[Answered]“In the absence of scientific planning and implementation, measures like Jal Shakti Abhiyan may not be successful.” Discuss in the light of looming water crisis across India.

Demand of the question

Introduction. Contextual introduction.

Body. Discuss about water crisis in India. Mention about Jal Shakti Abhiyan and various issues in it.

Conclusion. Way forward.

Following the massive water crisis across India, the Central Government has launched the Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA), a time-bound, mission-mode water conservation campaign. This campaign aims to make water conservation a ‘people’s movement’ through ongoing schemes like the MGNREGA and other government programmes.

Water crisis:

  1. According to the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) report released by the Niti Aayog in 2018, 21 major cities (Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and others) are racing to reach zero groundwater levels by 2020, affecting access to 100 million people. India is under the water stress category as its per capita water consumption is belo 1700cum annually according to Central water commission.
  2. Regardless of improvements to drinking water, many other water sources are contaminated with both bio and chemical pollutants, and over 21% of the country’s diseases are water-related.
  3. Furthermore, only 33% of the country has access to traditional sanitation. This leads to unavailability of clean drinking water and endangers Indian population’s health.
  4. India’s water crisis is often attributed to lack of government planning, increased corporate privatisation, industrial and human waste and government corruption. In addition, water scarcity in India is expected to worsen as the overall population is expected to increase to 1.6 billion by the year 2050. To that end, global water scarcity is expected to become a leading cause of conflict in the future.

AboutJal Shakti Abhiyan:

  1. It is a time-bound, mission-mode campaign that would focus on 1,592 “water-stressed” blocks in 257 districts.
  2. Jal Shakti Abhiyan is a collaborative effort of various Ministries of the Government of India and State Governments, being coordinated by the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation.
  3. Under the campaign, teams of officers from the central government will visit and work with district administration in water stressed blocks, to ensure five important water conservation interventions.
  4. These will be water conservation and rainwater harvesting, renovation of traditional and other water bodies/tanks, reuse, bore well recharge structures, watershed development and intensive afforestation.
  5. These water conservation efforts will also be supplemented with special interventions including the development of Block and District Water Conservation Plans, promotion of efficient water use for irrigation and better choice of crops through KrishiVigyan Kendras.

Lack of scientific planning in Jal Shakti Abhiyan:

  1. JSA is planned based on the boundary of the districts, and is to be carried out under the overall supervision of a bureaucrat. This would result in the division of basins/aquifers into multiple units that follow multiple policies.
  2. There was no data on basin-wise rainfall, no analysis of run-off and groundwater maps were rarely used. As a result, one never came to know whether water harvested in a pond in a district was at the cost of water in adjoining districts.
  3. The JSA also fundamentally ignored the fact that most of India’s water-stressed basins, particularly those in the peninsular regions, are facing closure, with the demand exceeding supply. Hence, groundwater recharge happened at the cost of surface water and vice versa.
  4. JSA’s portal displays impressive data, images and statistics. But the data displayed on JSA portal do not speak anything about the pre-JSA water levels, the monthly water levels and impact of monsoon on the water levels across the 255 districts with critical and over-exploited blocks. They also don’t convey anything about the quality of the structures, their maintenance and sustainability. Even if the water levels had been measured, it is unknown whether the measurement was accurate.
  5. The assumptions of JSA are distorted. For example, it assumes that common people in rural areas are ignorant and prone to wasting water. On the contrary, they are the ones who first bear the brunt of any water crisis. The per capita water allocation to those living in rural areas is 55 litres, whereas the same for urban areas like Delhi and Bengaluru is 135-150 litres.
  6. Further, there are issues like lack of proper engineering supervision of these structures, involvement of multiple departments with less or no coordination, and limited funding under MGNREGA and other schemes.
  7. Finally, there have hardly been many efforts undertaken to dissuade farmers from growing water-intensive crops such as paddy, sugarcane, and banana, when it is widely known that agriculture consumes 80% of freshwater.

Way forward:

  1. Water planning needs to be based on hydrological units, namely river basins. Political and administrative boundaries of districts rarely coincide with the hydrological boundaries or aquifer boundaries.
  2. There is need of promoting traditional knowledge based water management and integrating it in any water management plan.
  3. There is need to encourage farmers to grow less water-intensive crops in place of water-intensive crops like rice by using irrigation methods.
  4. Co-ordination at various levels among ministries, departments and states is a must.
  5. Proper study of monsoon and its variations is needed before going for any water management plan.

India is not a water deficit country, but due to severe neglect and lack of monitoring of water resource development projects, many regions in the country face water stress from time to time. Therefore scientific water management with available supply is the need of the hour for future economic growth and development as well as for the sustenance of human life.

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