Shimla has been struggling with the water crisis which is an echo of Cape Town’s distress earlier this year. The city has run dry in the peak tourist season. The crisis is a reflection of a wider problem faced by India.
Analysing the crisis
To be clear, India has adequate freshwater but the problem lies in wasteful and inefficient use.
- According to Central Water Commission in 2000, agriculture is consuming more than 85 percent of total freshwater. Unfortunately this high percentage is going to decrease by only 2 percent in 2025.
- Water usage in different crops such as paddy and maize is more than two to four times in other farming nations. We can blame flood irrigation which is practiced in Northern India. The subsidy regime in the northern states are to be blamed for encouraging flood irrigation. Economic Survey 2015-16 has pointed out that agriculture subsidy structure encourages using inputs such as fertiliser, water and power at the cost of detriment of soil. As most of the states are providing free of flat rate electricity to the farmers, it is leading to wasteful water extraction. IMF and Economic Survey both indicate that this anomaly in subsidies disproportionately benefit only the rich and large farmers. This has to change. Using financial inclusion and Aadhar drives, we can shift the balance in favour of targeted direct benefit transfers.
- Irrigation structure must be upgraded and R&D efforts must focus on improving productivity with low water usage techniques. Punjab Agriculture University and Israeli leadership may collaborate to provide new variety of rice crop and efficient water-management techniques to promote drip irrigation respectively so as to ensure an increase in agricultural productivity.
More than 80 percent of drinking water needs are fulfilled by groundwater. The over-extraction of groundwater for personal use has pushed India to a crisis situation whereby the groundwater resources are depleting hard and the replenishment is not taking place at the same pace. As water is a state subject, the states have meagre financial resources to invest in water-management practices to provide sustainable long-term solutions such as construction of water treatment and recycling infrastructure.
What could be done?
- Establishing a rational water-pricing policy and ending subsidies would be a political suicide but these are essential changes.
- The legal framework designed to regulate groundwater for personal consumption needs to be implemented properly. A legislative change can be considered to give it more teeth.
- Behavioural changes can be incorporated via unique interventions such as publishing daily data on water consumption by the city people and identifying the households which are not cooperating whereas rewarding the cooperating ones in leading public newspapers. Maharashtra restaurants have come up with a small change by serving only half glass of water and replenishing it only after request.
- In CapeTown, the authorities announced a doomsday gamble by announcing ‘Day Zero’ to create panic and pushing the people to act. This has led to significant reduction in water consumption per person which has fallen to half now.
Government must act before more Shimlas start emerging countrywide.
Source – Livemint
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