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Only 3 States Barely Listened to NITI Aayog’s Alarm Bells on Water Crisis, Rest Hit the Snooze Button

Only 3 States Barely Listened to NITI Aayog’s Alarm Bells on Water Crisis, Rest Hit the Snooze Button analysed some parameters that correspond with water-related work done under the MGNREGS scheme to assess the state governments' efforts to improve the water menace and here's what we found.

A Niti Aayog report in June last year revealed that 600 million people in India face high to extreme water stress in the country. About three-fourths of the households in the country do not have drinking water in their premises. With nearly 70% of water being contaminated, India is placed at 120th among 122 countries in the water quality index. In its Composite Water Management Index report, the government think-tank categorised all the states in three categories — high, medium and low — based on their respective performances in managing the water resources.

The categorisation considered several factors of water management such as restoration of water bodies like rivers, ponds and tanks, augmentation of water sources such as groundwater recharging and boosting irrigation potential. analysed some of these parameters that correlate with the water-related work carried out under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) to assess if the state governments have utilised the livelihood security programme to improve the water menace in their respective states. The results, however, show a bleak picture; and that the high performers are not any better.

Interestingly, only three states - Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh - appear in the high performers list. Rest all are either medium or low performers - with some states not classified due to unavailability of data. Seven states including Tamil Nadu, where Chennai is undergoing serious water crisis, were categorized as medium performers. Sixty per cent of the analysed states were in the “low” category for being “alarmingly” poor towards conserving the most essential resource for the living beings. In descending order, the 14 low performers were: Chhattisgarh, Sikkim, Rajasthan, Goa, Kerala, Odisha, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Assam, Nagaland, Uttarakhand and Meghalaya. Most of these states are concentrated across the populous agricultural belts of North and East India, and among the North-Eastern and Himalayan states.

As per the report, three of the North-Eastern and Himalayan states: Assam, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand; and six of the non-Himalayan states: Goa, UP, Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Odisha have only worsened since 2015-16. Despite the NITI Aayog report calling out the states on their underperformance during 2016-17, the overall water-related work through MGNREGS in the country had only come done in the following year. Two states classified as high performers – Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh – are also among the states who have decreased the amount of total water-related work under MGNREGS. The major decline is in the irrigation projects followed by efforts to recharge groundwater from 2016-17 to 2017-18. Goa, followed by Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh in the north-east, and Kerala had majorly dipped in disseminating irrigation work during 2017-18. Telangana had decreased carrying out groundwater recharge work by 11 folds while Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Arunachal Pradesh had declined the works by over two folds.

Overall, the completion and sanctioning of wells and dugwells in the country have gone down by almost three times from 2016-17 to 2018-19, with no work being carried out in several southern and northeastern states. Kerala, Gujarat, West Bengal, Karnataka and Jharkhand have decreased major proportion of the work from 2017-18 to 2018-19.

For a country grappling between limited availability of water resources and rising demand of water, groundwater recharge is a significant move. Under the themes focusing on identification and recharging of groundwater resources and working on irrigation projects, the report identified 14 states each scoring lesser than the median score for the country during 2016-17. Common among them were Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Haryana, Jharkhand, Meghalaya and Odisha. Despite being pointed out by the NITI Ayog report, Haryana, Meghalaya, Odisha and Sikkim had carried out lesser work in both parameters during 2017-18 than the previous financial year. Notably, Goa had not carried out any work for groundwater recharge or farm ponds rejuvenation.

As per the report, the watershed programmes create lakhs of jobs and contribute to about 80 per cent of all MGNREGS work (including those for soil conservation), which also becomes significant considering the rate of unemployment glooming over the country. However, that has not been the case in reality, at least as per the available MGNREGS data. The total contribution of water-related work in the country has been decreasing over the years since 2014-15, along with the decrease in percentage share of expenditure on these works. Among the low performing states, except Goa, the average water-related works carried out by each state since 2014-15 is not even 50 per cent of all the works. Again, except Goa and Tamil Nadu, no state has spent an average of 50 per cent of the total expenditure on water-related projects since 2014-15.

Reliability on Reports

The analysis reflects a grim picture of the data repository mechanism of the government authorities. The CWIM report did not classify West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur and Mizoram for the lack of data. The MGNREGS data was constantly changing even for the previous years. The MGNREGS data that is claimed to be updated on a daily-basis did not have data for the previous year for the different water related works carried out in each state.

The CWIM report suggested to accelerate the process of providing Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) for micro-irrigation subsidies (which it has already announced) to enable innovation and consumer choice in the micro-irrigation market. However, in the case studies, it quotes DBT for LPG cylinders in the best practices – something unrelated to water.

Ranjan Panda, a researcher, environmentalist and activist, criticises the report calling out the government think tank for classifying the states based on ‘intent’. He adds that the report also does not factor in climate change, pollution of water bodies and pollution controlling measures. He says, “That’s perhaps the reason why some of the most polluted states like Gujarat rank high in effective water management.”