‘We lack a system to monitor groundwater usage,’ says activist Parineeta Dandekar
Parineeta Dandekar has received the Vasundhara Mitra award in the activist category this year for her work in river management, river rejuvenation and river conservation. Dandekar is currently the associate coordinator of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People and is also the recipient of the Joke Waller Hunter environment leadership fellowship for the year 2009-2010. Excerpts from her conversation with Jui Dharwadkar.
Maharashtra is known for having the maximum number of dams in the country. Yet water scarcity continues to bother farmers. What are your views on this?
India is the third largest dam-building nation in the world. Out of the total number of dams that India has built, the maximum are in Maharashtra. Also, Pune has a large number of dams and yet, water scarcity remains unaddressed. Even today, land irrigated on dam water is the least in Maharashtra even as the state grows high water consuming crops such as sugarcane. This is mainly because 80 per cent of the water for irrigation comes from our groundwater reserves. Further, 70 per cent of the water schemes meant for rural areas are also dependent on groundwater reserves. The problem with dams is that there is no pro facto analysis done on dams which can show us how useful the dam is.
Are we doing enough to save our ground water reserves?
Currently, groundwater consumption is completely unregulated, which is a big concern. Maharashtra had come up with a Ground Water Act which was never implemented. Hence, there is no check on how fast our groundwater reserves are depleting. We also do not have a map of the ground water aquifers which is the need of the hour. Through those maps, farmers too can understand the situation of water reserves below the ground which can help them use it judiciously.
What are the constraints in the implementation of the Ground Water Act?
The real issue is that there is no clear system which can monitor ground water consumption. So, if a person has a well at home, the system which would monitor how much water that person has drawn from that well is not in place. For its implementation, it is important for people to become an integral part of governance.
How can we rejuvenate our rivers?
The basic necessity of a river is that it should be flowing. Many countries including Israel and America among others are making efforts to ensure that rivers are flowing. Many countries also have a free flowing river policy. In India too, there are many rivers which are flowing and need to be conserved. For this, efficient governance and people’s participation in governance is important.
Where is India lacking when it comes to river conservation, river rejuvenation or river management?
In India, there is no clear department which has the responsibility for the restoration of rivers. In four years, Rs.16 crore have been spent on river Ganga but nothing has been accomplished. We lack the transparency and good and effective governance to implement a system which can help in conserving rivers.