Irrigating, or wasting water | india | Hindustan Times
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Irrigating, or wasting water

During a typical hot Indian summer while waiting for a government tanker, your mind often wanders thinking how a country with so many rivers and heavy monsoon should be water starved. The answer perhaps lies in the way water is used, especially in the agricultural sector, where a lot of wastage takes place.

india Updated: Jul 19, 2003 12:36 IST
PTI

During a typical hot Indian summer while waiting for a government tanker, your mind often wanders thinking how a country with so many rivers and heavy seasonal monsoon should be water starved.

You definitely have heard environment watchers (hawks, if you like) cry out loud that the country's water planning is wrong. And the government and its machinery huffing their way denying any such claims. But the fact is that we Indians have water in plenty, but plan wrong and spend a lot.

In the course of the last two months, we at Water Voices, have looked at domestic-level urban water usage pattern which has adversely affected water sufficiency countrywide. We will now look at a much larger picture investigating water usage pattern sectorwise - domestic, industrial, energy and agricultural.

The table given below shows the current utilisation pattern from surface and groundwater resources across sectors:

PurposeUtilisation

Pattern (bcm)
Irrigation501
Domestic30
Industries20
Energy20
Others34
Source: Vision for Integrated Water Resources Development and Management, Ministry of Water Resources.



bcm - billion cubic metre

Arguably 80 per cent of the nation's water wealth is used in irrigation. To an average person it would sound a bit weird that water to be used in irrigation should be counted as wastage. This needs clarification.

It is not the purpose which is in question. The point is the disproportionately large percentage is indicative not just of usage pattern but conversely of wastage as well.

Among the many subsidies given to farmers across Indiais water. Clearly a resource that is not paid for is not accounted for. Inefficient practices likecontinuously running tanks or overflowing pipesoften lead to over usage of water.

Let's take a look at the past 50 years planning in independent India. At the time of India's independence food production in the country was about 50 million tonnes for a population of 361 million. The country had to depend on food imports to meet its requirements. Attaining self sufficiency in food was, therefore, given paramount importance during the plan period.

In order to achieve the objective, various major, medium and minor irrigation and multipurpose projects were formulated and implemented through successive Five Year Plans to increase the irrigation potential from 19.5 million hectare at the time of independence to about 95 million hectares, bringing 40 per cent of net sown area and 31 per cent of total cultivable area under net irrigation. This has made India a marginally surplus country in food grains. Meanwhilethe sustainability of managing water was not even considered.

Clearly, irrigation and a large and growing population are primarily responsible for water shortages. Given below is a table showing the projected water demand:

Use1990200020102025 
Domestic32305673
Irrigation437501688910
Industry-201223
Energy-20515
Other33345272
All the figures are in bcm
Source: Vision for Integrated Water Resources Development and Management, Ministry of Water Resources

As is obvious from the adjacent tablethe bulk spender will still be irrigation. While augmenting water supplies will have to be actively pursued by the state, applying modern ways of irrigationcan go a long way in fixing matters.



Consider the following:


sprinkler and drip irrigation (Israel is classic example of this form of irrigation), use of saline water for irrigation, deficit irrigation, reuse of irrigation water, control of evaporation losses and lining of existing canals.



Nivedita Mishra