As Narendra Modi starts his second term as Prime Minister of India, he has already made it clear that one of his focus areas would be water conservation and supply of drinking water to all rural households. This can be seen through his actions like the creation of the Jal Shakti ministry (an amalgamation of erstwhile Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation and Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation) and his call for a mass movement in the country to converse water through his latest “Mann ki Baat” address to the nation. The Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman reiterated the “Har Ghar Jal” (water in each house) slogan in the union budget.
There are good reasons why Modi has taken up this cause of water conservation at this point of time. Firstly, the effects of weather change are being felt in many parts of India, especially in the Central, Western and Southern parts of the country. Extended dry spells and droughts have become frequent in many states of India. Many Indian cities could run out of groundwater by 2020 (link: https://www.firstpost.com/tech/science/indias-water-crisis-bengaluru-delhi-chennai-hyderabad-among-21-cities-to-run-out-of-groundwater-by-2020-4590221.html). Drinking water availability is also a concern in many rural areas especially in the summer months, where women and children walk miles to get drinking water. Availability of water for irrigation of farmland is a major issue faced by the farming community.
Lot of work has been done in various areas related to water in Modi’s first term. The Prime Minister Krishi Sinchayi Yojana (PMKSY) was launched in 2015 to expand the cultivated area under assured irrigation and improve water use efficiency. Satisfactory progress has been done towards the cleansing of the Ganga River and starting of inland water transport from Uttar Pradesh right up to West Bengal. Sanitation coverage has increased from 38% to 98% in the last five years. Reduction in open defecation helps in reducing contamination of groundwater. However, there is still going to be a lot of scope for action in the area of water conservation and supply, in the coming years.
Modi has selected Gajendra Singh Shekhawat as the cabinet minister for the Jal Shakti ministry and Rattan Lal Kataria as his deputy. Shekhawat has a huge responsibility to shoulder and has an opportunity to play a stellar role, like that played by Dharmendra Pradhan (for implementation of the Ujjwala yojana) between 2014-19. Shekhawat, who himself comes from a water deficient state like Rajasthan would understand the water woes of the citizens of the country and know how assured water supply in homes and farms could change their lives for the better.
The vision of the Ministry of Jal Shakti is “Optimal sustainable development, maintenance of quality and efficient use of water resources to match with the growing demands on this precious natural resource of the country”. The immediate goals of the Ministry of Jal Shakti would be the following,
- Clean drinking water to all homes by 2024: BJP has promised in its election manifesto for 2019 that they would provide clean drinking water to all households (urban and rural) by 2024. There are approx. 14 crore households in the country where clean drinking water is yet to reach. Many of the Northern and Eastern states have coverage of less than five percent clean drinking water. This initiative would not only cover the laying of piped water network to each village and ultimately each house, but also ensuring the conservation of water so that the sustainability of water supply is ensured. The government would have to work towards ensuring the recharge of groundwater. In some districts of the country, the groundwater has reached the dark zone. The government would have to enlist the support of NGO and civil society in this initiative. Modi has already started to use his influence with the citizens by asking them to join him in starting a mass movement on water conservation across the country. Indian cities need to do more on water conservation through Rainwater harvesting systems, to become self-sufficient in the water supply. NGOs like the Art of Living and Paani foundation are being involved in water conservation in rural areas. Modi has wisely engaged his haters like Aamir Khan (who has goodwill in Maharashtra for being involved in the annual Water Cup competition of Paani foundation), much to the chagrin of Right Wingers. However, Modi understands that the electoral benefits would ultimately accrue to the person fighting elections viz. to Modi himself and not Aamir Khan.
- Assured irrigation for farmers through PMKSY: The Prime Minister Krishi Sinchayi Yojana (PMKSY) was launched to ensure assured irrigation for farmland and improve water use efficiency. The micro irrigation area coverage (includes drip and sprinkler usage) has increased significantly in the last four years (link: https://pmksy.gov.in/). Funds have been spent on multiple irrigation projects across the country with Maharashtra, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh getting the bulk of the funds. The PMKSY scheme works to improve water conservation in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of “Per Drop More Crop”. This has been Modi’s mantra from his Chief Minister days in Gujarat and he has always focussed on improving the per acre productivity of crops to double farm income. Micro irrigation at the farm level using farm ponds to stop rainwater, use of drip irrigation and sprinklers to optimally use water are being encouraged. The center is working with the states as agriculture is a state subject. Assured irrigation would reduce the dependence of agriculture on water stored in dams and would ensure first priority is given to drinking water.
