Jal Shakti ministry needs to make urgent course corrections for paradigm shift in water management -Mihir Shah

-The Indian Express

The FM has rightly spoken of a “focus on integrated demand and supply side management of water at the local level, including source sustainability and management of household wastewater for reuse in agriculture”.

India is not a water-short country. We have merely managed our plentiful water very poorly. What we need, therefore, is a paradigm shift in policy. Could the finance minister (FM) be said to have risen to this challenge?

Historically, India has suffered from “hydro-schizophrenia”, wherein the left hand of drinking water did not know what the right hand of irrigation was doing. When the drinking water aquifer was also used to irrigate water-intensive crops, it led to an exhaustion of drinking water. The formation of the Jal Shakti Ministry is a positive first step in overcoming this problem. As the FM says, “This new Mantralaya will look at the management of our water resources and water supply in an integrated and holistic manner.”

The main water-related announcement in the budget is of “piped water supply to all rural households by 2024”. The FM has rightly spoken of a “focus on integrated demand and supply side management of water at the local level, including source sustainability and management of household wastewater for reuse in agriculture”. This is a very welcome departure from the earlier focus only on the supply side.

But for this scheme to be a success certain preconditions must be met. First, we need a clear understanding of the aquifers to be used for water supply. The National Aquifer Management Programme and the Atal Bhujal Yojana are both pioneering initiatives but they have failed to take off, primarily because the requisite multi-disciplinary capacities are missing within government. Paradoxically, as groundwater has become India’s most important source, groundwater departments, at the Centre and in all states, have only become weaker. We need to urgently reverse this trend. We must also recognise that aquifer management at this unprecedented scale cannot be left to government alone. It demands a large network of partnerships with relevant stakeholders, across the board.

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The Indian Express, 6 July, 2019, https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/union-budget-2019-drinking-water-shortage-5817681/

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