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Rajya Sabha TV: The Big Picture – India’s Water Crisis – Every Drop Counts

Rajya Sabha TV: The Big Picture – India’s Water Crisis – Every Drop Counts


Maharashtra is facing a water emergency of unprecedented proportions. Following years of drought, the rivers’ currents have ebbed, water in dams and reservoirs has depleted and over-exploitation of groundwater has raised concerns over the long-term availability of water. Meanwhile media reports claim IT companies in Chennai are asking employees to work from home. The reason being they don’t have water to sustain operations. It has not rained for almost 200 days in the city and Chennai may not get sufficient rain to tide over the water crisis for the next three months.

In North India, residents in the arid Thar Desert of Rajasthan are dishing out Rs 2,500 to buy 2,500 litres of water, which they share with their cattle. With the threat of desertification staring Punjab in the face and the state struggling to break away from the ‘wheat-paddy’ cycle, farmers in the state are quickly adopting a five-decade-old scheme to use ‘Underground Pipeline System’ for irrigation. The union government on its part has created a Jal Shakti Ministry under a full-fledged cabinet minister to try and address the water emergency, but a lot more needs to be done.


India receives 4000 bcm rainfall every year. Out of this, 1869 bcm is left after evaporation and the actual availability is 1137 bcm. There is a lot of temporal and spatial variation in the availability of this water. There are water surplus states and water scarce states like Maharashtra (Vidarbha, Beed), Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, parts of Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana.

Issues with long term projects:

  1. Interlinking of rivers is a long-term project. It is almost 20 years now and the groundwork has not started for Ken-Betwa project. There is a lot of political opposition and there are ecological concerns as well. Half of the Panna tiger Reserve will be submerged.
  2. There are floods in Brahmaputra river at the time of monsoon but water is required in Assam during dry months.
  3. There is the problem of storage and transfer of water as well.

Major issues:

  1. Delay in monsoon and change in pattern.
  2. Management of both supply side and demand side of water.
  3. India’s availability of water at present is 1700 cubic ft per person, which was 5000 cubic ft per person once upon a time.
  4. Unprecedented heat waves, which can become more persistent with climate change.
  5. Less pre monsoon rain.
  6. Reservoir levels are going down.
  7. 91 reservoirs in India are at 19% of their life storage.

How to manage water available?

  1. Centre, states, people and all stakeholders need to take action in this regard.
  2. Vigorous programmes on water efficiency are required like energy efficiency.
  3. There is an urgent need for coordination among users for aquifers. There should be laws and contracts for sharing of aquifers.
  4. Groundwater mapping has started recently in India.
  5. There should be a River Basin Authority for sharing information among states as most of the rivers in India pass through different states focusing on conservation.
  6. At the village level, there can be decentralized management of water at community level.
  7. Charging money for efficient use of water (as in case of electricity). For example- Water ATMS at Marathwada provide water @25 paisa per litre a day.
  8. Changing the cropping pattern, crop diversification and encouraging water use efficiency in agriculture by moving towards food crops from cash crops.
  9. Coordinated efforts among states for management of ground water at a localized level.
  10. Encouraging rain water harvesting, check dams

Which steps have been taken in this regard?

  1. Jal Shakti Ministry has been incorporated to address the issue. It clubs Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation) and has promised that it would ensure potable, piped drinking water to every home by 2024.
  2. Serious crisis has been partly avoided as rabi crops have been harvested and kharif crops are yet to be sown.
  3. States are also taking the lead in this regard with various schemes like:

             Mukhya Mantri Jal Swavlamban Abhiyan-Rajasthan

              Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan-Maharashtra

  1. Hiware Bazar, a village in the Ahmednagar District of Maharashtra, India is noted for its irrigation system and water conservation program, with which it has fought the drought and drinking water problems.
  2. Prime Minister has written to all Sarpanch in the country to undertake water conservation programme within their village.

Fixing India’s structural water crisis will need a balanced combination of saner policies, meticulous strategy, and a massive amount of public participation.