Drought Proofing

The government has assured having sufficient food stocks for next 13 months, and resolves to import grains if required. Some have also suggested using NREGA to handover more money in the hands of the deprived ones and opening of Janata hotels to provide cheap food. Is it the right approach? How can a human being predict what can happen with the next monsoon or ensure that it will not fail. How can a government and its administrators keep on overlooking the reports such as one from Nasa: “A team of hydrologists led by Matt Rodell of Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, found that northern India’s underground water supply is being pumped and consumed by human activities, such as irrigating cropland, and is draining aquifers faster than natural processes can replenish them.”

It is unfortunate that hardly any have come out with some action plans to take some measures to minimize the loss of production of grains or maintain it in the next drought. Has the government and NGOs taken steps to educate the farmers and the public about saving water that has become so important in this drought? What can be done to improve water availability for future? How can the underground water level over the regions under farming be maintained and improved? Are we creating or taking care of the existing water bodies to store rain water? Are we going to incorporate water harvesting and water recycling as essential built-in features for all our development projects everywhere in the country? Can we keep our water resources desilted and maintained on regular basis? In many parts of the country, even the irrigation canals are hardly maintained.

Can the farming community go for some self regulation and constraint even if the electricity is free? Is it not a shame that in many states such as Bihar the seasonal rivers create sudden flood and flow away. After few days, there is no water for irrigation. Why can’t we learn from our ancestors who had created huge water reservoirs such as Jaishmand and Rajasmand even in Rajasthan and that is much easier today with mechanical equipment? Suggestions of linear reservoirs in Bihar to control flood and drought must be weighed or a serious attempt must be made to find the best technically feasible solutions.

What can be done to use less water such as drip irrigation? Can we discover or develop better farming processes or seeds requiring less water? Can we skip water guzzling crops and go for less thirsty rice? Can we switch over to other crops that can fetch same or better earning with less water? We have examples of these endeavours. An erstwhile grower of water-guzzling sugarcane in Maharashtra’s Jalgaon, now grows bananas. Tha grower sells bananas to corporate buyers and earns Rs 67,000 per acre. Kharif crops are largely rain-fed, the use of drip irrigation measures has reduced water requirement by 50 per cent.

I wish the government channels as well as experts agriculture scientists and technocrats work for and come out with some technical solutions to minimize the effect of such droughts in future. First thing first, the Indian farmers and their patron politicians must appreciate the need of water and the seriousness of the prevalent misuse by almost everyone in the society. And the technocrats must provide a checklist for everyone. We can’t neglect it any more.

It requires sustained media efforts to create awareness among rural people about the importance of water. I wish the media would provide a page for the rural India in their bulky newspapers full with commercial advertisements.

A columnist in Hindustan Times rightly points out, “It is time to launch a thousand new revolutions. It is time to address the weaknesses of a system that keeps India dependent on the vagaries of the rains – especially in a world beset by the meteorological uncertainties forced by global warming. It is also time to find someone to lead this grand agricultural overhaul.”

Unfortunately, there are people in the country who have way out for the drought proofing the investment but no one to drought proof the farming sector that employs 70% of the population.

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PS: Interestingly, the reputed environmentalist, RK Pachauri also has similar viewpoints: “Solutions lie in managing the uses of water rather than focusing only on enhancement of supply. In this regard, pricing of water for a range of uses including agriculture is of critical importance. Highly subsidised electricity tariffs not only promote inefficient pumpsets but also overexploitation of groundwater resources.”

“In towns and cities there is substantial wastage in transportation of water, and in the domestic, industrial and commercial sectors. Industrial recycling of water could be achieved through appropriate regulations as well as price incentives and disincentives. Research on new crops and practices should also be undertaken to make agriculture drought proof.”

Government must shake off its lethargy. No one knows what happened to the setting up of the Rainfed Authority of India that the Prime Minister had announced some years ago. More than 400 irrigation projects are stuck due to lack of funds. Except for some significant investments by Andhra Pradesh, the media never reported any major investment in the irrigation sector. The irrigation departments require complete overhaul to stop leakages and improve water-use efficiency. Indian agriculture remains hostage to the monsoon.

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