Har Ghar Jal to pro­vide piped wa­ter to 190 mil­lion house­holds is far more am­bi­tious and eight times larger than the Saub­hagya scheme that promised con­nec­tiv­ity to the elec­tri­cal grid to about 25 mil­lion house­holds.

Re­duce and re­use’ are still to emerge as the watch­words in wa­ter man­age­ment. Also not clear is where the money for all these am­bi­tious projects will come from. The decade-old pro­posal for an Ir­ri­ga­tion and Wa­ter Re­sources Fi­nance Cor­po­ra­tion is be­ing re­vived, which holds prom­ise. Wa­ter be­ing a state sub­ject also ham­pers sweep­ing re­forms. The Jal Shakti min­istry will have to per­suade the states to get their act to­gether in terms of prag­matic so­lu­tions to wa­ter shar­ing and man­age­ment is­sues.

Be it avail­abil­ity of elec­tric­ity, LPG un­der the Ujjwala scheme, roads, toi­lets or con­struc­tion of homes un­der the Prad­han Mantri Awas Yo­jana, the MOTN points to im­proved recog­ni­tion and pos­i­tive per­cep­tion. The find­ings are sim­i­lar with the con­di­tions of dis­ad­van­taged groups since Modi as­sumed of­fice in 2014. The al­tered per­cep­tions are partly pro­pelled by the ini­tia­tives in the states. Thrice in the past five years, Ma­ha­rash­tra had at­tempted to in­clude Marathas in the so­cially and ed­u­ca­tion­ally back­ward com­mu­ni­ties though it was re­peat­edly struck down by the courts. It fi­nally hap­pened in June this year.

In an­other BJP-ruled state, the most pop­u­lous Ut­tar Pradesh, the gov­ern­ment has at­tempted to ex­tend the ben­e­fits avail­able to Sched­uled Castes to 17 castes listed un­der the Other Back­ward Classes though this too has no legal ba­sis. It is also trig­ger­ing a call for a par­a­digm shift—the Supreme Court is now ex­am­in­ing a public in­ter­est pe­ti­tion that says a com­mu­nity should be granted reser­va­tion based on its pop­u­la­tion in a state and not in the en­tire coun­try as is the cur­rent prac­tice. This cou­pled with In­dia’s shift­ing pop­u­la­tion pro­file points to fu­ture de­mo­graphic shocks.

A ru­ral NEW DI­REC­TION road in Bun­delk­hand, UP

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