More than 100 million people live in areas of poor water quality
Dr Murli Manohar Joshi | February 9, 2016
Water is essential for sustaining life and our ecosystem as a whole and India is by far the largest and fastest growing consumer of ground water in the world. In our country, ground water is a common pool resource (CPR), used by millions of farmers, and about 84 percent of the total addition to the net irrigated area comes from ground water. It also remains the only drinking water resource in most of our rural households. Besides, many industries depend on ground water. Moreover, food, energy and water are interlinked. Despite the importance of water in our sustainability, it is distressing to note that ground water is being exploited beyond sustainable levels, and ground water pollution and depletion remain serious issues.
India possesses an estimated 1,123 billion cubic metres (bcm) of utilisable water out of an annual estimated available water of about 1,869 bcm. Over 80 percent of the rural and about 50 percent of urban and industrial water requirements of India are being met from ground water resources and about 45 percent of created irrigation potential in the country is through development of ground water resources. Despite such dependence on water, according to several studies the condition is alarming. It is glaring to note that,
Analysts fear that growing competition for rapidly dwindling natural resources will trigger inter-state or intra-state conflict. According to the several other reports, the following facts have emerged, which might be under the consideration of the government as well:
Ray of hope
Despite a gloomy scenario with one of the most important natural resources, we have a ray of hope of what has been done in India and across the globe.
Oman is a good example for a good ground water strategy/management. It has successfully combined demand side measures to control, protect and conserve water resources with supply side measures to augment the resources. Demand side measures include obligatory registration of all wells, introduction of well permits, national well inventory, well metering, improving irrigation techniques, public awareness campaigns for water conservation, etc. while the supply side measures include large recharge dams.
In Arizona of the US, a similar issue is addressed by legislation that requires balancing extraction with recharge. In 1980 it enacted the groundwater code, whose goal is to (1) control severe ground water depletion, and (2) provide the means for allocating Arizona’s limited ground water resources to most effectively meet the state’s changing water needs.
Rooftop rainwater harvesting has been made mandatory in 31 states/UTs. Remaining states are mostly hilly and rainwater harvesting in these states is already in practice.
Anna Hazare has transformed the village of Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra into a model sustainable village through water harvesting and cooperation. Another example is Rajendra Singh, whose NGO Tarun Bharat Sangh has transformed the Alwar District of Rajasthan through community-based efforts in water harvesting and water management.
Excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides must be controlled and regulated and we have an example of Bathinda in Punjab, which is now known as a cancer belt only because of misuse of fertilizers. They not only pollute ground water but also cause damage to life.
Water is a state subject (the centre’s role is only in respect of inter-state rivers), and despite a need to include it into the concurrent list if not the central list, it has met with opposition from states and has not been done. We need to evolve a national consensus on this issue without losing time.
India has been known to be proactive with regards to water in the past. There are inscriptions dating as early as 600 AD citing that ancient kings and other benevolent persons considered construction of small dug-out ponds as one of their bounden duties to collect rain water and use them to recharge wells. We need to go back to the basics and peep into our past to find solution to the most pressing problems of our time through water conservation and harvesting.
We need immediate policy and regulation for ground water extraction, harvesting and sustainability of water resources for meeting the increasing demand of the growing population in the decades ahead.
It is not the food, energy or the population crisis but it is the water crisis that will let us down as a nation, as on water depends the food and energy security. Water security is important for development and security of the country. It is a wake-up call for each one of us.
Dr Joshi, MP, is a former cabinet minister and the founder general secretary of BJP. Views are personal.
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