Narendra Modi’s move on water praiseworthy - GulfToday

Narendra Modi’s move on water praiseworthy

Narendra Modi

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move to launch a 60-billion-rupee ($842 million) plan to tackle water shortages in the country is commendable. The project seeks to replenish groundwater in the some of the country’s heartland states where agriculture is a mainstay.

India, the world’s second-most populous country, has been facing the worst long-term water crisis in its history as demand outstrips supply. This is affecting farm output and overall economic growth in Asia’s third-largest economy.

Almost every sector of the $2.6 trillion economy is dependent on water, especially agriculture, which sustains two-thirds of India’s 1.3 billion people.

The plan launched by Modi would help boost overall availability of groundwater in Rajasthan, Karnataka, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat, which produce staples such as rice, wheat, sugar and oilseeds.

India is the world’s leading producer of a slew of farm goods, and nearly 60 per cent of the irrigation for agriculture comes from groundwater, mainly through electric water pumps.

Subsidised electricity gives farmers an incentive to pump out more water, a key reason behind fast-depleting water tables in the vast country.

Supplying clean drinking water to millions of poor people and reviving moribund irrigation projects were a key part of Modi’s policies for India. By 2030, water demand is projected to be double the supply, implying severe scarcity for hundreds of millions of people. The shortage will eventually shave around 6 per cent off the gross domestic product, the report said.

Droughts are becoming more frequent, creating woes for India’s rain-dependent farmers. At the same time, water disputes between states are on the rise and only serve to compound the problem.

The water paucity is acute. From the northern Himalayas to the sandy, palm-fringed beaches in the south, 600 million people, nearly half of India’s population, face severe water shortage, with close to 200,000 reportedly dying each year from polluted water.

Many women queue daily with pipes, jerry cans and buckets in hand for water from tankers, a common lifeline for those without a safe, reliable municipal supply.

Nearly half of India’s farmland, without any irrigation cover, depends on the annual June-September rains to grow a number of crops.

Drinking water is also an issue; 600 million face high to extreme water stress, according to the National Institute for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog, a think tank chaired by Modi.

According to UK-based charity WaterAid, about 163 million people in India – roughly 12 per cent of the population – do not have access to clean water close to home.

Every summer water shortages tend to be more acute in large cities such as the capital New Delhi, Chennai – a car-making centre dubbed “India’s Detroit” – and Bengaluru, the country’s software capital.

Modi also exhorted farmers to use water-management techniques apart from eschewing water-guzzling crops such as rice and sugar cane.

To add to the common man’s bag of vexations, politicians, civil servants and corporate lobbyists who live in big houses and apartments in central Delhi pay very little to get limitless supplies of piped water – whether for their bathrooms, kitchens or to wash the car, dog, or spray a manicured lawn.

These residents seem to pay scant heed to the daily struggles to get and pay for very limited supplies of water, which is delivered by tanker rather than pipe. And the price is soaring as supplies are fast depleting.

“Water shortages in the country not only affect individuals and families; the crisis also has an effect on India’s development,” Modi said. “We need to prepare the new India to deal with every single aspect of the crisis.”

However, it remains to be seen if this huge sop for the masses is a diversionary tactic from the protests engulfing the country over the controversial citizenship law.

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