Management of water in India: Assessment of efforts

VK Bahuguna

September 9, 2020, 09:13:13   

(The writer is a former civil servant)
Water is the fundamental requirement for sustaining life, agriculture and overall economy. It is vital for the sanitation of rural and urban life as well as Industries. With the rise in population and diversified use of water coupled with deforestation and increasing climatic vagaries, the fresh water sources are under tremendous pressure all over the globe. During the past 100 years there has been six to seven fold increases in the demand of fresh water. However, at the macro level though the availability of fresh water is constant, at the micro level due to over exploitation and indiscriminate use, lop sided planning in human settlements, changes in hydrological cycle and pollution, the water resources are dwindling very fast. Though we have plenty of rainfall in India for the aquifers to recharge the rain water but it is unevenly distributed and unsustainably used to meet the demand for agriculture and industry and according to the Central Ground Water Board more than 70 percent districts are water stressed and many cities and towns are critical from the point of view of availability of safe drinking water. And on top of this 70 percent of agriculture is using ground water. In nutshell, the Blue as well as green water management has been suffering a lot in the country.

Many experts' reports have been raising red flags about the impending water crisis for the last many years but the various government bodies have made fragmentary attempts which did not bring much relief at the ground level. One classical case of failure was the watershed scheme which succeeded in very small patches and that too with the help of people in villages who were feeling the pinch of scarcity. One such example was in Hiware bazaar in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra where community based water management tremendously boosted the agriculture and milk production winning back the people who migrated to Mumbai after recurrent drought in search of livelihood.
As a major initiative, after winning the General Election in 2019 Prime Minister Modi created the Jal Shakti Ministry to seriously tackle the water scarcity in the country in a focussed and planned manner. In his address from the ramparts of Red Fort on 15th August 2019 he announced launching of Jal Jeevan Mission (Har ghar Jal) with a projected expenditure of more than 3.5 lakh crore. The Jal Shakti Ministry for the first time is dealing with most matters relating to water in different Ministries in an integrated manner. This writer had reviewed the one years working of the Ministry and found it worth communicating what has been achieved for the general benefit of masses. The first priority of the Ministry was to ensure potable water to 15.70 crore household (out of 18.93 Crore households in the country only 3.23 Crore were having the tap water in 2019). It was started as a peoples programme and involved people in water resources management at every level from supply to reuse to recharge. The guidelines issued under the Jal Jeevan Mission stressed on service delivery and involved the people at every step of its execution. The Gram Panchayats, Self Help Groups and NGOs and Village Water & Sanitation Committees, Paani Samities were involved in planning, implementing, managing, operating and maintaining their own water supply system. This bottom up innovative approach has started paying and so far during the last one year 84.84 lakh households were provided with tap water connections. The programme is picking up fast as now one lakh families are being covered daily. By all means a fantastic achievement.

The Ministry during 2019-2020, provided with safe drinking water to 71 Lakh people in Arsenic contaminated areas and 5.35 Lakh people in Fluoride contaminated areas as these peoples were suffering for past many years. One of the innovative technologies to monitor the water supply and use was the use of 'Sensor based IoT solution' (Internet of Things a unique amalgamations of machines, animals based on interconnected data) in which a smart water meter tracks the quality, to monitor regularity of water supply, quantity and quality of water. It also tracks the flow across the entire distribution channels and thus helps in checking leakage and minimise wastage of water. According to a statemement of Minister Mr Shekhawat  during the post covid period  Thirty-two lakh households were provided with piped water in the post-lockdown period by July 28th 2020 under the Jal Jeevan Mission, which also helped creating employment for over 42,000 people in six states,

The Ministry had under the Jal Shakti Abhiyan have started a massive water conservation movement with the help of communities in 1,592 water stressed blocks in 256 districts. It focused on water conservation through rain water harvesting, renovation of tradition al water bodies, renovating and maintaining the bore wells and watershed management and afforestation activities. The experts of ground water are working in most of the water stressed districts of the country. One of the most outstanding achievements of Modi government was in the Swatch Bharat mission. From 40% sanitation coverage in 2014 in just five years total sanitation was achieved. More than 6 lakh villages were declared open defecation free and 60 core people were helped with more than 10 crore toilet constructed. In the phase two the objective is to consolidate and perpetuate the gains including waste management. Under the PM's Krishi Sinchai Scheme more than 21.7 lakh hectares irrigation was ensured during the last three years.  

Apart from this the innovations and international cooperation on water management need to be pursued vigorously. However, a major shift is necessary to revamp the forest management with water management in order to ensure water in our aquifers, dams and rivers and without integrating forestry with water management the goals of climate change cannot be achieved. The additional benefit will be in the form of regeneration of Minor Forest Produce primarily the animal foods and medicinal plants. There is no better time to focus on changing the objectives in covid times. Will Environment Minister Mr Prakash Javadekar take initiative?  


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