What India is doing to tackle its water crisis?

Context: Although India has 16% of the world’s population, the country possesses only 4% of the world’s freshwater resources. India is water-stressed due to changing weather patterns and repeated droughts.

But it looks like the country has finally got its act together and several measures are now in place to conserve and rejuvenate our water bodies.

What is the situation wrt water crisis in India?

In the 75 years since Independence, annual per capita availability of water has declined by 75%.

Due to encroachment, India is staring at depletion of groundwater and pollution of surface water, including vanishing water bodies – ponds, lakes, tanks, wetlands.

Provisional data from the country’s first census of water bodies shows that 2% of water bodies have been encroached.

Source: TOI
What steps are being taken to address the water crisis?

Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA) was started in 2019 as a movement for water conservation, recharge and rainwater harvesting in 256 water-stressed districts.

The JSA now covers all 740 districts in the country. States are implementing it, while the Centre provides the nudge.

The states are also preparing an inventory of water bodies, which should make encroachment in the name of building infrastructure or setting up industries difficult.

According to the fifth minor irrigation census, various water bodies in rural areas are not in use for various reasons such as non-availability of water, siltation, salinity etc. With water bodies vanishing or becoming unusable, the Centre has decided to build 50,000 water bodies – Amrit Sarovar – across the country by August 15 next year to conserve water.

The initiative aims to develop and rejuvenate 75 water bodies in each district as part of ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ (75 years of Independence) celebrations. The project seeks to refocus various schemes, including MGNREGS and Watershed Development Component.

Issues that need to be resolved

Experts flagged many issues – from policy gaps to legislative provisions – that have been affecting overall water management in the country.

Water being a state subject invariably leads to a political tug of war when it comes to water-sharing between states.

Fragmented policy environment: There’s no integration of surface and groundwater, drinking water and irrigation, and departmental coordination. The national water policy is very irrigation-centric.

– Excessive dependence on groundwater: Reports have flagged how use of over 85% fresh water in agriculture has led to a crisis in several states, including Punjab, Haryana and western UP, with excessive dependence on groundwater in cultivating water-guzzling crops such as paddy and sugarcane.

Indiscriminate use of water for irrigation and absence of conservation efforts have left over 10% of water bodies in rural areas redundant.

Way forward

Rainfed agriculture in the country has to be incentivised, given its high contribution to India’s food and nutrition security.

Centre has urged states to focus on enumerating, geo-tagging and making an inventory of all existing water bodies on priority under the JSA so that encroachment can be prevented.

Source: This post is based on the article “What India is doing to tackle its water crisis?” published in The Times of India on 11th June 22.

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