- Namami Gange as a template for cleansing other rivers: Namami Gange is one of the pet subjects of Narendra Modi from his first term. When Modi decided to contest from Varanasi in 2014, he had promised to clean the river Ganga. A lot of progress has been made in ensuring dumping of effluents in sewage is reduced in the waters of the Ganga and an assured flow is guaranteed throughout the year. Closing of the 128-year-old Sisamau Nala in Kanpur was a big milestone towards this goal. The sewage water is being diverted to a Sewage Treatment Plan (STP) to ensure the cleanliness of the river. Most of the sewage water falling in the Ganga would be moved to STPs by 2020. This would ensure a marked improvement in the water quality of the Ganga River. Modi has linked the cleanliness of the Ganga with commerce and his vision is to have passenger and goods movement through inland waterways in the Ganga right from Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh to Haldia in West Bengal. The success of the Namami Gange would act as the template for cleaning of the other major rivers like the Yamuna, Krishna, Narmada, and the Godavari, etc. Inland waterways are one of the major keys to unlock the economic potential of the Eastern part of the country. Once the Eastern states start doing well, India can aspire for 8-9% GDP growth rate.
- River linking projects: River linking was a dream project of the Late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The main purpose was to connect the Himalayan and peninsular river systems and divert excess water from a flood prone North and Eastern states to the drought-prone Western and Southern states. The project was stalled in the ten years of the UPA rule. It was revived post 2014 by the Modi government but has not moved beyond the drawing board. However, it is an idea whose time has come in 2019. Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) has been taken up on high priority and would be monitored by the Ministry of Jal Shakti. Some ILR and irrigation projects have already started across the country and are in various stages of completion. Work on the Ken and Betwa link project has started and the project aims to transfer surplus water from the Ken River to the Betwa basin through concrete canal to irrigate India's worst drought prone Bundelkhand region. The project is progressing despite opposition from environmentalists and tussle between UP and MP governments on the share of water.
Various other ILR projects like Damanganga- Pinjal and Par- Tapi- Narmada (between Maharashtra and Gujarat), Mahanadi- Godavari link and Godavari- Cauvery link projects are on the anvil. An important ILR is the Manas-Sankosh-Teesta-Ganga link which will transfer surplus water for augmenting the flow of the Ganga and provide water in Mahanadi basin for further diversion to South through Peninsular link system. A key challenge in the ILR projects is to ensure that a detailed study is done to ensure that the ecology of the recipient river basin is not affected.
In addition to the river interlinking projects by the center, there are two interesting projects undertaken by the state governments of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana that need to be mentioned. The Polavaram project in Andhra Pradesh (designated as a national project) plans to transfer excess water from the Godavari to the water-deficient Krishna basin and is expected to be functional by December 2019. This project uses lift irrigation (water is lifted by pumps) and would bring lakhs of hectares of land under irrigation.
The Kaleshwaram irrigation project at the confluence of three rivers with the Godavari in Telangana is the world’s biggest irrigation project (link: https://www.financialexpress.com/india-news/rs-80000-crore-worlds-biggest-all-about-the-kaleshwaram-irrigation-project-that-will-make-you-proud-of-telangana/1222115/) that will irrigate 18 lakh acres of land in 13 districts of the state, provide 10 TMC drinking water to en route villages and 32 TMC of drinking water to the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad as well as water to many industries in the state. The project has been completely funded by the Telangana government.
- Administrative role for laying down policy guidelines and regulation of water resources: The Jal Shakti ministry is responsible for laying down the policy guidelines and programs for the development and regulation of the country’s water resources. The ministry will perform the following functions,
- Overall planning, policy formulation, and guidance in the water resources sector
- Providing special Central Financial Assistance for specific projects and assistance in obtaining External Finance from World Bank and other agencies.
- Overall planning for the development of Ground Water Resources, the establishment of utilizable resources, and formulation of policies for the exploitation of these resources
- Coordination, mediation, and facilitation regarding the resolution of differences or disputes relating to Inter-State Rivers
- Talks and negotiations with neighboring countries, regarding river waters, water resources development projects and the operation of the Indus Water Treaty.
- Ensure effective abatement of pollution and rejuvenation of the river Ganga
- Operation of the central network for flood forecasting and warning on inter-state rivers and preparation of flood control master plans for rivers Ganga and Brahmaputra
Water or Jal has always been treated as life-giving shakti (power) in India. Modi has this penchant for naming his ministries and schemes in sync with the values of the Sanatan dharma. The Jal Shakti ministry is a super ministry created by Narendra Modi for the fulfillment of the promises made by him in the manifesto for the 2019 general election. Water resource depletion is increasingly becoming a big threat for India, but Modi sees it as an opportunity to ensure the sustainability of water resources for drinking, irrigation, and industry. If Modi can deliver substantially on this promise in the next five years, then 2024 could be a hat-trick for him.