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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Water woes of rural India must be taken care of by all

Rural India’s water crisis is mostly manmade. The woes of H2O is also thrusted by urban mass. India is lacking in neither rivers nor rain. The main rivers are numerous – the Ganga, Brahmaputra, Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, Kaveri, Indus, Narmada and the Tapti. In addition, the Himalayas are the largest store of fresh water besides the polar caps. India also receives about 4000 cubic meters of rainfall during the monsoons yet we lack storage spaces and most of this water is not available during the dry seasons or during a bad monsoon.

The same woe story is repeated in the case of irrigation from big dams constructed at phenomenal costs. Take the case of the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Maharashtra has approximately 1800 dams, Andhra about more than 300 and Karnataka has 200+ dams. Logic says that these states should therefore have no problems of irrigation. But the ground reality is completely surprising. Nearly every year there are farmer suicides here, the great woes of modern time and these states are declared drought hit. Obviously, the problem here is not the availability of water; it is the delivery system that needs to be addressed. There are no concrete plans to reach individual farmers to get them out of water woes, the result is that lands lie parched and water stays in the dams.

What recourse do the farmers have in such a situation? Can there be any solution to the much hyped but bitter truth of water woes? They dig up wells on their land and irrigate with the help of this underground water. The yields multiply and the farmer repeats the process next year and the year after that, till in the end this becomes an unviable alternative. This is where the government steps in and decides to tax the usage of underground water. It is the belief of someone up in the government that the entire water crisis is because the poor farmer is exploiting the scarce groundwater reserves and must be penalized. The logic being that taxing him will make him aware of the scarcity of water and he will value it more. Actually all these add to the water woes already prevailing. All this while the farmer knows that the rainfall water is lying in the dam but he has been constantly denied any access to it. Harnessing groundwater is getting more and more expensive and the farmer would be willing to pay for water just as he pays for seeds and fertilizers. The other solution is to provide him with sprinklers to optimize water usage. So far so good, but where is the electricity or the water?

Even after 64 years, our agriculture continues to be monsoon dependent. Each bad monsoon spells disaster for the economy yet we still do not have an effective mechanism to harness monsoon water and conserve it for the rough patch. Even where we have managed to collect this water we have failed to distribute it to our farmers. The water woes stories are really horrific and not covered by modern authors. The other solution that the government had in mind was the ILR (Inter Linking of Rivers), an expensive idea and one that may lead to trouble in neighbouring countries like Bangladesh. The remedy is not to have more expensive solutions but to make the existing ones more efficient. The enormous costs incurred in the making of these dams can only be realized when all Indian farmers have equal rights over its waters.

The solution to water woes lie only in hands of public who need very high degree of H2O awareness.

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