A fitting tribute
Marking the occasion of the birth anniversary India's former PM and BJP stalwart, the Union Cabinet's approval of the Atal Bhujal Yojana, a Rs 6,000 crore scheme that will be implemented in the next five years, is a fitting tribute to the vision leader India was fortunate to have. This scheme, also known as Atal Jal, aims to improve groundwater management through community participation in seven states. Vajpayee's vision of India was one that prioritised connectivity and rested on the sturdy pillars of remarkable policy-making. In that spirit, the Atal Jal scheme is expected to benefit almost 8,350 gram panchayats in 78 districts across Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh as it will promote panchayat-led ground water management and behavioural change with primary focus on demand-side management. With a total outlay of Rs 6,000 crore, 50 per cent of this comes as a World Bank loan to be repaid by the Central Government. The World Bank's loan component together with the Central assistance shall be passed on to the states as grants. With the intention of contributing towards the goal of doubling farmers' incomes, promoting participatory ground water management, improving water use efficiency on a mass scale, improving cropping pattern and promoting efficient and equitable use of ground water resources and behavioural change at the community level, this is an initiative which will form the basis for an improved system of water management at the basic levels. Its two major components: institutional strengthening and capacity building for sustainable ground water management in the states including improving monitoring networks, capacity building, strengthening of water user associations; and incentivising the states for achievements in improved groundwater management practices in terms of data dissemination, preparation of water security plans, implementation of management interventions through convergence of ongoing schemes, adopting demand side management practices, etc. are crucial to upscaling the management of rapidly depleting ground water across the country. The limited groundwater resources in the country continue to be a resource under threat given the increasing demands of growing population, urbanisation, and more industrialisation. Intensive and unregulated groundwater extraction in most places is the reason for depleting water table as well as reduced sustainability of groundwater abstraction structures. Considering that ground water contributes to nearly 65 per cent of total irrigated area of the country and nearly 85 per cent of the rural drinking water supply, the efforts in this direction are one of the basic steps towards strengthening the system for sustainability and self-sufficiency. Also, announcing to name the Strategic Tunnel under Rohtang Pass after Atal Bihari Vajpayee is a reminder yet again of how the former PM thought it crucial to strengthen the country with a robust system of connectivity and laid the foundation of some important initiatives, which if nurtured properly, the fruits of may be harvested for years to come.