World Water Day: What government is doing to address India's water crisis
India has the second largest population in the world, currently numbered at 1.3 billion, which is expected to further balloon in the future. By 2050, it has been estimated that India will have the world’s largest population at 1.7 billion. Currently, the majority of people living in India don’t have access to clean and adequate water. Moreover, India has just 4 percent of the world’s fresh water and 16 percent of the world’s population, according to figures provided by the Stockholm International Water Institute.
Since the country’s independence, the annual per capita water availability has collapsed by 75 percent from 6042 cubic meters in 1947 to 1486 cubic meters in 2021. Therefore, the government has the daunting task of deftly managing the precious resource in order to steer clear of the predicament.
Some of the additional problems that India faces are a lack of streamlined regulatory mechanisms, and neglect with respect to water management. Additionally, inter-regional conflicts and conflicts with neighbouring nations, for instance, India and Pakistan locking horns over access to the Indus and Sutlej over river-water access have added to the crisis.
Not just the surface water in India been depleted, but groundwater tables have also been negatively impacted.
Mismanagement of groundwater by adopting a free-for-all approach has only aggravated the ever-present water crisis and drastically lowered the groundwater table across the country. India’s groundwater consumption has been roughly estimated at one-quarter of the global consumption, exceeding that of the United States and China put together.
With farmers being provided the wherewithal to pump groundwater, the water table has dropped by up to 4 meters in some parts of the nation. The unbridled usage of groundwater has increased exponentially over the past two decades. Given that agriculture is still the backbone of the Indian economy, many livelihoods depend on access to adequate groundwater. Hence, the government must manage both surface and groundwater adroitly before the situation gets worse.
What is the government doing?
In a bid to tackle the water crisis, the Indian government has launched the Atal Bhujal Yojana – a national groundwater programme, to facilitate proper groundwater management. Launched in December 2019, the initiative is the world’s largest groundwater conservation programme and has been implemented in 8220 gram panchayats spreading across seven Indian states. The project consists of a four-pronged approach: provide decision support tools for water management, fortify community-based institutions to facilitate the management, boost water usage efficiency and increase groundwater levels, and take a decentralized approach to enhance smooth execution.
Additionally, the government has decided to construct 50,000 water bodies across the country before next year’s Independence Day in a project called Amrit Sarovar. Each water body will be about one acre area-wise and will be able to hold 10,000 cubic meters of water. The mission statement of the project is as follows: “With a view to conserve water for the future, the Prime Minister has launched a new initiative named Mission Amrit Sarovar on 24th April 2022. The mission is aimed at developing and rejuvenating 75 water bodies in each district of the country as a part of the celebration of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav.”
The government launched additional two schemes i.e. Jal Shakti Abhiyan – a campaign centered on water conservation, and the Jal Jeevan Mission – a mission to provide potable water to all rural households by 2024.
The Jal Shakti campaign was launched in 2019 with the theme “Catch the rain: Where it falls, when it falls,” and focuses on rainwater harvesting in urban and rural areas across the country by collaborating with people during the pre-monsoon and post-monsoon periods.
Additionally, the government also introduced the “Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana” in 2015-16 for increasing water access to farmers, expand cultivable land, refine irrigation infrastructure, optimize water use on farms, and encourage sustainable water conservation practices.
In conclusion, water scarcity is a real problem in India, but with the right tools and foresight, the problem is surmountable.
(Inputs from the Stockholm International Water Institute, Atal Jal Yojana website, The World Bank, and Mission Amrit Sarovar)
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