Water crisis in India

Kashmir Times. Dated: 6/15/2019 11:56:18 AM

Climate change and delayed monsoons have severely affected the people in many states due to water shortage

Once again the judicial activism has come into play in Maharashtra, which is gripped by acute water crisis due to less rainfall and fall in water levels in reservoirs across the state. This has been done keeping in view the acute water shortage and higher demand for this scarce commodity in many areas. The government's effort in supplementing the drinking water supplies has been falling short of the expectations of the people due to lack of mode of transport. The transportation of water through trains has not been sufficient for lakhs of people who do not access to drinking water not to speak of irrigation which is the mainstay of the farmers in this region. The court has stepped in at the right time to assuage the feelings of the people. There is no doubt that this unusual decision of the court is another instance of arbitrary judicial intervention in the governance space. Also, this ruling will do nothing to solve Maharashtra's water problems, as the two-member Bench itself admitted; the amount of water used to maintain cricket grounds after all is an insignificant fraction of the State's water consumption. But if we are prepared to ignore the overreach and the lack of any tangible impact, the Mumbai High Court's order has succeeded in drawing attention to the seriousness of the drought situation and the gross inequities that prevail in the way people access water. The power and significance of symbolic action should never be underestimated. Indeed, it is for this very reason that the government agencies are campaigning for saving water for drinking purposes. The situation in some of the areas is worse in view of the fact that livestock of the people has perished due to shortage of water in dry areas, which depend on rains.
It is also interesting to note that in some areas, the government agencies have been making attempts to supplement that water supply through water tankers, but they have not been able to meet the demand of the people. In Latur, where the traditional sources of water have run dry, Section 144 CrPC has had to be imposed to prevent water riots among the people. Trains carrying water are now being despatched to Latur. In other parts of India too, there is acute shortage, notably in the Bundelkhand region. It is unfortunate that more 18 lakh people in Bundelkhand region have threatened to migrate to other parts of the country if they are unable to get water well in time. In fact, the farmers have already crying for rations because of the crop failure during the past three years due to deficient rainfall. The mechanics and the motivation for declaring districts drought-affected remain somewhat arbitrary, but a composite picture of the country with about half the districts classified as such is reason for a paradigm shift in examining how India conserves and uses water. Sure, we are coming off two years of deficient rainfall, but our water-splurging agro-economy needs urgent policy intervention. Live data from the Central Water Commission show that water levels in 91 major reservoirs are alarmingly low, with no water currently in three reservoirs in Maharashtra. The country's groundwater is over-exploited, especially in the Green Revolution zones. Increase in irrigated acreage is also taking place through use of groundwater. Recalibration of the price support regime and rationalisation of electricity subsidies are required to nudge the farmer towards less water-hungry crops. As Deepak Pental, former vice chancellor of Delhi University and genetics professor, has pointed out, when India exports 1 kg of basmati rice, in effect it exports 5,000 kg of water. India lives by its farm economy - while its share in total GDP may be dropping, the percentage of Indians who depend on it remains extremely high. The country will only begin to make the livelihood of farmers sustainable when it addresses the water crisis and pursues solutions that keep the terms of trade in their favour.



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