Water Management

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 15 Oct 2017 10:15:46

Water is a necessary right of the people. Life cannot be sustained without water. Climatic vagaries have led to erratic monsoon rains, while the volume of rain also wanes. Our irrigation network is not widespread and storage facilities inadequate, which intensifies the problem.

Pitching for ‘localised’ water management approach to empower villages, President Ram Nath Kovind said in an address at the 5th India Water Week-2017 recently that water was fundamental to ‘economy, ecology and human equity’. A localised water management approach should empower villages and neighbourhood communities and build their capacity to manage, allocate and value their water resources, Kovind said. 

He said the issue was becoming more critical in view of climate change and related environmental concerns. In fact, environmental uncertainties and extremities are only growing due to global warming and other deteriorating natural indices, which are only going to enhance and intensify the problem of water scarcity in countries with huge population like India.India, with 17 percent of the global population has just four percent of world’s water resources, even as industrial and agricultural needs are only increasing.

Even this four percent is not well managed and judiciously used, which exacerbates the situation. Naturally, there has to be a large section of the population having to do without adequate water, even as the President said that access to water was a byword for human dignity.
The government has introduced many new projects, including ‘Water for Every Farm’, ‘Per Drop, More Crop’ and ‘Doubling Farm Incomes by 2022’, in a bid to improving water management techniques and introducing better agricultural practices so that farmers don’t have to quit agriculture for want of water and resources.

Agriculture is still the mainstay of our economy with close to 55 per cent of the population engaged in the occupation. It is a water-intensive sector and hence adequate water availability is a prime criterion. Currently, 80 percent of the water availability is used by the agriculture sector, while 15 percent goes to the industry.

Better and more efficient use of water is a challenge for agriculture as well as industry. Kovind said water was central to some of the government’s flagship programmes. “I would go to the extent of saying that the modernisation of India is dependent on the modernisation of its water management,” he said. The focus areas for ‘Make in India’ programme are the manufacture of electronic hardware, computers, and mobile phones–which require a large volume of water.

Unfortunately, in urban India, 40 billion litres of water go waste every day due to lack of proper management. The president said it was important to adopt technology to reduce the toxic content of this water and to deploy it for irrigation and other purposes. This has to be part of any urban planning programme. The efficiency of water use and reuse has to be built into the blueprint of industrial projects. President Ram Nath Kovind also pointed towards our rapidly depleting groundwater resources, saying they are being ‘savagely exploited and depleted in some of the northern and western states’.

Again, this is an example of lack of skillful management and efficient usage accruing due to technological lag and inadequate awareness in people. Providing safe drinking water to a population spread across six hundred thousand villages and urban areas is a big challenge for India and also a ‘sacred commitment’, she has to honour. Water is a right and necessity of the people. Life cannot be sustained without water. Climatic vagaries have also led to erratic monsoon rains, while the volume of rain is also on the wane. Our irrigation network is not widespread and storage facilities inadequate, which intensifies the problem. Much of the water goes waste, while what remains is not adequately used due to lack of pipelines and technology. On the other hand, due to industrial effluents and human infestation, our rivers and water bodies are dying. Therefore the natural resources are already perishing and rainwater is neither sufficient nor being harnessed properly.

Where do we get water from? The envisaged river linking project is fraught with environmental uncertainties and the progress is slow as impediments both natural and logistic are many. Neither can we have an excellent canal and irrigation network in a trice. We have been trying that for six decades. India is too vast a country to have a very efficient working system even as the government has not that kind of fund to manage such a vast network. Most canals are in any case running dry for most of the year. Most of our farmers have also adapted drip irrigation techniques and other such less water-intensive farming patterns but that has not ameliorated the problem by much. We can only buy time but the impending catastrophic shortage of water is on its way. The only solution in our hand is to spruce up the water disbursement and management system, which is still in a mess. As the President said, we have to educate and empower at the micro-level so that people learn to manage their own resources. That is the best way to make people realise the value of a commodity.

Our system runs from top to bottom, where decisions are made in cozy offices situated in cities by bureaucrats who often don’t have a very fair idea of the ground realities. They thus make policies which are not necessarily in consonance with the actual needs and possibilities of a place or region and this mismatch between the actual need and what is handed down over to the people, often mars projects even as all the money spent goes waste.

Conversely, if people decide their own needs and plan and execute things at the local level keeping in view the micro-level requirements, it can serve as a template for better management. The government can and should work as a facilitator of technology and finances, while the actual groundwork should be the responsibility of the panchayat or the local self-government. They will exactly know who needs how much water and thus can regulate its distribution and check wastage. Decentralisation of power is essential. India is a diverse country with diverse topography, diverse agricultural practices and diverse cropping patterns depending on the diversity of the topography and weather. Even intra-region variations are immense.

By the way, people too must be mandated to practice water harvesting and water conservation in their houses to preserve water for dry times. More awareness programmes and campaigns need to be initiated by the government in association with NGOs and private partners.  The government cannot come to the rescue all the time and heaping blame on the government for all the civic ills could not then be sustained. We must learn to manage our own resources. When the responsibility is on us, we are bound to do better.