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3-min read

Budget Allocation for Water Woes Will Decide Govt’s Seriousness Towards Brand New Jalshakti Ministry

Fulfilling its manifesto promise, the newly elected Modi government started off by setting up a new Jalshakti Ministry, a conglomerate of erstwhile Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, and gave its charge to Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.

News18.com

Updated:June 12, 2019, 3:23 PM IST
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Budget Allocation for Water Woes Will Decide Govt’s Seriousness Towards Brand New Jalshakti Ministry
A farmer removes dried plants from his parched paddy field. (Representative Image/ Reuters)
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With delayed monsoons and depleting surface and groundwater levels resulting in drought-like conditions in most parts of the country, Union Budget 2019 will be the identifier for the Centre’s seriousness towards India’s water woes.

Fulfilling its manifesto promise, the newly elected Modi government started off by setting up a new Jalshakti Ministry, a conglomerate of erstwhile Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, and gave its charge to Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.

The idea behind merging the ministries was to unify all departments related to management of water and look at the issue holistically – a move recommended by several expert committees, according to reports.

The BJP in its manifesto had said that the Centre will implement the river linking project, which dates back to 1980s and was given shape during the Prime Ministership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

However, the ministry’s first task is to raise the availability of piped water from 18 per cent currently to 100 per cent by 2024. Shekhawat in his first press conference as the minister last week said, “drinking water is our first priority.”

The task set for this ministry and the necessary central funds become all the more important given India’s impending water crisis.

Three key reasons, as enumerated below, have contributed significantly to the emergence of this pitiable condition. The fact that the rains may not be as plentiful this year as in previous years will only add to the mess.

The principal cause for India not being able to manage its water well is its inability to measure the water consumed. Many municipalities in cities do this, just not very efficiently. Mumbai alone has a dismal record of seeing almost 30 per cent of its water disappear as non-revenue water or NRW.

But there is no measurement of water taken from underground. There is no measure of water consumed by crops. And there is no measurement of water consumed by industries attached to farms especially in farmer cooperatives in Maharashtra.

That lapse contributes to the second flaw, especially in a state like Maharashtra which has witnessed the largest number of farmer suicides in India.

Yet it allows sugarcane acreage to grow year after year. This is despite sugarcane being a water guzzler. The table below shows how dangerous the situation has become.

Currently, Maharashtra accounts for a 21 per cent share of national production of sugar despite being water deficient. Its acreage under sugarcane cultivation increased 91 per cent since 1991. This is more than the sugarcane acreage for other states which had access to more water.

Even by the 1970s, it was obvious to everyone that sugarcane was bad for water-scarce Maharashtra. But the political gains from growing sugarcane are so huge that governments have opted not to regulate the sector. The consequences are now visible.

What is worse, is that the sugarcane crop leads to other forms of water consumption, mostly by the liquor industry.

The third reason why India’s water distress has become so acute is irrigation has been stunted.

The quantum of India’s water crisis can be assessed from the following:

The Centre had issued a "drought advisory" to Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu, asking them to use water judiciously on May 18, 2019.

The advisory was by the Central Water Commission (CWC). The drought advisory is issued to states when the water level in reservoirs is 20 per cent less than the average of live water storage figures of the past 10 years.

Water falls under the state list and the advisory recommends states to use it for drinking purpose only till the dams are replenished. The CWC monitors water storage available in 91 major reservoirs across the country.

The situation in Marathwada is particulary critical where the water level in 45 major dams has hit an alarmingly low level.

Additionally, Skymet, a private weather forecasting agency, said rainfall in Vidarbha, Marathwada, west Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat will be "poorer than normal".

​​According to the figures released last month, the total water storage available was 35.99 billion cubic metres (BCM), which is 22 per cent of total storage capacity of these reservoirs. The total storage capacity of these 91 reservoirs is 161.993 BCM.

Given the current water scenario in the country, the Centre’s first Union Budget post Lok Sabha elections will be a clear indicator of its intent.

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