Parched and thirsty: A different form of liquidity crisis
Since India’s water crisis owes itself largely to policies, we must have the right priorities regarding its useUpdated: Jun 28, 2016 21:04 IST
Water scarcity is a global phenomenon and India is no exception to this. The reasons for this are not far to seek. They range from agro-climatic to sheer human population pressure. And as writer P Sainath has said, the water crisis in India is ‘policy-driven’ and not so much related to the monsoon. Since water is just a partly renewable resource, there is a cost to its extraction and use. This cost is not shared uniformly by all sections of society, as has been pointed out by various studies. For example, water for human consumption is sometimes charged at a rate that’s substantially higher than what is paid for making, say, a bottle of cold drink or beer. And this is a cost that’s hidden because it is not something paid over the counter.
The country’s water crisis has been induced also by a skewed irrigation policy. India has 140 million hectares under cultivation, and, less than 50% of that, just 62 million hectares, is irrigated. Take, for example, Vidarbha, which falls in a rain-shadow area. Following the drought in the region in 1992, 15 irrigation projects were cleared. The Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation had once about 100 major, medium and minor irrigation projects in the pipeline. Most of them still remain on paper. And contrast this with Punjab, where paddy, a water-guzzler, is grown and irrigation for this has been made possible chiefly because of the political clout of the farming community. This is one aspect of the problem. Another is that water resources are being given by several states to bidding parties. In the early 2000s, Andhra Pradesh (then undivided) did away with its irrigation development corporation. This meant an increasing number of borewells, dug chiefly by rich farmers, and as a result, the groundwater level went down. And since irrigation is not picking up in the way desired, groundwater is the only fallback option for our farmers.
Sometimes the rationale for such differentiated pricing is that it is linked to employment generation. This is no doubt true. But since this is something that affects every individual directly, this is a national problem and we must get the right policies to tackle it. Many of our national problems are in some way or the other related to water. A water activist in her book had said “water could become a multi-trillion-dollar industry in the future”. Hence without appropriate policy choices and discipline over consumption, we would be staring at problems that could have been precluded.
First Published: Jun 28, 2016 19:19 IST