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Tackling Water Scarcity In India

Tackling Water Scarcity In India

Every summer, the people in India struggle even for drinking water. Politicians, the public, social activists and numerous religious organizations of various religions in India join the campaign for water. Most of them end up in campaigns for awareness building, public meetings, comments and criticism by media and masses. The educational institutions organize vociferous campaigns and stage shows emphasizing the need for water conservation as to what government should do for the people to solve the water scarcity problem. By the time summer season is over and the rainy season is set in, people forget the water problem they had a few months ago. Next year, the same cycle is repeated and the cycle of cry and campaign for water during summer months and the silence on water scarcity in monsoon season continues year after year and decades after decades.

Creation and preservation of inland water bodies was a right proposal as mentioned in the editorial message of Indian Currents dated 24-30 June 2019. There were thousands of impounded inland water bodies varying between small ponds to big lakes in our country; but vast majority of them got dried up. Similarly most of the rivers are drying up in the summer months. The wells also are dying up or the water level is going down steadily. How long shall we go on crying and clamouring for water and blaming each other for scarcity of water? There is no end to it. What are the real solutions? Fr. Herman Backer, who was the father of watershed movements in India, had promoted and implemented many water conservation schemes in our country and after him the movement died out slowly.  Now no one seems to know about watershed management which once upon a time was so vibrant. As a technical expert in water conservation let me enumerate the short and long term steps to solve the water scarcity in our country. Following are the action plans to be implemented at the ground level. Most of them are long term programmes and people also should know that water problem cannot be solved effectively without long term programmes implemented meticulously. Emphasis should be on proper implementation and not on publicity and duplicity of politicization of water problem. Following water conservation programmes should be implemented almost simultaneously, honestly and completely for solving the perennial water problem. Due to shortage of space I shall only enumerate the major components of water conservation programme.

1. All the areas 33.3% slopes in the hilly and mountainous areas should be forested perennially so that all the rain water falling in that area would be sunk into the soil and the water springs originating at the base of the hilly areas and mountains would be maintained. Deforestation dries up the water springs at the base of those hills and mountains. Maintaining perennial forest all the hilly areas is most crucial because several water springs join to form streams; several streams become small rivers and big rivers.

2. All the rivers and streams in our country should have a protective cover of forests on both sides and the width of this strip of forest each side should be as wide as the stream or river itself. Similar wide forest cover should be maintained around all the ponds and lakes in the country.

3. Wherever needed permanent river and stream bank protection measures should be adopted.

4. All the islands in the rivers should be maintained under perennial forest cover and no one should be allowed to occupy such river islands for cultivation.

5. Controlled silt and sand removal should be an yearly practice to maintain optimum water holding capacity in the rivers and streams.

6. Barrages, anicuts, check dams should be built at suitable locations on the streams and rivers in our country.

7.  The areas where annual crops like rice, wheat, maize, jowar, bajra, ragi, pulses, vegetables and oil seeds are cultivated the crops need only a maximum of two feet soil depth though the soil depth in most those areas would be many meters especially on river bed areas. For example the delta area of Tanjavoor huge underground tanks should be constructed to store the surplus rainy season water which can be used in the summer season both for cultivation and domestic purpose. Anyone who has seen the huge underground metro stations in Delhi or in any foreign cities will never doubt about the feasibility of such underground water storages which can supply water to the over ground crops any time of the year depending on the number of crops taken over ground. Similar projects can be implemented in the Gangetic and other river basins. This will store most of the surplus water that rushes down into the sea during monsoon season.

8. At the individual, institutional or community level roof water collection and storage in underground storages is an effective solution to water scarcity. Similarly storage of excess of rain water in the cities and towns also can be stored over ground of or underground.

The mountainous areas of Himalayan ranges, Aravalli ranges, Vindhya-Satpura ranges, Chottanagapur ranges, North-Eastern hill ranges, Western and Eastern Ghats have to be perennially forested especially all the areas above one-third or 1:3 slope. Is every able bodied men and women and youth ready to participate in result oriented forestation and forest preservation programme every year? The emphasis is on the result with a minimum of 95% percent success in tree plantation of perennial status. Our habit of celebrating the projects has to be changed to a habit of meticulous execution of projects in time-bound manner.

Water conservation and storage should be the concern of all at the practical and implementation level and not merely at the awareness and animation level.

Our habit of endless discussions and debates should be transformed into meticulously planned time bound implementation of projects and programmes.

Diverting different snow-melted water sources from Himalayan ranges from a height above the Deccan plateau and siphoning them through huge underground pipes to various strategic points in the Deccan Region is an additional permanent solution to our water problem. River Brahmaputra enter India at a height of 7000 feet and most of the areas in the Deccan and Chotanagapur plateau is much below this and siphoning of Brahmaputra water is technically feasible. Most of the water sources in the Western and even in the Eastern Ghats can also be siphoned to the plains for better use. Nearly 95% of such water sources when they reach the plains through its regular course will be lost through seepage into the dry soil and sand. Hence reach water from the sources to the targeted locations through strong and huge non-permeable pipes or line canals to avoid seepage loss which is up to 95%.

Many are the means to solve the water problem but few are willing to implement them. All in our country seem to be locked up in endless discussion and debate; hardly anyone is ready to implement the above mentioned projects in a time bound and concrete result oriented manner. People are ready to kill each other for water but not work together to conserve water for everyone.

( The writer is retired Professor from XIM, Bhubaneswar. )

(Published on 01th July 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 27)