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    OpinionsUrgency to Focus on Revival of Locally Adapted Water Recharge Methods

    Urgency to Focus on Revival of Locally Adapted Water Recharge Methods


    C M Sharma

    A new dimension has been added now to the problem of water scarcity in the National Capital Region of Delhi, with the state ruling party accusing and Himachal Pradesh of not coming to the rescue of water starved Delhi. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu too have a history of occasional disputes over sharing of Cauvery waters and and Haryana too have flexed their arms many a times over sharing of Sutlej-Yamuna waters. Current heat wave in the Jammu region also is sending strong warning signals. All these are dangerous portents as water becomes increasingly a rarer commodity – and we know that life without water is impossible.

    Over the past three centuries and more, a sequence of droughts across resulted in tens of millions of deaths. With a booming population, intensifying land uses and increasing climatic instability, these devastating droughts can be ever more problematic unless appropriate remedial measures are adopted.

    Agriculture, the provider of food for all humanity and the producer of important raw-material for industry, is the principal occupation of a majority of Indians. The most important and the most critical factor on which the sustainability of agriculture depends, is water. So, our primary concern in agriculture must remain harnessing, as well as use of water resources through effective, efficient and judicious methods.

    It may not be out of place to mention that the precipitation in northern and western India is mainly brought by the southwestern monsoons, arising from the Bay of Bengal. Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, during a short spell between July to September. The east coast is charged by the northwestern monsoons between October and December. The monsoon rainfall is however highly localised in space and time and virtually all of the yearly precipitation falls intensely to ground in just a few days, spread across a narrow six-week window. Even these rains are now becoming increasingly unpredictable under a changing climate.

    In an effort to ward off the occurrence of frequent droughts, communities in different regions of India have innovated to capture and store water in structures adapted to local topography, geology, climatic variability and cultural context. However, according to studies, state centralisation of water management systems and direct or indirect dispossession of community water management has adversely impacted rainwater harvesting systems while letting intense surface water run-off and frequent monsoon deluges.

    Policy shifts in the late-colonial and post-independence eras focused more on state centralisation of ownership and management of waters. This situation is intensified by the introduction of deep tube wells and energised pumping, proliferating since the 1990s. (Mark Everard, March 2013).

    Mark Everard says, “Pumping by farmers is often supported by generous state energy subsidies to boost agricultural production. Privatisation of benefits breaks links with community stewardship and negatively influences the balancing of groundwater recharge and judicious water use.

    Dams and water transfer schemes compound this situation as, whilst securing water supplies for major cities, industries and intensive agricultural regions, flows of water serving India's ecosystems and the majority of its people, become constrained. This serves India poorly and in three principal ways.

    1. Damming rivers creates major asymmetries in benefits and costs. Intensive users of water and hydropower benefit, whilst huge numbers of people depending on the flows and services of rivers – for water abstracted for a range of purposes, fertilisation of grazing and cropping lands on floodplains, habitat maintenance and spiritual sites, migratory fish and other species, disease regulation under naturally variable flow regimes, and many more factors besides – see only an erosion of wellbeing.
    2. Across wider landscapes there are reduced incentives for maintenance of rainwater harvesting structures and associated social infrastructure by communities, as the policy and subsidy favours pumping of ever-receding, now increasingly contaminated, groundwater for private benefit. (Various government schemes of Jal Shakti Department and PM Krishi Sinchai Yojana with higher incentives for community resources and the latest ‘PM Amrit Sarovar Scheme' to revive community ponds are well-intended intervention to restore water harvesting structures and rationalise water distribution systems, but sincere and scientific implementation of such projects on ground and their social auditing is highly desirable).

    iii. The wider policy environment must balance increasingly efficient exploitation with resource regeneration, seriously taking into consideration resource availability and resilience of the whole socio-environmental system.

    So, the centuries of innovation and its associated wealth of traditional knowledge shouldn't be overlooked and communities should be re-sensitised with these by concerned departments in a mission mode as ‘heavy engineering', input-intensive – albeit increasingly efficient – exploitation of depleting resources, take precedence to fulfil the demands of ever-increasing urban population.

    The correlation of droughts and periodic declines in agricultural output with El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events provides compelling evidence of the need to recognise, reinterpret within contemporary conditions, and reincorporate into the policy environment, the long history of regionally adapted water resource recharge methods.

    Imparting a sense of accountability in management of water resources by duly recognised and registered local communities is as important for successful implementation of water management programmes as the technical rainwater harvesting solutions themselves. Thus, restoration of community-based regeneration of water, ecosystems and linked socio-economic systems can't be over-emphasised.

    Today, India is suffering from a severe heatwave leaving the urban and rural populations struggling to survive. There is hope that relief from the current deep drought may follow the arrival of the monsoon, with above-average rainfall predicted due to the impending La Nina weather pattern. However, groundwater levels are now so depleted that even a good monsoon may be insufficient to compensate.

    Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, has reportedly reiterated the May 2010 call of the Prime Minister's Climate Council to reform water management sustainably, beyond simple supply-demand, in the light of current water stresses. So, there are open doors for reforms at a political level, but withdrawing generous subsidies to farmers for pumping of depleting groundwater, isn't an easy option either. The social and political leaders therefore need to find out and draw a reasonable pathway to thwart the impending water crisis.


    (The author is Retired Dy. Director of Agriculture, J&K Government)





    The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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