Water crisis acquires dangerous dimension; ‘Jalshakti’ word alone cannot solve problems

Water management needs much more than restructuring and renaming to form a new ministry given the dismal record of the states as shown in the Composite Water Management Index prepared by NITI Aayog

Representative Image
Representative Image

Gyan Pathak/IPA

India’s highest ever temperature was recorded in May 2016 in Phalodi in Rajasthan with mercury touching 51 degree Celsius. A severe water crisis was reported at that time. The thermometer hit 50.6 degree Celsius last weekend in Churu in the same state.

A more severe water crisis is being reported. Situation has been worsening with passing of every year in almost the whole country. After five years of Modi’s rule, he has succeeded in only renaming the ministry dealing with the water resources. The new name is Jalshakti, a word which alone cannot solve the ever rising problem unless supported by effective plan of action and its timely implementation.

Every year during the summer, reports of severe water crisis from almost all areas of the country pour in mentioning drying up of wells, lakes, and rivers along with depletion of underground water. The Union and the state governments announce several measures to tackle the crisis. Then comes the monsoon and most of the announced measures are forgotten. Only a handful of measures are implemented, most of them betray the ad-hocism of the governments.

In the last five years, we have been listening about Modi’s good intentions, ideas, plans, and action plans. When time came to implement the action plans in the right earnest he went into election mode. Only after his election for the second term a new Ministry of Jalshakti has been created under a full-fledged cabinet minister by merging the Ministry of Water Resources and Drinking Water and Sanitation.

The departments of River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation will also be under the new ministry. It goes without saying that the government is too slow with its faulty planning, and the ever rising crisis is its proof.

Miseries of wildlife due to drying up of rivers and rivulets are yet to find voice. We can just imagine its dimension. Even reports on implication of water crisis and climate change on domesticated livestock and human beings have been finding a little space compared to the prominent publicity of dirty politics and other trivial issues. It is despite the fact that India is likely to lose 16.5% of GDP on account of climate change, and 6% on account of water crisis alone. ‘More crop per drop’ has by and large remained a slogan.

How much people and livestock are suffering can be imagined by going through the reported cases in the past few weeks. One of the reports from Beed in Maharashtra said that situation has been dramatically worsening for the last five years. There is no drinking water available for days, and a tanker comes every three days for the entire village.

People are scared for their life and livelihoods. A report coming from the Thar desert area of Rajasthan said the villagers are compelled to purchase water from private supplier for themselves and their cattle to the tune of ₹2500 for 2500 litres. If supply of water is possible by private parties, what prevents the government to supply the same? It’s a shame on government. Has the water crisis been kept with the intent of money making?

How hopeless are people can be assessed by a report from Tamil Nadu which said that the government has ordered all government funded temples to hold ‘yagyas’ to appease Rain God and get musicians to play Carnatic ragas welcoming rains. People are simply misled. Governments cannot make rains is true, but it is also true that the governments can lessen the dependence on rain and effectively reduce the water shortage.

In Karnataka also, temples under Muzrai are asked to perform ‘parjanya japa’ in the Brahma Muhurta. Reports like this are pouring in from every part of the country, and people are performing yagyas.Why should common people sing raga Malhar and perform yagyas etc for solving their water crisis caused by failure of the government to solve it?

The water crisis facing our country is not new. In the last one decade our water storage have registered a fall of 21%. Groundwater is depleting faster than ever before, and there is no effective mechanism in place to replenish it. About 54% of the areas are suffering from such depletion. About half of the population of the country has been adversely affected by such a crisis.

If the conditions worsen further, India is most likely to be categorized as ‘water stressed’ country by the next year which would be worst in the history of India. Twenty one cities of the country including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad are running the risk of running out of groundwater by 2020, which will affect 100 million people.

Since 40% of India’s water supply depends on groundwater, government urgently needs to take proper action, otherwise people will be in great trouble. We were using 761 billion cubic metre (BMC) of water in 2014 which included 688 BMC for agriculture against 1121 BMC of utilizable water clearly indicating poor water management. How can we tackle a demand of 1180 BMC of water by 2050?

Such a situation can be prevented only if the Union Government take this matter seriously on priority basis, and don’t take refuse in the logic that water is a state subject. It is already known that out fund starved state governments cannot successfully prevent worsening of the crisis on their own.

Performance of the states is very bad and Modi’s flagship programme to supply piped water to every household by 2024 is also not satisfactory. Water management needs much more than restructuring and renaming to form a new ministry given the dismal record of the states as shown in the Composite Water Management Index prepared by the NITI Aayog.

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