Water economy needs clarity & investment

Published on TIMES NEWS NETWORK (India), by JAIDEEP MISHRA, JULY 06, 2007.

2 excerpts: NEW DELHI: It’s that time of the year, again, when it rains, it simply pours. In Nehru’s memorable words, the “magic of the monsoons” is well and truly upon us. It’s also a fact that India’s leaky water economy calls for prompt policy attention. Across the land there is a sorry lack of investment in water infrastructure, including grossly inadequate maintenance, negligible user charges and unsustainably overwhelming reliance on groundwater …

… Now, in the normal course, the poor provision of public irrigation and water supply services can be expected to rev up social tensions and political pressure. That we seem to have avoided such repercussions, albeit temporarily, has much to do with a remarkably transformal technology — the tubewell. Irrigators have drilled on a massive scale, with 20 million tubewells now installed. Groundwater now accounts for over 50% of irrigated area. The estimates suggest that 80% of domestic water supply in India now comes from groundwater.

The silver lining is the move of late to grow high-value crops displacing low-value, water-intensive foodgrains. Also, the move to invest in drip irrigation and economise on usage does make eminent sense. But there remains much politicisation of water. For example, an estimated 18% of Maharashtra’s fiscal deficit is to pay for the construction of dams whose primary purpose was to lay claims on water from the Krishna. The lack of “modern, fair and enforceable” interstate water compacts have stultified sensible interstate water cooperation.

The designation of the Central Groundwater Board (CGWB) into the Central Groundwater Authority seems to changed neither the character of the organisation nor improved its effectiveness in governance of the water economy. CGWB clamours for strong groundwater laws and their effective enforcement. Forming “participatory partnerships” with user communities for management of water resources and acquifers, and incentives for economy in usage and sustainability seems to be the way ahead. (full text).

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