Gajendra Singh Shekhawat taking charge as the Union Minister for Jal Shakti, at Shram Shakti Bhavan in New Delhi on Friday.(Photo: ANI)
Gajendra Singh Shekhawat taking charge as the Union Minister for Jal Shakti, at Shram Shakti Bhavan in New Delhi on Friday.(Photo: ANI)

Water is a national issue, above political affiliations: Jal Shakti Minister

India has more than 5,100 dams, another 400 are being built, we are the third largest dam owning country in the world, after US and China, says Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat in an interview to Hindustan Times.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Sunetra Choudhury
UPDATED ON AUG 03, 2019 03:08 AM IST

The focus of the new ministry of Jal Shakti will be on awareness, technical support and handholding, Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said, explaining that because water is a state subject, this approach is necessary. At the same time, there are subjects not mentioned in the Constitution related to water where the Centre has the right to pass laws, he added in an interview to Sunetra Choudhury. Edited excerpts

The situation in Chennai which ran out of water, will it happen anywhere else again?

I hope it will never happen again. We have a water management problem. In Delhi, there is 1.1 billion crore litres of water which just becomes sewage. If we reuse that amount of water in agriculture, then Delhi will never face a problem. For that, the state has to create the infrastructure and Delhi and Haryana have to have an understanding.

There are concerns about some of the water bills in Parliament , that they may be infringing on federalism. What would you say about such fears?

The constitution says that if there is river, water and basin dispute, then parliament is competent to enact any law. The first act which was brought in this regard was in 1956. The bill of dam safety —some of my Opposition friends say that we are intervening in the federal structure, but I disagree. If there is any issue that is not mentioned in the Constitution, then Parliament has the right to legislate on it. Dam safety is not mentioned at all in any list. So we have competence in doing so.

India has more than 5,100 dams, another 400 are being built, we are the third largest dam owning country in the world, after US and China. More than a thousand of them are more than a hundred years old and there is no security protocol for them.

If a reservoir breaks — there are 40 instances of this happening in India — there is so much damage, so many lives (at stake). Can we afford that? States don’t even have the technology or support to maintain them. Many dams are on interstate rivers, so who handles them? In 1982, they tried to adopt a dam safety law but it was adopted only in two states Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have adopted it. So that entire work is now being done by us.

It was interesting to see recently you at an event with Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, someone who has had a bitter relationship with the Centre.

The project which I attended with Kejriwal is 85% funded by Centre. Ultimately, water should be beyond political considerations and affiliations. It is a national issue, a global issue. For India, it is more relevant because we have 18% of the world’s population and only 4% of water supply. Our water is considered the most contaminated, so how will we do it? A country like Israel which got independence around the same time as us, gets less than 200 mm rainfall. Even so, it has abundance of water and exports drinking water. Even Cambodia, which is a poor country unlike Israel, has water security. And we with more than 1000 mm rainfall (in some parts), have a scarcity. They have done this with four pillars-- aggregation of water, judicious use, recycling of it and rejuvenation of rivers and reforrestation. As far as groundwater is concerned, 65% of agriculture is dependent on that. It is an invisible source and a study says one fourth of it is drying up. So we have to start working on ground water recharge.

The problem is awareness and commitment. Even now, we talk about saving water by showering less and serving less water in meetings or what industry uses. Did you know that the domestic water usage is only 6% and industry is 5%? 89% of water is used by agriculture. Even if we save 10% of that, then India will have no water worries for the next five years.

That’s your focus then?

Yes, it is. We give free electricity in farms, so the water keeps being pumped out and we keep taking it out without any concern. That’s why I appreciate Haryana for its initiative. They encouraged maize growth instead of paddy, saying if you grow maize then we will procure all of it. They said we will give 2,000 per acre as incentive for growing maize instead of paddy. Maharashtra government did the same with sugarcane which is a water guzzler. They said that if you grow cane then you have to have drip irrigation. This saves 60% water. Take Punjab which has free power for farmers-- they have a scheme which says, save power, earn money. Each state has to think of innovative ways that work for them. We have taken a resolution that by end of March 2020, the 240 water strapped districts will be mapped to show all aquifers.

So you are basically creating awareness because in a state subject you can’t do much?

Awareness, technical support and handholding is what we are doing.

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