Water conservation

National Water Policy and Action Plan for India 2020 – Part 1

Water is the very basis of life and the foundation of human survival and development. The sustainable and equitable use of water over the millennia has been ensured through cultural adaptation to water availability, through water conservation technologies, agricultural systems and adapted cultivation patterns to different climatic zones and lifestyles based on conservation.

However, in recent decades, increasing population, accelerating industrialization and urbanization, as well as the influence of consumer culture, have interfered with the natural hydrological cycle of precipitation, moisture from soil, groundwater, surface water and storage of all sizes. . We have therefore witnessed the overuse, abuse and pollution of our vital water resources, which has disrupted water quality and water’s natural purification capacity.

India’s 1.3 billion people have access to only about 4% of the world’s water resources, and farmers consume nearly 90% of available groundwater. As global temperatures rise and the overuse of water depletes existing resources, the threat to lives and businesses in the economy is expected to increase.

Currently, India is said to be the world’s largest extractor of groundwater, more than China and the United States combined, accounting for almost a quarter of the total extracted worldwide. Between 2000 and 2017, the depletion of groundwater would have increased by 23%.

Water is one of the most crucial elements of our national development planning. Therefore, proper management of our limited water resources will be essential to ensure food security for our growing population and to eradicate poverty. It will also be essential to avoid growing conflicts and the possibility of social unrest in the country in the future, due to the water scarcity.

To minimize the negative impacts of overuse and misuse of water, and to ensure that our precious water resources are used optimally, it is necessary that we have a water policy that recognizes and addresses adequately the challenges we face and those we will overcome. face in the 21st century.

A national water policy for the twenty-first century must recognize water as a national resource, for the purposes of national development goals and planning. For this, water management must be done in a decentralized manner, in partnership with the local communities and the States concerned.

Different regions of the country with different water endowments, in the form of precipitation, surface runoff and groundwater, need their own water policy specific to their region.

Accordingly, the policy should provide general guidelines and be flexible enough to adapt to the various conditions of each watershed and watershed, such as agro-climatic zone, location of polluting and other industries, location of cities and population density, etc. .

Dependence on water-intensive crops has increased water problems

India’s food policy has remained focused on wheat and rice since the 1960s, when the Green Revolution changed the agricultural landscape and made the country self-sufficient in food grains for the first time.

During the 1970s, states like the Punjab, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Green Revolution, increased the area of ​​water-intensive crops like wheat and rice, with the aim of making the Self-sufficient India. Experts say this reliance on water-hungry crops has, over the years, increased India’s water problems. It should be noted that in India the water consumption for irrigation is 80 to 90 percent. Of this amount, 80 percent of water is consumed by just three crops, rice, wheat and sugar cane.

Water shortages are reported to be already acute, as nearly half of the country’s population faces high to extreme water stress, and around 200,000 people die each year due to insufficient access to water. potable water.

A committee, headed by Mihir Shah, a water policy expert and former member of the Planning Commission, submitted its report to the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti. The ministry is currently reviewing the draft policy before finalizing and adapting it.

The policy, drafted by the 11-member committee formed by the ministry, estimated that it will be impossible to meet the basic water needs of millions of people for drinking and irrigation without “radical change” in the water model. demand.

The draft National Water Policy 2020 blamed the government’s procurement policy for wheat and rice, for exacerbating the water crisis in the country. Federal and state subsidies for fertilizers, electricity and water, especially for these two crops, are to blame for this crisis, according to the committee. Moreover, the purchase of these crops by governments, even in times of glut, at a minimum support price (MSP) has further complicated the problem. For Indian farmers, these are habits that are hard to break, as evidenced by the overwhelming demand from protesting farmers not only to continue buying from MSP, but also to make it mandatory for traders and businesses.

Farmers are said to love rice and wheat, mainly because of the stable prices and state-assured purchases. These two staples, along with another thirsty crop, sugar cane, it should be noted, are grown in 40% of the country’s gross agricultural area, but consume around 80% of its irrigation water.

To encourage farmers to abandon the cultivation of rice and wheat, the National Water Policy 2020 recommended to shift the fee on irrigation water from crop / area / season to volumetric basis, which means that farmers will be charged according to the volume of water they use. Currently, farmers pay a fixed amount regardless of their consumption.

This is expected to pinch farmers, as they will have to pay more and therefore push farmers to diversify into water-intensive crops other than rice and wheat.

In the long run, experts say, water shortages will make crop diversification inevitable. The looming water crisis has therefore forced the central government to try to reverse established farming practices and convince farmers to switch from water consumers like rice and wheat to alternative crops that consume less water. , especially in states like Punjab and Haryana. However, for this the government may need to provide such incentives to these farmers, such as insurance to purchase the alternative crops, which they will turn to, from MSP.

Incentives for diversification are not a bad idea in the opinion of Ila Patnaik, former senior economic adviser to the federal government and professor at the National Institute of Finance and Public Policy. However, many of these reforms will need to be demonstrated to farmers, before they gain confidence in the government. For this, we must allow time for the reforms to play out, she believes.



The opinions expressed above are those of the author.


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