The State of Gujarat witnessed a turnaround from being a water scarce state to water secure state in the first decade of the 21st century.
The State transformed by adopting environment-friendly policies, climate-resilient engineering, and strengthening grassroots leadership stand out as an example of sustainable development and offers a path to follow.
The scarcity of water contributes negatively to socio-economic development. Economic growth led to policies and practices to achieve long-term water security.
The critical relationship between water, environment and ecosystems was acknowledged, built upon, shaped and transformed by the policymakers in a sustainable way to meet the challenges without compromising the health of the natural world.
Gujarat in the 2000s:
Two decades ago, the western and northern parts of Gujarat region were prone to repeated droughts and water scarcity, damage to life and livelihood due to devastating earthquake with epicentre in Kutch in 2001 and the resultant economic crisis with shrinking economy.
There were cases of mass migration of pastoral communities like Maldharis in search of fodder and water for their livestock.
On an average, every third year was marked as a drought year leading to uneven distribution of water. Annually, thousands of tankers were deployed to mitigate drinking water scarcity and make water available to people.
There were also times when special water trains had become the new norm for the delivery of water.
The administration focused only on temporary fixes neglecting the emptying aquifers and damage to the environment remained unattended.
Water was placed at the centre stage of Gujarat’s developmental policy to address the issue of water scarcity.
Viable solutions were explored to conserve water and achieve an ecological balance whilst resolving to ensure adequate and assured availability of clean water in every home became the top priority.
A series of policy decisions, including the integration of the overall water sector to manage demand and supply coherently ensured accountability at all levels.
A great value was placed on the water as a ‘finite resource’ that needed to be replenished every year. As all water is received from precipitation during limited rainy days in the State, the focus was on making the State open-defecation free with emphasis on rainwater harvesting and efficient use of water.
A component of drought-proofing was adopted in building climate-resilient water infrastructure.
The State-wide drinking water supply grid was planned to provide clean tap water free from chemical and bacteriological contamination.
Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada River was completed and the existing canal systems were further strengthened. Inter-basin transfer of water from reasonably water-rich South and Central Gujarat to North Gujarat, Saurashtra and Kutch was planned and executed in the form of a 332 km-long Sujalam Sufalam Canal with speed and scale.
Further, to meet water requirements, especially in areas with groundwater salinity, desalination plants were set up.
Enabling Water-Use Efficiency in Agriculture:
With about 85% of all freshwater being consumed for agricultural purposes, micro-irrigation and Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM) were promoted in an extensive manner to optimise water use in farms.
Agriculture extension activities to educate farmers on the concept of ‘Per Drop, More Crop’ were initiated as a campaign.
Farmers were provided financial and technical support to build check dams, farm ponds, bori-bandhs, etc., in and around their farmlands to ‘catch the rain where it falls’.
‘Sujalam Sufalam Jal Abhiyan’ was initiated around the twin objectives of deepening water bodies before monsoons and enhancing water storage for rainwater collection.
It entails numerous water conservation activities including the cleaning and deepening of ponds, canals, and tanks, check dams and reservoirs, repair of water storage structures, construction of rainwater harvesting structures, etc., through a participative approach.
With the integrated water management approach and groundwater table continuously improving, the total irrigable area in the State increased by 77%, and the agriculture production in the State also increased by 255%, leading to a green economy. This has paved the way for a sustainable and environment-friendly model.
Jal Jeevan Mission:
JJM was announced on 15th August 2019 to bring tap water connections to every rural household of the country by 2024.
The program will also implement source sustainability measures as mandatory elements, such as recharge and reuse through greywater management, water conservation, and rainwater harvesting.
The Jal Jeevan Mission will be based on a community approach to water and will include extensive Information, Education, and Communication as a key component of the mission. JJM looks to create a Jan Andolan for water, thereby making it everyone’s priority.
The vision of the mission is that every rural household has a drinking water supply in adequate quantity, of prescribed quality on a regular and long-term basis at affordable service delivery charges leading to improvement in the living standards of rural communities.
Under the mission, Pani Samitis or Village Water Sanitation Committee at the Village level are being set up across 06 lakh rural villages of the villages, where they are empowered to plan, implement, and manage their in-village water supply systems by adopting an end-to-end approach involving the four key components, namely, source sustainability, water supply, greywater treatment and reuse and operation & maintenance.
The socio-economic development and economic growth, especially in drought-prone and desert areas depend upon how wisely water resources are utilised.
Water, being a finite resource, plays a key role especially in arid and semi-arid regions in restoring and sustaining the environment including flora and fauna. Its vitality for reducing the burden of disease and improving the health, welfare and productivity of human populations and keeping other life forms on earth possible cannot be underestimated or ignored.