Delhi: Incentivising cultivation of water-efficient crops and not “maniacal” river-linking is the need of the hour as the crippling water crisis bears down on India’s agrarian economy, former Planning Commission member and water conservationist Dr Mihir Shah has said.
Calling for a reorganisation of the agriculture sector and crop diversification, Shah said, “We must think of agriculture as an enterprise. The green revolution pushed the growing of water-intensive crops like rice, wheat and sugarcane. These crops use 90 per cent of the water that the country consumes. Over the last 50 years, we have incentivised the farmer to produce these crops."
Speaking at the India Habitat Centre during a discussion organised by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), Shah said the government must readjust its approach to farming by incentivising the cultivation of pulses and millets.
"One way of doing it is by introducing pulses and millets in national food schemes like the midday meal plans,” he suggested, adding that the government should also come up with ways to reduce the overall cost of cultivation to the farmers.
The agriculture sector currently suffers from the fragmentation of landholdings, thereby creating more landowners who, in turn, are irrigating their lands amid a water crisis. As agricultural production faces the test of an economic slowdown, the increase in the number of landholdings and area to be irrigated has raised the cost for the small and marginal land-holding farmers who form nearly 86 per cent of India’s farming community.
According to Shah, who was key to drafting Chapter 12 on water and irrigation in the 12th Five Year Plan during the Manmohan Singh government, the two pillars of India's water policy - dams and ground water - have been wrongly understood over the years.
"The focus has been on expenditure rather than the outcome. Dams have displaced people. Is that the purpose of dams? Their real purpose is to ensure water reaches the areas where it is scarce. The fact that our farmers use groundwater for irrigation is the failure of dams and canals. There is no last-mile connectivity," he said.
"Water is understood in a unidimensional way. It is more than a resource available for extraction. It is about engineering and management of this resource,” he said, adding that the concept of river linking is a "maniacal project".
Shah also said during the discussion that India is in need of policy on industrial water footprint and called for geo-tagging of old water storage structures in the country.