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Editorial Articles

Issue no 51, 19-25 March 2022

Towards Water Sustainability


Jyoti S. Verma

Beginning with setting up a new Ministry of Jal Shakti in 2019, the Government of India has committed to taking clean drinking water to every household, overcoming the pollution of groundwater and rivers, and making water conservation and management a priority through its various programmes.

Every year, millions of people, mostly children, die from diseases associated with inadequate potable water supply, sanitation and hygiene. About 52 per cent of the world’s projected 9.7 billion people will live in water-stressed regions by 2050, say Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers after evaluating water resources. The issue needs worldwide attention considering the possible impact of climate change and socioeconomics on water stress.

A universal problem, more so in developing countries with high population, water shortage and pollution together with lack of sanitation and increasing pressure of global warming helped make ‘Clean Water and Sanitation for All’ one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 6) set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. These 17 SDGs are an urgent call for action by all countries, developed and developing, in a global partnership with 2030 as the target year. For India, home to 18 per cent of the global population and only 4 per cent of the global water resources, the struggle for water is real. Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR) Director General T Mohapatra has pointed out that the per capita annual water availability has declined to 1,508 cubic meter in 2014 from 5,177 cubic meter in 1951. This is below the internationally recognised threshold of water stress of 1,700 cubic metre per person and close to the threshold for water scarcity of 1,000 cubic metre per person.

The per capita availability of water is estimated to decline further to 1,465 cubic meter by 2025 and 1,235 cubic meter by 2050. If it declines further to around 1,000- 1,100 cubic meter, then India could be declared as water-stressed country,” he warned. The water stress leads to more social problems, apart from diseases and drudgery.

A change came in 2019, when the Government of India set up a new Ministry dedicated to address the country’s increasing water stress and problems originating from it. The Ministry of Jal Shakti was formed by merging of two previous ministries, the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation (MoWR, RD&GR) and the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. The prime objectives of the new ministry were to clean river Ganga, resolve disputes of inter-state water bodies, and provide safe and adequate drinking water to every rural household. In the last two years, these objectives have been given targets, funds, technology support and platforms for other stakeholders to connect and partner. The support of dedicated websites, dashboards and mobile applications, to give regular updates on the work done so far, makes these programmes urgent, efficient and transparent

Jal Jeevan Mission

In 2019, the centrally sponsored scheme of the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation (DDWS), the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) was restructured and subsumed into Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) to provide functional household tap connections (FHTCs) to every rural household by 2024. In the next two years, the mission, launched with the aim of Har Ghar Jal, brought about a huge difference in the lives of the people despite the challenges imposed by the pandemic. In 2019, out of about 18.93 crore households in rural areas, about 3.23 crore (17 per cent) had tap water connections. By March 8, 2022, the mission covered more than 47 per cent of rural households targeted.

Under JJM, the functionality of all existing water supply systems and tap connections has to be ensured, through strengthening of drinking water sources and treating and reusing greywater. The programme will directly benefit more than 19 crore rural families, bridging rural-urban divide and improving public health. The mission has been given enough funds to make this vision a reality. Jal Jeevan Mission, implemented in partnership with states, is part of one of the government of India’s biggest community infrastructure outlays with a fund of Rs. 3.60 lakh crore. It not only works towards water security, but also helps the manufacturing industry, creates employment opportunities and supports the rural economy. The long-term drinking water security will also relieve people from making emergency arrangements such as tankers or trains or hand pump installation in villages.

The next priority of JJM is consistency with assured and regular water supply at the household level. Water supply in adequate quantity (55 litres per person per day) of prescribed quality (as per Bureau of Indian Standards) on a long-term and regular basis will ensure the functionality of taps or water supply systems. Assured availability of drinking water in homes is particularly important for women and girls, who travel long distances to fetch drinking water, adversely impacting their health, education and socioeconomic conditions.

To make Jal Jeevan Mission a public movement, the government has made the programme decentralised, demand-driven and community-managed to instill a sense of ownership among local people. The government began with areas suffering from massive water stress and grave water-related problems, such as arsenic and fluoride-affected habitations, SC/ST majority villages, droughtprone and desert areas, and Japanese Encephalitis (JE/AES) affected districts, to name a few.

                The government also realised that commissioning of piped water supply schemes may take two to three years, and so advised that states to install Community Water Purification Plants (CWPPs), especially in arsenic and fluoride-affected habitations as an interim (shortterm) measure to provide 8-10 lpcd of water for drinking and cooking purposes.


Namami Gange

An Integrated Conservation Mission, Namami Gange Programme is approved as a flagship programme of the union government to accomplish effective abatement of pollution, and conservation and rejuvenation of National River Ganga. The government is implementing the programme through entry-level activities (for immediate visible impact), medium-term activities (to be implemented within five years of time frame) and long-term activities (to be implemented within 10 years).

Under Namami Gange, 70 sewage management projects are under implementation, 73 sewage projects have been completed, 11 sewage projects are under tendering and six new sewage projects have been launched, informs the ministry. The work of creating a sewerage capacity of 5023.98 (MLD) is under construction, it adds.

The National Mission for Clean Ganga endeavours to deploy the best available knowledge and resources across the world for Ganga rejuvenation. The programme also aims at creating river-front development, river surface cleaning, biodiversity conservation, afforestation, public awareness, industrial effluent monitoring and building Ganga Gram (a project for sanitation-based integrated development of 4,470 villages along the river). For the Ganga Gram project, the ministry works in close coordination with NMCG, ministries, state governments and districts.

