Water Availability and Sustainable Management

India is facing serious challenges in water management. In the first ‘Mann ki Baat’ of his second term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a clarion call to save every drop of water, and to make water conservation a mass movement on the lines of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

Water Availability and its Use

  • India has only 4 per cent of the global freshwater resources to quench the thirst of about 18 per cent of the world population.
  • As per the data from the Central Water Commission, of the total freshwater resources available in the country, 78 per cent was being used for irrigation in 2010 and is likely to be reduced to 68 per cent by 2050.
  • Just 6 per cent was being used for domestic use in 2010. It is likely to go up to 9.5 per cent by 2050.
  • Of about 198 million hectares of India’s gross cropped area, roughly half is irrigated.
  • The major source of this irrigation is groundwater at about 63 per cent. Canals account for 24 per cent, tanks 2 per cent and all other sources accounting for about 11 per cent.

Agriculture will remain the biggest user of water to produce enough food, feed and fibre for the foreseeable future. The real burden of irrigation for Indian agriculture lies with groundwater, driven by private investments from farmers. Unless the agricultural sector is geared to improve in terms of the supplies of and efficiency in water use, the situation is not going to improve significantly.

Over Exploitation of Ground Water

  • There is no effective regulation of groundwater in India.
  • Further, the policy of cheap or free power supply for irrigation has led to a situation of overexploitation in the use of groundwater.
  • The power subsidies to agriculture cost the exchequer roughly Rs 70,000 crore each year and on the other, this is depleting groundwater in an alarming manner.
  • About 1,592 blocks in 256 districts are either critical or overexploited. In places like Punjab, the water table is going down by almost a metre a year, and this has been going on for nearly two decades. Almost 80 per cent of the blocks in Punjab are over-exploited or critical (see graph 2).

Way Forward

Israel Model is widely talked about in recent times. Israel has the best water technologies and management systems, ranging from drips to desalinisation to recycling (87 per cent) of urban wastewater for agriculture.

But the technology cannot take one far enough unless the pricing of power and irrigation water is put on the track. But the issue of rationalisation of power pricing for agriculture is politically sensitive. No political party wants to touch the issue especially at a time India agriculture is facing a crisis like situation.

Hence a possible way would be:

  • To incentivise farmers by providing monetary rewards to farmers for saving water and power for irrigation. Farmers agreeing to get their power supply metered and saving on power consumption compared to current levels could be rewarded
  • Income support for crops that guzzle less water like maize or soyabean in the critical regions like Punjab-Haryana belt during the Kharif season.
  • Developing better procurement facilities for paddy under the PDS Eastern India and discouraged/curtailed procurement from Punjab-Haryana.
  • Containing water-sensitive crops like sugarcane in the Maharashtra-Karnataka belt and expanded it in the UP-Bihar belt.

The need of the hour is the political movement. The launch of Jal Shakti Abhiyan on the lines of Swacch Bharat Abhiyan is welcome in this direction.

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