As a parched India awaits the monsoon showers with bated breath, it continues to battle the severe consequences of its water crisis – manifest in blistering drought. Wells and taps are running dry, crops are failing and now it is a matter of survival for 600 million people across the country facing acute water shortages. There is not much hope in the near future because of a delayed monsoon season yielding below-average rainfall.
As of June 2nd, 2019, more than 56.4 percent of the country was reeling under drought, according to the Drought Early Warning System (DEWS), a real-time drought monitoring platform. The worst-hit states are Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. As groundwater resources continue to deplete, water levels in India’s 91 major reservoirs have plummeted to twenty percent of their capacity – the lowest in a decade.
“By 2030, India’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply. By 2050, the water requirement in a high use scenario is likely to be a milder 1,180 billion cubic metrics (BCM), whereas the present-day availability is 695 BCM. The total availability of water possible in the country is still lower than this projected demand, at 1,137 BCM. This may lead to an eventual loss of approximately six percent of GDP.”
A water report released by the central government think tank, Niti Aayog, elaborates how dangerously alarming the situation is. It may even form the underpinning for the newly formed Jal Shakti (Water Power) Ministry which aims to provide drinking water to every household by 2024 as part of the ‘Nal se Jal’ (‘Water from Tap’) scheme.
The report puts the water crisis into numbers, which only get worse by the day. It anticipates that, by 2030, India’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply. By 2050, the water requirement in a high use scenario is likely to be a milder 1,180 billion cubic metrics (BCM), whereas the present-day availability is 695 BCM. The total availability of water possible in the country is still lower than this projected demand, at 1,137 BCM. This may lead to an eventual loss of approximately six percent of GDP.
Most states have achieved less than fifty percent of the total score in the augmentation of groundwater resources, highlighting the growing national crisis. 54 percent of India’s groundwater wells are declining, and 21 major cities are expected to run out of groundwater as soon as 2020, affecting approximately 100 million people. Already, as previously reported by Health Issues India, one billion Indians live without water for at least one part of the year.
India holds about four percent of global freshwater and sixteen percent of its population. With nearly seventy percent of water contaminated, India ranks 120th of 122 countries in a global water quality index, the Niti Aayog report noted.
A gigantic task has been laid out for the water ministry. Can it solve the water crisis?
“Reorganisation of departments is a good start but a multi-sector approach is required to address the country’s water crisis.”
The central government has merged the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation to form the Ministry of ‘Jal Shakti’ . The new ministry is led by BJP leader Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.
The Wire quoted experts saying that reorganisation of departments is a good start but a multi-sector approach is required to address the country’s water crisis. “Changing the name of the ministry won’t make a difference. What is lacking in India is a proper water governance structure. Water sector reforms that are needed are not taking place. We need a multi-sector approach at the national level to address water issues,” opined Pradeep Purandare, a retired associate professor from Aurangabad-based Water and Land Management Institute in Maharashtra.
Niti Aayog identify nine key areas that require significant improvements
- Source augmentation and restoration of water bodies
- Source augmentation (Groundwater)
- Major and medium irrigation—Supply side management
- Watershed development—Supply side management
- Participatory irrigation practices—Demand side management
- Sustainable on-farm water use practices—Demand side management
- Rural drinking water
- Urban water supply and sanitation
- Policy and governance
The report states, for efficient water governance, data generated by the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) is a major step towards successful water resource management in India. It can encourage ‘competitive and cooperative federalism’ through is ranking and scoring.
“Even though environmentalists prefer indigenous solutions to tackle the crisis and claim interstate linking would only be disastrous, the government needs to make prudent decisions to tackle the crisis at the earliest.”
In its manifesto, the BJP had talked about reviving former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s dream project – interlinking of rivers – to solve the water crisis. The programme aims to interlink thirty rivers across the country through 9000 miles of concrete canals. $2.25 billion has been earmarked for the project. There are fifteen such projects in Maharashtra, four in Gujarat, three in Jharkhand, six in Bihar, two in Rajasthan, six in Karnataka and one each in Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu.
The overall implementation of the Interlinking of Rivers programme would provide 35 million hectares of water for irrigation, raising the ultimate irrigation potential from 140 million to 175 million, and generation of 34000 MW of hydropower. Other incidental benefits include flood control, navigation, water supply, fisheries, salinity and pollution control.
Work for the first project, Ken-Betwa interlinking, has already begun. The water of Ken river, flowing through the heart of the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh, will be siphoned off to the now-dry Betwa river. The two rivers will be joined by 144 miles long canals. Environmentalists are not happy as the initiative endangers the Panna National Park, one of India’s reserves for endangered tigers.
Commenting on whether interstate river linking is a fruitful exercise, Triyugi Prasad, an ex-faculty member of the Civil Engineering Department of Patna University, told Down To Earth, “If the transfer is from one basin to another adjacent basin then the environmental impact is minimal. However, if the interlinking channel crosses one different channel in between, the transfer is not advisable.”
Even though environmentalists prefer indigenous solutions to tackle the crisis and claim interstate linking would only be disastrous, the government needs to make prudent decisions to tackle the crisis at the earliest. Drastic measures need to be taken to provide immediate and long-term relief to the rural population, which is battling a double whammy – quenching their thirst and irrigating their land, as the water crisis continues to take shape.