Classified as ‘water scarce’ with less than 1,000 cubic metres per capita available annually, India is staring at a crisis that needs urgent attention
A man drawing water from a well with the help of oxen; (Photo: Getty Images)
From the brickwork remnants at the Indus Valley Civilisation sites in the north to the tanks, step-wells, and the 2nd century Grand Anicut that the Cholas built in the south, the subcontinent is replete with proof that ancient India knew its water management well. However, the highly seasonal pattern of rainfall coupled with a steady rise in consumption, over centuries, has put enormous stress on the country’s water resources. As a result, India is now classified as ‘water scarce’ with less than 1,000 cubic metres per capita per annum, down from about 4,000 cubic metres in 1947 when it gained Independence.
After building huge dams and reservoirs to store water, the Command Area Development (CAD) programme, launched in 1974-75, developed an adequate delivery system up to farmers’ fields. It improved crop production. Soon, for want of copious water supply, participatory irrigation management through the creation of water users’ association rationalised its use. But efficiency failed to gain ground. The advent of micro-irrigation to facilitate the use of sprinklers and drip irrigation created a sustainable participatory environment. However, the target to cover at least 10 per cent of the area under each CAD project with micro-irrigation is in the works.
Providing potable water, through a piped supply system to homes, has evolved from the earlier phases of drawing it from deep wells fitted with heavy-duty motor pumps, the ubiquitous community drinking water hand-pumps in villages, and the building of towering protected tanks. Since 2019, the Ministry of Jal Shakti has been implementing in mission mode the National Rural Drinking Water Programme. But the appreciation that water comes with costs and is a depleting resource is far from wide.