Modi must walk the talk on water conservation
In the first Mann Ki Baat programme after assuming office in his second term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday spoke on one of the biggest challenges facing India today: an acute water crisis.
There are three key points to take away from his speech. One, people must help the government in its water conservation efforts. Second, experts should share the knowledge of traditional methods of water conservation. And third, there is no one-size-fits-all method for conserving water. The PM added that he has written to all gram pradhans (village chiefs) on the importance of water conservation and how to take steps to create awareness on the subject across rural India.
The PM’s speech was perfectly timed. India is facing a grave water crisis and the situation may deteriorate if the monsoon is inadequate. This is an appropriate time to impress upon our citizens the need to conserve water. According to the India Meteorological Department, the country had its driest June in five years because the monsoon rains were delayed. The impact of a bad monsoon will be disastrous. About 55% of India’s arable land is rain-fed, and agriculture makes up about 15% of Asia’s third-largest economy. Farmers had planted crops on 14.7 million hectares as on June 28, down almost 10% from the previous year, the farm ministry’s data showed.
This crisis, however, is not new; it has been brewing for years: According to a 2018 NITI Aayog report, 600 million Indians already face high to extreme water stress and about 200,000 people die every year because of inadequate access to safe water. By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for millions and an eventual 6% loss in the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
While the Centre has announced the creation of a new ministry (Jal Shakti ministry) to streamline water-related issues, it must act on two other projects without delay to tackle the crisis:
One, restart and expand the watershed programme and second, use the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to drought-proof the country.
According to an analysis of government expenditure done by the news website, Scroll, the national watershed scheme, which aims to restore ecological balance by harnessing, conserving and developing degraded natural resources such as soil, vegetative cover and water, is starved of funds. From Rs 2,284 crore ($330 million) allocated in 2014-15, central funds for watershed work shrunk by 35% to Rs 1,487 crore in 2018-19. In fact, since 2016, the government has stopped sanctioning new watershed projects. Such funding cuts in critical programmes will prove to be disastrous for India in the long run; it is important to give these projects the support that is required.