The Gist of Yojana: February 2014

The Gist of Yojana: February 2014


India or Faces a major crisis of water as we move into the 21st century. This crisis threatens the basic right to drinking water of our citizens; it also puts the livelihoods of millions at risk. The demands of a rapidly industrialising economy and urbanizing society come at a time when the potential for augmenting supply is limited, water tables are falling and water quality issues have increasingly come to the fore.

Limits to Large Dams

Recent scholarship points to definite limits to the role new large dam projects canplay in providing economically viable additional water storage (Ackerman, 2011). The ambitious scheme for interlinking of rivers also presentsmajor problems. The comprehensive proposal to link Himalayan with the Peninsular rivers for inter-basin transfer of water was estimated to cost around Rs. 5,60,000 crores in 200 I. Land submergence and R&R
packageswould be additional to this cost. There are no firmestimates available for running costs of the scheme, such as the cost of power required to lift water. There is also the problem that because of our dependence on the monsoons, the periods when rivers have “surplus” water are generally synchronous across the subcontinent. A major problem in planning inter-basin transfers is how to take into account the reasonable needs of the basin states,whichwill growover time. Further, giventhe topography of India and theway links are envisaged, they might totally bypass the core dryland areas of Central and Western India, which are located on elevations of 300+ metres above MSL. It is also feared that linking rivers could affect the natural supply ofnutrients through curtailing flooding of the down stream areas. Along the east coast of India, all the major peninsular rivers have extensive deltas. Damming the rivers for linking will cut down the sediment supplyand cause coastal and delta erosion, destroying the fragile coastal eco-systems.

It has also been pointed out that the scheme could affect the monsoon system significantly (Rajamani et al, 2006).The presence of a low salinity layer of water with low density is a reason for maintenance of high sea- surface temperatures (greater than 28 degrees C) in the Bay of Bengal, creating low pressure areas and intensification of monsoon activity. Rainfall over much of the subcontinent is controlled by this layer of low saline water. A disruption in this layer could have serious long-term consequences for climate and rainfall in the subcontinent, endangering the livelihoods of a vast population.

The Crisis of Groundwater

The relative ease and convenience of its decentralised access has meant that groundwater is the backbone of India’s agriculture and drinking water security. Groundwater is a Common-Pool Resource (CPR), used by millions of farmers across the country. Over the last four decades, around 84 per cent of the total addition to the net irrigated area has come from groundwater. India is, by far, the largest and fastest growing consumer of
groundwater intheworld. But groundwater is being exploited beyond sustainable levels and with an estimated 30milliongroundwater structures inplay, India may be hurtling towards a serious crisis of groundwater over-extraction and quality deterioration.

Nearly 60 per cent of all districts in India have problems related to either the quantity or the quality of groundwater or both. According to the Central Ground Water Board’s latest assessment (CGWB, 2009), at the all India level, the stage of groundwater development is now 61 per cent. In Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi, this level has crossed 100per cent, closely followed by Tamil Nadu (80 per cent) and UP (71 per cent).

Need for a Paradigm Shift

Given this apparent emergence of limits to further develop of water resources in large parts of the country, the 12th Plan faced a challenge of how to move forward. It was clear that business-as-usual would not do. New ideas needed to be desperately put into place for which the best scholars and practitioners had to come together. Thus, a new architecture of plan formulation was designed. The Working Groups for the 12th Plan inthewater sector were, for the first time in the historyof the Planning Commission, all chaired by renowned experts from outside government. Over the course of several months in 2011-12, a new path was charted out, giving rise to a ten-fold paradigm shift in water resource management in India. This paper outlines the main features of this change. ·

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