THE MODI GOVERNMENT SCORES ON ALMOST ALL SOCIAL INDICATORS, BUT WATER SCARCITY, RESERVATIONS MAY DELIVER SHOCKS IN THE FUTURE
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