Water, water everywhere ...?
‘Two children die for lack of water in Adilabad’
‘200 Mourners get no water for ritual bath’
‘A Train full of water deported for Latur’
These headlines sound strange and make the whole nation think twice about the real achievements of the country in the last 60 to 80 years of its independence. It conveys the failure of our country since independence in providing enough water for drinking and agriculture purposes to its people. It makes one doubt the intensions of our policy makers because the sufferers are in huge numbers. These people have become habitual to assurances about governments preparedness to deal with any situation, crocodile tears of the netas, ex-gratia sanctioned by mantrijis without any practical solution, instead money was spent on dams for nefarious reason. Currently, drought hit people comprise one third of the total population of the country. It stands at 33.6 crore people in 254 districts of the country. The Supreme Court recently held ‘lack of will’ on the part of the Centre and state government as the major reason for not coming with any amicable solution to this problem over the years despite the disaster management act being in force from the last 10 years. Centre held it as a state problem and states had paucity of funds, hence the short term measures were thought over the years.
Leaving rhetoric aside, the fact is that very little has been done in case of joining of rivers, water harvesting, educating farmers about the production of low water requiring crops in places where there’s water scarcity. In Marathwada alone there are 90,000 borewells leading the water level to deplete and at certain places it has gone as deep as 1,300 feet in the ground level. Wastage and pattern of use, wrong crop choices have also lead to water scarcity. According to the World Bank, India is the largest user of ground water after China, the per capita availability of water in India is 1,588 cubic meter per annum, the international norm is 1,700 cubic metres. In India, 12 to 15 per cent of the rural farmers are land less, 69 per cent are marginal farmers with less than 1 hectare of land, 21 per cent are small farmers with one to two hectares and 90 per cent of the families own less than 51 per cent of the land, 60 to 70 per cent of the villagers still live in primitive conditions. The low holdings accompanied by crop failure and cattle deaths leaves them in the pool of poverty and misery. This makes them an easy prey of money lenders.
The present government has set a target of doubling farmers’ income in the country by 2022. It has started crop insurance and E-portals for marketing of agriculture produce in the different markets of the country. It has rightly started soil testing, warehousing, crop insurance. Natural reservoirs are being taken care of, water sprinklers, soil health card mission, and soil testing laboratories are being set up. The PM seems serious in coming out with long and short term solutions to the problems of agriculturalists suffering from drought in consultation with the states. He very well lamented recently that India’s prosperity starts from the prosperity of the villages and mechanisation of agriculture can be its best tool.
Drought has an adverse impact on the economy. The lack of water directly influences the price of food products in the country. Rain-fed agriculture produces 55 per cent of rice, 90 per cent of pulses and 91 per cent of coarse grains. If concerted measures are not taken to control water scarcity, it will easily lead to ample succor to the black economy.
Drought devastates farmers completely and leaves them with little chance except taking the extreme step. Outsiders may term such incidents as an act of cowardice, but only the foot knows where the shoe pinches. In order to move forward and save such shameful acts, steps need to be taken right away.
The author is Director at MAIMS, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi