One of the highlights of Government formation for a second time under the prime ministership of Narendra Modi was the creation of a new Jal Shakti Ministry. The new ministry has been mandated to synergise all activities that deal with this most critical natural resource, ranging from drinking water to irrigation to maintaining adequate levels in water bodies spread across the country, in the plains, hills and forests.
The new ministry has been created through the merger of the earlier Water Resources and Drinking Water and Sanitation portfolios. Its jurisdiction will also encompass the ambitious Namami Gange project, water-related disputes (both national and international).
A collaborative project –
A complete integration could take some time, as various ministries are involved in the task. For instance, urban water supply is handled by the Ministry of Urban Development, whereas the conservation of most rivers is managed by the Ministry of Forests. Water projects for irrigation needs are handled by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Namami Gange –
- The Rs 20,000 crore Namami Gange had been launched during the first tenure of the Modi regime with an aim to clean the river Ganga by 2020.
- As many as 20 Memorandums of Understanding had been inked with various other ministries in a bid to synergise the activities for the common purpose.
- A National Mission for Clean Ganga had been activated and a National Ganga Council with the Prime Minister as its head was established. States were also incorporated into the project through what were camped the State Programme Management Groups.
- An Empowered Task forced headed by the Union Minister for Water Resources was also established.
- While the Namami Gange project has achieved considerable success, from all accounts a great deal could not be done.
- Issues of sewage treatment, restoring the flow of water, and the control of sludge remain unaddressed in large parts of the country serviced by the river.
- Besides, there has been the matter of cost overruns.
- One of the reasons why Namami Gange has not worked to its potential is the failure of coordination between various ministries and agencies involved in the project. The creation of the Jal Shakti Ministry should be able to tackle this lacuna.
Water crisis –
- According to a recent World Bank report, availability of water in the country has fallen nearly 400 per cent in the last 60 years. Other reports forecast that more than 600 million Indians will face an acute water shortage in the coming decade; 21 cities would be so stressed that they would face a shutdown.
- Already, one in four Indians in rural India does not have access to adequate volume (40 litres per person per day) of clean water.
- The capita availability has been declining since 2000; it was 1.82 million litres per day and has now slumped to 1.45 million.
- Towards the middle of 2018, the Niti Aayog had released the results of a study which warned that demand would outstrip supply for potable water by 2030 if steps were not immediately taken to meet the challenge head-on.
- The report added that 21 cities, including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad, would run out of groundwater by 2020, impacting about 100 million people.
- All of these put together, the findings said, would result in a six per cent loss in the country’s gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2050.
- The Niti Aayog report said that roundwater resources, which account for 40 per cent of the country’s water supply, were being depleted at “unsustainable” rates. Satellite data put out by NASA indicate that India’s water table continues to decline at an alarming rate — 0.3 metre per year. At this level, the country will have just 22 per cent of the present daily per capita water available in 2050.
What should be done?
- While big dams have served a purpose — and continue to do so — there is an acute need to develop small water bodies in river basins.
- The World Bank, in its report titled, ‘India’s Water Economy: Bracing for a Turbulent Future (2006)’, dams in India have a capacity to store only about 30 days of rainfall, whereas river basins in arid areas developed nations can store up to 900 days of rainfall.
- The country, thus, needs, more of small water bodies (tanks, for instance).
- It is obvious to even a cursory observer of the subject that besides enhanced storage facilities, demand-and-supply management holds the key to warding off the looming crisis. This is especially true in the agricultural sector, which consumes over 85 per cent of the water available in the country.
- Experts have been talking of the need for a shift from water-intensive crops to less water-consuming ones, and from traditional means of irrigation to the drip irrigation system.
Source – VIF India
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