Commodity Analysis

A damp squib for rural India

Rajalakshmi Nirmal | Updated on July 07, 2019 Published on July 07, 2019

Allocation for the Rural Water Mission is up, but is that all the country needs?

Disappointing. That’s the one word the stressed farm sector has for the Budget.

Given the parched lands across the country, the Budget was expected to come up with measures to address the severe water crisis.

But the Finance Minister left it all to the Ministry of Jal Shakti, created about a month back by merging the Ministry of Water Resources and the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.

The Ministry recently circulated a Model Bill to all the States/UTs, urging them to enact ground water legislation to enable regulation and development of this resource, including the provision of rain water harvesting.

So far, 15 States/UTs have adopted and implemented legislation on the lines of the Model Bill.

There is no information available publicly on the details of the Bill.

The Ministry also launched Jal Shakti Abhiyan, a people’s movement to increase awareness on water conservation in 256 water-stressed districts across the country.

But, is this all that’s needed to solve the country’s water problem?

People were expecting the Budget to spell out measures to check the reckless use of water (such as mandating the metering of water use) and a significantly higher spend on water conservation programmes. But no such announcements were made.

Over the the past two months there has been a severe shortage of drinking water across major cities in the country. Though the situation has improved now, thanks to the monsoon picking up pace, the scenario was grave till last month. Consider this: In the beginning of June, the volume of water in the 91 reservoirs across the country that are tracked by the Central Water Commission was just 30.46 billion cubic metres, or 19 per cent of their total storage capacity. By June 20, the water level further dropped to 27.26 billion cubic metres. In the West and the South, the levels stood at a mere 10 per cent.

 

 

State governments thus had to ration water to city dwellers and people turned to bore wells. However, even new bore wells that went as deep as 500-600 feet did not always guarantee water supply. The situation turned dire in villages, too. With canals drying up and bore wells failing, farmers could not start kharif sowing. Neither could they feed their cattle or run their households.

Little action

This is not the first time that India has seen the late onset of monsoon. But since it follows two years of below-normal monsoon rains with groundwater not being recharged sufficiently, the situation has turned dire.

However, it is not just poor rainfall that is to blame for the drying up of aquifers; it is also the excessive abstraction of groundwater over time. Data compiled over the past few years indicate India is heading towards a severe water crisis.

A 2011 Unesco report said India tops the list of 10 countries where 72 per cent of the world’s groundwater abstraction takes place. India’s Central Ground Water Board, too, at regular intervals, has been highlighting the falling groundwater levels. In its report in 2013, it said that, across States, many districts have slipped to the ‘over exploited’ zone in groundwater.

But neither the Centre nor the States took the warnings seriously.

For years after the formulation of the National Water Policy, 2012, no action was taken to check groundwater depletion. States continued to supply free power for agriculture.

While some States did work hard on water conservation programmes, the Central allocation for new irrigation projects remained poor.

Year after year, the minimum support price (MSP) has been hiked for water-intensive crops, putting further stress on groundwater.

While the National Rural Drinking Water Mission saw a jump in allocation in the Budget to ₹10,000 crore for 2019-20 (against ₹5,500 crore in 2018-19 and ₹8,200 crore allocated in the interim budget) to facilitate piped water for all, the increase in funding for the PM Krishi Sinchayee Yojana was not much.

 

 

At the time of launch, the scheme was to receive about ₹10,000 crore a year for five years; but to date the target has not been met in any year. In 2018-19, ₹8,406 crore was spent under the scheme, which was 87 per cent of the allocation. For 2019-20, the total allocation is ₹9,842 crore.

It needs mention here that after several years of efforts to create more irrigation facilities, less than half the country’s net sown area is irrigated.

There has been very slow progress in completion of irrigation projects under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme.

Ending sops

Funding aside, solving the country’s water crisis requires mettle to end incentive programmes that have resulted in the reckless use of water.

It requires the ending of subsidies on power, promoting non-water-intensive crops through marketing support, and effective State participation to conserve water.

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