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Conserving India’s Groundwater – Modi Government Joins Hands with World Bank

Conserving India groundwater

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government have emphasized on the need for water conservation repeatedly. To that end, several steps have been taken ever since the second term started. Conservation of water, especially ground water, and linking it to the goal of providing drinking water for all rural households, has been a crucial focus of this government. This is essential, since groundwater forms the primary source of drinking water across large parts of India.

Funding ABHY With World Bank’s Support

In another step towards ensuring water for all, the Government of India and the World Bank signed a $450 million loan agreement to support the Atal Bhujal Yojana (ABHY) programme for arresting the country’s depleting groundwater levels and strengthen groundwater institutions. ABHY – National Groundwater Management Improvement Programme will be implemented in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Haryana, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh and cover 78 districts.

The programme will aim to enhance the recharge underground aquifers and introduce water conservation practices; promote water harvesting, water management and crop alignment; create an institutional structure for sustainable groundwater management; and equip communities and stakeholders to sustainably manage groundwater among other objectives.

The Atal Bhujal Yojana intends to strengthen the institutional framework for participatory groundwater management and encourage behavioral changes at the community level for sustainable groundwater resource management. The use of cutting-edge technology, involving Artificial Intelligence and space technology will further help in better implementation of the programme.

Conserving Groundwater Is Significant

Exploitation in groundwater increased manifold in the past few decades. Between 1950 and 2010, the number of drilled tube wells increased from 1 million to nearly 30 million. This allowed the area irrigated by groundwater to increase from approximately 3 million ha to more than 35 million ha, constituting nearly 60 per cent of India’s irrigated lands. Over 80 percent of the rural and urban domestic water supplies in India are also served by groundwater making India the world’s largest user of groundwater.

It is estimated that the current trends continuing, 60 percent of districts will reach critical level of groundwater depletion within two decades, in turn putting at least 25 percent of the agriculture production at risk. Climate change will cause greater pressure on groundwater resources.

The programme will introduce a bottom-up planning process for community-driven development of water budgets and Water Security Plans (WSPs). Further, the government will transfer a significant portion of the money (nearly 80 percent) to local governments, including districts and gram panchayats, as incentives for achieving targets in groundwater management. The programme will also support adoption of micro-irrigation systems to increase productivity and support farmers to shift to low water-intensive crops.

Water Conservation – Not the Only Effort

Modi government has been tackling the issues related to water on war footing. Ever since the government assumed power in the second term, several big steps toward water management and conservation have been taken up. The various ministries were first consolidated into a single Jal Shakti Ministry to end inter-departmental bureaucratic tussles and smoothen business.

Several measures have been taken up by the government. While polluting industries are facing heat, steps towards ensuring drinking water supply in aspirational districts and giant strides in the clean up of River Ganga alongside irrigation management have been undertaken over the past six years. It has also taken steps towards digitizing water governance by mapping in real time India’s water resources for better management.

Further, seeing its twin benefit, The Per Drop More Crop component of Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY-PDMC) was introduced in 2015-16. The initiative focuses on enhancing water use efficiency at farm level through Micro Irrigation viz. Drip and Sprinkler irrigation.  More than 42 lakh hectares of farm land has been covered under PMKSY-PDMC since 2015-16 till date. Of this, drip irrigation covers 23 lakh hectares, and sprinkler irrigation systems cover 19 lakh hectares. To encourage its adoption, the Modi government provides financial assistance for installation of Drip and Sprinkler Irrigation systems, up to 55% for small and marginal farmers and up to 45% for other farmers.

The commitment of the Narendra Modi government will certainly bear fruit, when one sees the Ganga clean up being pursued in earnest. With cooperation from the states, the programme can certainly be successful.