Parched: PM Narendra Modi's new project Piped Water for All by 2024 faces nationwide water crisis
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet new project "Piped Water for All by 2024" faces an acute nationwide water crisis challenge even before the government finishes the task of amalgamating nearly half a dozen departments that used to deal with surface and groundwater to form the Jal Shakti Ministry announced on May 31.
Stretched between slew of meetings to build the final contours of the ministry whose "tapped drinking water for all in the next five years" agenda is going to be one of PM Modi's key poll planks for 2024 the first minister of the newly-minted Jal Shakti ministry, Gajendra Shekhawat, spoke exclusively to India Today TV.
When asked about the plan body NITI Aayog's warning that 21 Indian cities will run out of groundwater by 2020 and that 70 per cent of water bodies in India are contaminated -- makes PM's promise -- sound like mission impossible, Shekhawat said similar doubts were voiced when PM promised toilets, electricity and bank accounts for all at the start of his first term.
Shekhawat said, "Unfortunately, in India water is not national property, but state subject. The scope of the Centre's intervention is limited. The new ministry will study the macro and micro issues, take a holistic view to push for 'sustainable conscientious use of water' to meet future challenges."
He explained, "India has the world's second largest population and just 4 per cent of potable water. Till now almost every aspect of water was dealt with by a different ministry and department and then there are states. My first task is going to call for a meeting of state ministers who deal with water resource and discuss both short and long term solutions."
He strongly refuted the news reports that water level in India's major reservoirs was at precarious never before levels.
Shekhawat said, "There are too many reports floating a scare. The Centre directly monitors 90 large reservoirs in the country. I had sought reports and have found that water level in all these reservoirs is at a higher level compared to the last 10 years -- at this moment of time when the monsoon is set to arrive though is a bit late."
On the crisis in states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra, Shekhawat indicated that the solution can be found in terms of finding rational ways of utilising existing water resources and follow success models to charge the acquirers which form the bedrock of water supply in rural and urban India.
His ministry faces an uphill task as India just short of 75 years mark remains a groundwater economy. By sucking out nearly 260 cubic kms of water every year India contributed to 25 per cent of global groundwater used.
Groundwater is the source for 90% of rural India's drinking water needs, 75% of agrarian needs and 50% of urban India's water needs.
Shekhawat said, "Lot of cultural values like conservation and preservation, prescribed as long back as the Vedas, need to be brought back. The abuse of a resource which is considered free needs to end and all stakeholders need to start flocking on the same page when it comes to water."
Shekhawat also hinted that efforts to battle water are hit by political vested interests. He said, "Politics trumps what's needed. Rajasthan had started serious work to replenish the acquirers through the Jal Swabhimaan Yojna but when the Congress government came, it halted all work which was being done."
Niti Ayog in a recent report had credited Rajasthan as the Number 1 state for its effort to recharge the depleting acquirers. The report had stated that "due to water conservation efforts in the state, the groundwater level has risen by five feet in around 21 districts."
When asked about the inertia-ridden clean Ganga campaign, Shekhawat launched a frontal attack on the Akhilesh Yadav government in UP for allegedly stalling the projects.
He said, "It's a clear case of politics over needs. Till 2017, the pace in UP, for example, was slowed down deliberately by the state government ministers in the government wrote letters to heads of districts along the river Ganga openly asking them not to cooperate with the project or officers."
When asked about politically sensitive water pricing policy the minister said, "Before we speak about water pricing we need to deal with the issue of free electricity." The minister indicated that free power to farmers in states was one of the biggest reasons behind the over-exploitation of groundwater.
He said, "Till wells were used for irrigation, it was okay and methods were sustainable. But tubewell technology has led to over-exploitation. It's due to free power in states like Punjab farmers use almost 4,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of paddy. That's abuse as studies indicate that 1 kg of paddy can even be grown with just 300 litres of water."
He added: water is a state subject and state policies irrespective of which party is in power have led to rampant over-exploitation of groundwater.
He stated that the Centre will start acting as a bridge between end users of water and technologies and scientific developments which can lead to an optimal and sustainable use of water.