There was some delay in arrival of monsoon in India this year. This delay gave rise to water crisis in many parts of India. The situation in Maharashtra and Chennai was more appalling in this. This situation is pointing to the water crisis that is taking birth in India slowly. Till now the governments of the country have not been able to make any serious efforts to conserve water and prevent its misuse. It is believed that if the situation is not rectified, India may face a severe water crisis in the coming years, a water emergency was announced in a city in South Africa shortly before. A similar situation was seen in the context of Chennai. In the above context, water conservation has emerged as a very important question for India, which needs to be resolved in time.
In this scenario, it is not surprising that in his ‘Mann ki Baat’ address before his second term, the Indian Prime Minister focused on this topic, one by one, to save water and conserve water on the lines of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, a broad mass movement Called for making. Earlier, through the ‘Nal to Jal’ program, they have already expressed their commitment to supply tap water to every household in the country by 2024. These are commendable efforts of the government and it is expected that with time its quality results will come out.
But in this context it will also be relevant to consider how we have reached this present crisis and how best we can come out of this crisis for sustainable use of water in the country.
Water situation in india
If we consider some facts of water availability and use in India, only 4 percent of the global fresh water source exists in India, which has to provide water to 18 percent (Indian population) of the global population. According to the Central Water Commission, in the year 2010, 78 percent of the total fresh water sources in the country were being used for irrigation, which will remain at the level of about 68 percent till 2050. In the year 2010, their quantity in domestic use was 6 percent which will increase to 9.5 percent by the year 2050. Thus the agricultural sector in India will remain the largest user of water so that sufficient food, fodder and fiber can be produced for the future. This shows that unless this area is not efficient in terms of water supply and use, a lot of improvement cannot be expected.
Irrigated area in India
About half of India’s 198 million hectare crop area is irrigated. Ground water (63 percent) is used as the primary source for irrigation, while canals (24 percent), water tanks / tanks (2 percent) and other sources (11 percent) also contribute to it. Thus, the real burden of irrigation in Indian agriculture is on ground water, driven by private investment of farmers.
Underground water exploitation
No effective regulation of groundwater management exists. The policy of cheap or free power supply for irrigation has given rise to a chaos regarding the use of ground water. On the one hand, due to the electricity subsidy given to agriculture on the one hand, the Indian treasury has to bear a burden of Rs 70,000 crore per year, on the other hand the ground water level is going down drastically. The overall situation is that 1,592 blocks of 256 districts have reached a critical or over-absorbed state of ground water. In areas like Punjab, ground water level is decreasing by 1 meter per year and this process has been going on for almost two decades. About 80 percent of the blocks in Punjab have reached a critical or over-absorbed state of ground water. This scenario reveals our inattention and short-sightedness, as well as the violation of water rights of generations to come.
Paddy and sugarcane are water-intensive crops that use up to 60 percent of India’s total irrigation water. The production of one kilogram of rice in Punjab consumes 5,000 liters of water and Maharashtra requires 2,300 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of sugar. However, there is also a variation in estimates regarding the water used by crops, evaporated water and re-added water. Traditionally, sugarcane cultivation centers used to be eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar about a hundred years ago, while paddy cultivation was mainly in eastern and southern India where there was enough rainfall and plenty of water. Due to new technology and commercial benefits, rain intensive farming has started in places like Maharashtra where there is less rainfall than expected.
Other causes of water scarcity
- Unplanned urbanization has also increased the problem of water. Urbanization groundwater feeding techniques were not used in India. Efforts were made to supply water only through ground water. On the one hand urbanization ruined the natural water supply, on the other hand no new technology was developed.
- Efficient sewage systems in India were ignored. Currently, sewage is connected to natural water sources in most parts of the country. This has led to a double problem. On the one hand, the water present in the sewage system is not being recycled so that this water can be used for secondary use, while on the other hand these natural water sources are also suffering from malnutrition and pollution due to the linkage of sewage to natural water resources.
- Safety of water sources was not taken care of during the period of establishment of industries and factories in India. Most of the factories which are related to chemical industry and leather have been set up along river banks. At present, pollution in the Ganges and Yamuna rivers is the result of such factories. Such lifesaving rivers that can overcome the problem of water and irrigation of a large geographical area, their water is not potable.
- In countries like India, where 18 percent of the world population is dependent on only 4 percent water, technologies like rainwater harvesting are rarely used. The unscientific use of water in residential houses is an important factor in water scarcity in India.
No efforts have been made in the past by any government for rationalization of pricing of electricity for agriculture. Technological solutions like drip irrigation, sprinkler, etc. will not be more effective unless policies are put on the right track. Israel probably has the best water technology and management systems in the world, including programs ranging from drip irrigation to non-salinity and recycling of urban wastewater for use in agriculture. In his visit to Israel, the Indian Prime Minister had expressed a vision of cooperation on the solution of the country’s water crisis. But it is also clear that only technology cannot bring more success, for this, other governmental efforts, such as pricing of electricity and use of water in irrigation will have to be adopted.
- One possible solution could be to encourage farmers who save water and electricity for irrigation by giving them cash prizes.
- By considering the current power consumption level as standard, farmers who install meters and save at the current level of consumption can be rewarded.
- In Punjab, farmers producing water-sparse crops such as maize or soyabean during the kharif season can be encouraged by giving income support (like Rs 15,000 per hectare). This will not only save electricity subsidy, but will also contribute to the ground water level.
- There is a need to reduce the paddy cultivation area in Punjab / Haryana by at least 1 million hectares and transfer it to eastern India. There is a need to increase paddy procurement facilities in Eastern India under the Public Distribution System and to discourage their purchase from Punjab / Haryana.
- There is a need to control sugarcane cultivation in Maharashtra-Karnataka belt and expand it in Uttar Pradesh-Bihar belt.
- With the development of new Co 0238 (Karan 4) varieties (where the yield rate is more than 10.5 per cent) there is an increased possibility that ethanol can be produced from sugarcane in this strip.
- A strategy can be made to improve the health of natural water sources.
- There is a need to develop infrastructure for recycling of sewage water so that the secondary use of such water can be ensured.
- The government should make rainwater harvesting system mandatory in all the houses by making such a policy.
- In India, rainfall occurs at a certain time of the year, as a result of which the rainwater gets converted into flood or waterlogging. The government can prevent desiltation by reducing sediments through a comprehensive policy, as well as increasing the water storage capacity of natural water bodies.
It is known that water is already available in small proportion in India. India’s unscientific agricultural policy and rapid exploitation of ground water have made the situation even more frightening. The newly elected government of India has made some efforts to deal with the water crisis that may arise in the future. But given the seriousness of the situation, these efforts may prove inadequate. India has to give it the form of a movement to deal with the water crisis. Inspired by the success of Swachh Bharat Mission, similar efforts will have to be made in the field of water. On the strength of strong will and effective policy, India can be elevated from the biggest crisis. While executing these efforts, India will have to give priority to the agriculture sector, because most of the water is being used in the agriculture sector itself, which also has great possibilities to reduce it. For this, India can also take help of dry farming techniques and Israel. Due to extensive efforts by the government and public participation, India can deal with the situation of water crisis.
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