Atal Bhujal Yojana

A central sector scheme, Atal Bhujal Yojana lays emphasis on community participation and demand-side interventions for sustainable groundwater management in chosen water-stressed areas in seven Indian states. The scheme also envisages improved source sustainability for JJM, a positive contribution to the government’s goal of ‘doubling farmers' income’ and instilling behavioural changes in the community to facilitate optimal water use.

                An important area for India, groundwater is also the theme of this year’s World Water Day: Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible. It is a vital resource that provides almost half of all drinking water worldwide, about 40 per cent of water for irrigated agriculture and about one-third of water required for industry, says the United Nations. For decades, it has been a solution for people without access to safe water in India. However, human activities, due to population and economic growth, climate variability and other reasons put pressure on groundwater resources, leading to their depletion and pollution.

                Atal Bhujal Yojana is being taken up in 8,353 water-stressed Gram Panchayats of Haryana, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. It has an outlay of Rs. 6,000 crore, with Rs. 3,000 crore as a loan from the World Bank and Rs. 3,000 crore from the Centre. The funds are given to states as grants-inaid.

                The scheme has two components, institutional strengthening and capacity building (Rs. 1,400 crore) and incentive (Rs. 4,600 crore). The first component strengthens institutional arrangements for groundwater governance by facilitating strong data base, scientific approach and community participation to enable states to sustainably manage their resources. The second component incentivises the states for achieving pre-defined results with emphasis on community participation, demand management and convergence among ongoing schemes of both Centre and state for improvement in groundwater management.

River Interlinking

A project with civil engineering at its core, river interlinking is an ambitious programme of the government of India and aims at resolving the country’s water woes. Suggested to be a relief for drought-prone and rain-fed areas and the people living in these regions, the programme is driven towards greater equity in the distribution of water by increasing its availability.

                After Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the implementation of Ken-Betwa Link Project, to be taken up at an estimated cost of Rs. 44,605 crore, in her union budget speech, the Centre constituted the Ken-Betwa Link Project Authority (KBLPA) to implement country’s first initiative under the river interlinking policy. The project seeks to bring about 11 lakh hectares of land under irrigation in the dry Bundelkhand region in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh

                Under the National Perspective Plan (NPP) of the erstwhile Ministry of Irrigation (now Ministry of Jal Shakti), prepared in 1980, 30 links have been identified, with 14 links under Himalayan rivers and 16 links under peninsular rivers component, for inter-basin transfer of water based on field surveys and investigation and detailed studies. Feasibility reports of 14 links under peninsular rivers and seven links (Indian portion) under Himalayan rivers have been prepared, and draft feasibility reports of three link projects (Indian portion) of Himalayan Component have been completed, say reports.

                The Ken-Betwa Link Project envisages transferring water from river Ken to river Betwa, both Yamuna tributaries. The Ken-Betwa Link Canal will be 221 km long, including a 2-km long tunnel. The river-linking project will be completed in eight years.

Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana

Though a programme of the Ministry of Agriculture, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) is an important government programme working on water conservation and management.

Agriculture is highly waterdependent and increasingly affected by paucity of water, affecting many farmer families across the country. Waterintensive farming consumes liters of water that can be utilised to serve the needs of this significant section. Irrigation is especially important for India, where agriculture accounts for 90 per cent of water use due to fast-track groundwater depletion and poor irrigation systems, say experts. Under PMKSY, launched in 2015, the government has given priority to water conservation and management. The pro-gramme has been formulated to increase irrigation coverage and improve water use efficiency in a focused manner with end-to-end solution on source creation, distribution, management, field application and extension activities.

The irrigation scheme has been formulated by merging ongoing schemes, Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP) of the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation (MoWR, RD&GR), Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) of Department of Land Re-sources and the On Farm Water Management of Department of Agriculture and Cooperation. PMKSY has been approved for implementation across the country with an outlay of Rs. 50,000 crore in five years, says the ministry. In December 2021, the government extended the scheme to improve farm productivity by four years till 2025-26 to complete ongoing projects, with the programme receiving additional spending of Rs. 93,068 crore.

The major objectives of PMKSY are to accomplish convergence of investments in irrigation at the field level, widen cultivable area under assured irrigation, improve on-farm water use efficiency to reduce water wastage, boost the adoption of precision irrigation and other water-saving technologies, enhance recharge of aquifers, and introduce sustainable water conservation practices by exploring the viability of reusing treated municipal wastewater for peri-urban agriculture and attract private investment in precision irrigation system.

The prime irrigation programme of the Centre works on ‘a decentralised state-level planning and projectised exe-cution model’, allowing states to draw up their own irrigation development plans based on District Irrigation Plan and State Irrigation Plan. A convergence platform for all water sector activities, including drinking water and sanitation, MGNREGA, application of science and technology, and others makes PMKSY a comprehensive plan. The State Level Sanctioning Committee (SLSC), chaired by the State Chief Secretary, oversees the implementation and sanctions at state level. At the centre, the programme is supervised and monitored by an Inter-Ministerial National Steer-ing Committee set up under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister with union ministers from concerned ministries. A National Executive Committee has been set up under the leadership of Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog to oversee programme imple-mentation, allocation of resources, interministerial coordination, moni-toring and performance assessment, addressing administrative issues and other tasks.

While the government is focused on achieving the targets of the said programmes, it has also been running awareness programmes to make people part of its vision of water security and sustainability and en-courage others, from United Nations agencies to countries, corporate, civil society organisations and citizens, to be part of the change. Messages like Har Ghar Jal and More Crop Per Drop are being used to make people understand, respect and be a part of the Continued from page 2 TOWARDS WATER SUSTAINABILITY programmes. With water being a subject on the state list, the programmes, together with similar dedicated state programmes, are making water a priority for everyone.

The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi and can be reached at jyotisverma2912@gmail.com Views expressed are personal.