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Rajasthan’s Canal Project is the Test Centre Must Pass to Show its Commitment Towards Water Crisis

Since the new government took office in New Delhi, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot has focused all attention on the ERCP by reminding the Prime Minister time and again to grant it national project status.

Aditya Sharma | News18.com@aditya_shz

Updated:June 19, 2019, 3:20 PM IST
Rajasthan’s Canal Project is the Test Centre Must Pass to Show its Commitment Towards Water Crisis
A farmer removes dried plants from his parched paddy field. (Representative Image/ Reuters)

New Delhi: The fifth Governing Council meeting of NITI Aayog held in New Delhi on June 15 gave a new visible thrust on water. On one hand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi listed water only second to “the goal of making India a 5 trillion-dollar economy by 2014”, and on the other, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot placed the Eastern Rajasthan Canal Project (ERCP) among matters of national importance.

This Centre-state thrust to make economic growth complementary to the availability of safe drinking water has hit the right note among stakeholders. But will the implementation of water projects across the country receive a similar push?

Since the new government took office in New Delhi, Gehlot has focused all attention on the ERCP by reminding the Prime Minister time and again to grant it national project status.

Estimated to be built on a budget Rs 40,000 crore, the ERCP is expected to supply drinking water to 13 districts of Rajasthan, namely Jhalawar, Baran, Kota, Bundi, Sawai Madhopur, Ajmer, Tonk, Jaipur, Dausa, Karauli, Alwar, Bharatpur and Dholpur. It is also expected to make irrigation water available for an additional two lakh hectares of land.

The feasibility report of the project, which the Central Water Commission (CWC) has already given its approval to in principle, states that the proposed canal aims at sustainable development of the Chambal river basin.

However, the report says that the larger aim of the project is to “formulate a scheme for intra-basin transfer of water” for the utilisation of surplus water resources available in some of the sub-basins of Chambal River — Kalisindh sub-basin and Parwati sub-basin — in Southern Rajasthan. The surplus is expected to be transferred to the deficit basins in south-eastern Rajasthan.

Rajasthan, the largest state of India, covers close to 10 percent of India’s geographical area and 5.5 per cent of its population, whereas it holds only 1.16 per cent of the country’s surface water and 1.72 per cent of ground water.

Of the total available ground water, only 50 blocks out of 295 are safe for consumption. The remaining are marked semi-critical, critical, over exploited or saline for consumption.

Speaking to News18, former water resources minister in the Vasundhara Raje government, Surendra Goyal, further elaborated the water crisis in Rajasthan.

“Water conversation projects in Rajasthan are prepared and proposed keeping in mind the fact that Rajasthan has 93 per cent of India’s hard water, 50 per cent of India’s fluoride contaminated water and 57 per cent nitrate contaminated water. All projects are aimed at improving these figures and ground water levels,” he said.

Goyal added that rain water harvesting schemes such as Mukhyamantri Jal Swavlamban Abhiyan (MJSA) — after four years in operation —have resulted in a five-feet rise in groundwater in 21 districts across the state.

“After having spent Rs 1,900 crore for clusters of villages in the state, the scheme has resulted in the recharge of ground water leading to increased access to drinking water via water tankers and hand pumps,” he said.

Ahead of the NITI Aayog meeting, vice chairman Rajiv Kumar had hinted at the importance of water when he expressed his concerns over poor rainfall in the country.

“This is the sixth year in a row when the country has been hit by a poor monsoon season. This is the first time that India's has had a rainfall deficit for six years. A water crisis in the country exists because of this reason. It is important that we focus all our energy and efforts on water because half the rain water we receive goes to waste. The government is taking up this matter as a priority,” he had told Rajya Sabha TV.

As the vice chairman of the government premier policy think tank, Kumar said his main aim is to reach out to states and seek their opinion in projects. “I see states as development partners for the country”.

Kumar’s statement assumes significance after the CWC had reported a fall in the reserves of 71 of India’s 91 reservoirs.

While the Prime Minister had promised “piped water to every rural home by 2024” under the former water ministry’s Har Ghar Jal scheme, and has now created a new ministry called Jal Shakti as a symbol of his commitment towards resolving the country’s looming water crisis, at the heart of the issue lies the obvious solution of assistance and cooperation at the lowest level of governance.

Indeed, at the forefront of the new government’s mechanism of cooperative governance on water lay projects like the ERCP in Rajasthan, and the Godavari-Krishna Water Transfer and the Polavaram Project in Andhra Pradesh.

As a matter of fact, water projects like the Polavaram project became a political issue in the recent the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh. Given the political dynamics of today, Centre-state relations over such projects have come to dominate political narratives in many countries.

It is only a matter of time that the ERCP in Rajasthan finds its space in the political ecosystem.

Thus, it came as no surprise when in the NITI Aayog Governing Council meeting Gehlot openly asked the Centre to release the first installment of Rs 370 crore to the state under the National Drinking Water Project. He also demanded a review of the Centre-state sharing ratio for the Integrated Watershed management Project.

As monsoon waits to break the dry spell, the question whether Modi’s poll promise in Mandsaur— of dedicating his next tenure to water — holds true to both improving Centre-state relations in driving policy, innovation and implementation, and his personal commitment to it, must be left for the monsoon next year to answer. Until then, harnessing Jal Shakti via Jal Shakti must be the focus.

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