- India's water crisis
Yahoo! India News
Courtesy: SS Mani, Kalakad
That India is on the verge of a serious water crisis is a foregone conclusion. So much so that the possibility of water riots in the future can't be ruled out. And it's not that the farmers of Vidarbha in Maharashtra or Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh are the only casualties of depleting groundwater level. In satellite townships like Gurgaon and state capitals like Hyderabad, the situation is much worse than the rest of the country. And the blame doesn't go to bad monsoons alone.
More than indifferent monsoons, this scarcity of water has been caused by over exploitation of groundwater and lack of water conservation measures at the micro level. The answer to this monumental challenge that stares at an otherwise resurgent India comes from Gujarat. The state shows the way in the form of a unique government-people partnership model for water conservation. The results are here to see.
In 2004, the water table of 112 tehsils of the total 225 tehsils in Gujarat was in semi-critical to over-exploited condition. But a satellite based survey done last year by the Central Ground Water Board (NGWB) found that as many as 60 of these 112 tehsils have regained their normal water table. What's more, the water table is rising further in many of these tehsils. Most of these tehsils are in Saurashtra and Kutch where the farmers and the government together have started a unique check dam revolution.
In the mid-90s, large parts of Saurashtra used to get water through train tankers from water-abundant areas of central and south Gujarat. Today it is a thing of the past. Earlier, many small rivers and rivulets in this region used to go dry by the end of monsoon. Now they have become almost perennial and several villages have become self-sufficient in water.
In the past 10 years, 1,05,000 check dams costing Rs 1,480 crore have been built in Gujarat under the government-people scheme. The villagers have contributed between 10 and 15 per cent of the cost in the form of labour while the Government has done the rest. Around 70,000 of these dams have been piloted by the state irrigation department and the rest by the state rural development department. These dams have a cap of Rs 15 lakh in terms of investment.
The mechanism for these check dam scheme is very simple. As and when a village committee wants to make a dam, it takes the local irrigation engineer to the selected spot. After seeing the spot, the engineer helps them select one of the six technical designs for a check dam. The six designs are finalised by the Government depending on the local geological conditions. Once that is done the department releases funds and the work on the dam begins.
The changes are less evident in north Gujarat where the topography for building check dams is not as conducive and the farmers here are also not very enthusiastic. But in this region also the water level, barring some tehsils where it is falling due to local factors, has been rising for the past two years. Says R.C. Jain, Regional Director of the cgwb and in-charge of Gujarat, "Gujarat has shown that where there is a will there is always a way. This experiment can inspire people in many water starved areas of India."
Interestingly, the check dam revolution was triggered in 1999 by Mansukh Suvagiya, a Rajkot-based social worker in Jhamka village of Junagadh where the villagers collected money and constructed 52 check dams in a span of two months on small rivulets in and around the village. Today, Jhamka is a symbol of water and agro self-sufficiency.
To get something from mother earth you have to give something back. If you don't, it will stop giving you. It's not a one-way cycle.- Narendra Modi, Chief Minister, Gujarat
In the same year, the Saurashtra Jaldhara Trust, an NGO run by diamond magnate by Mathurbhai Savani built 213 check dams on rivulets in and around Khopala near Bhavnagar to turn the village's fortune. As the success of this experiment travelled to other areas of Saurashtra with the trust's help, the then chief minister Keshubhai Patel took interest in it and launched the ambitious Sardar Patel Water Recharging Programme in 2000 to build check dams in partnership with the people.
When Chief Minister Narendra Modi took over in 2001, he laid emphasis on creating farm ponds in areas like north and central Gujarat where building check dams was not very feasible. As a result 1,81,00,000 farm ponds have been built till date at a cost of Rs 181 crore. Farm ponds are built in that part of a farm where rain water collection happens in natural course.
In 2003, the Gujarat Government launched the Gujarat Green Revolution Company to propagate sprinkler and drip irrigation technology among farmers by giving them hefty incentives. Rated as the best in the country by the Union Agriculture Ministry for last three years, this initiative is one of the reasons why the groundwater level is getting recharged in the state.
But it was not easy for the Government to convince the farmers, who were agitating for more power, to participate in the project. The agitating farmers were told to take to water conserving farming techniques and tapping surface water through indigenous methods which could end their dependence on power. "To get something from mother earth you have to give something back. If you don't, it will stop giving you. It can't be a one-way cycle," Modi told the farmers. The agitators understood the logic of his appeal and the rest is history.
Then there are other big irrigation schemes which have helped in enhancing the water table in Gujarat. For example, in north and central Gujarat, the mud canal of the Sujalam Sufalam Yojana played a key role in bringing up the water level. The project targeted at pumping 'excess' water from the Kadana canal into north Gujarat dams by laying pipelines; building an unlined canal across 21 rivers in north Gujarat, and building two lakh farm-ponds. In another initiative, the state government has partnered with NGOs to build over 40 bigger-sized check dams costing up to Rs 1 crore.
Besides these long-term projects, certain short-term initiatives have also worked wonders. Last year, Gujarat had a bad monsoon but when the Government realised that rains could hit the state in the last leg of monsoon, it launched a quick water conservation drive by building boribunds (very small dams made by blocking small rivulets with the help of sand bags). In 20 days, over 2,50,000 boribunds came up as a result of a joint effort by the departments of rural development and forest management, NGOs and village committees.
When the rains did come, these boribunds conserved a lot of water. Says Ram Kumar, CEO of the State Watershed Management Agency: "Our resolve is to ensure that not a single drop of water is wasted." The success has not resulted in complacency in the Government which launched another innovative scheme three months ago to tap surface water on the hilly slopes of the tribal regions of south, north and east Gujarat by making terrace talavis-small ponds dug on hill slopes.
In 2009, Gujarat registered 9.06 per cent agricultural growth rate while the nation's growth rate was less than three per cent. The total cultivable area in Gujarat has increased by a phenomenal 15 per cent in the past 10 years. During that period, Gujarat's agro production has jumped from Rs 18,000 crore to Rs 49,000 crore. The state increased its cotton yield six-fold from 175 kg per hectare to 798 kg, more than the world average of 787 kg. "Gujarat has set the finest example of groundwater management through indigenous and modern methods and through people's participation, " says Tushaar Shah, senior fellow at the International Water Management Institute. When Jhamka and Khopala did it, the rest of Gujarat wondered why not they. It's time the rest of the country asked the same question.
By Uday Mahurkar
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