New Delhi: The Modi government has been at pains to explain how much it has done for drought-affected states, by providing them financial assistance and sending water trains. In reply to a written question in Lok Sabha on Monday, Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti explained how the Centre has provided one of the worst drought-hit states, Maharashtra, more than Rs 4,000 crore to combat drought since last year under various heads.
Though the Centre has been talking of financial assistance to states on water scarcity, it seems to be dragging its feet on making any sort of commitments to ensure a basic minimum quantity of water is made available to every Indian. Take for example the National Water Framework Law, which was drafted three years back. One of the proposals under it is a guarantee that every Indian should have a right to a minimum quantity of potable water which is not less than 25 litres per capita per day for essential health and hygiene. And this should be made available within easy reach of the household and provided free of cost to eligible households.
Bharti said in response to a question that "a committee under the Chairmanship of Dr Mihir Shah has been constituted on 28.12.2015 to examine the provisions of the draft National Water Framework Law and suggest changes/modifications therein taking into account inter-alia the emerging challenges in the water sector, reuse of waste water after treatment, the likely impact of climate change on water resources, importance of river rejuvenation, water contamination issue."
The Minister offered no further comments on a timeline for this study to be completed. She has often enough in the past reiterated that water is a state subject and PM Modi has already asked her Ministry to extend all assistance to states, whenever it is sought.
On the Centre's role in drought-hit Maharashtra, Bharti said the Centre has released Rs 2548.73 crore from the National Disaster Response Fund for Maharashtra to combat drought for 2015-16. Another Rs 1112.25 crore was provided by the Centre during 2015-16 and an additional Rs 583.87 crore was also given as the first instalment for 2016-17 under central share in the State Disaster Response Fund.
Besides, new bore wells are to be dug up in Latur, one of the worst affected districts within Maharashtra, for water. In reply to another question, she said a team from National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) reached Latur on April 12 to carry out geophysical investigations to locate potential deeper fractures, as shallow zones have dried up. Based on the geophysical survey on the sites provided by the state government so far, three sites have been identified for drilling of bore-wells and have been provided to the Groundwater Survey and Development Agency, Government of Maharashtra.
But as this story in the Hindustan Times points out, even the water trains, 11 in all till now, which have been sent to Latur have failed to quench the region's thirst. The story says so far these trains have supplied 95 lakh litres of water to the city. That is at least 100 lakh litres less than what Latur, a city of five lakh, needs daily (around 220 to 250 lakh litres). What it is surviving on is just the bare minimum at 35 lakh litres a day, distributed through public tankers.
Remember, Maharashtra declared a drought in 21 districts last year itself and Bharti said in a reply that the rainfall deficit in Marathwada Region in 2015 ranged from 18.91 per cent to 49.68 per cent, with 43.71 per cent deficit in the Latur district. The cultivation of water intensive/commercial crops further affected the precarious water situation in the area.
India is the world's biggest user of ground water, both in terms of quantity and number of users. Water activists say 30 million Indians use about 230 billion cubic meters of ground water annually, for drinking and in irrigation. Himanshu Thakkar, Coordinator with the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, had said earlier India still does not have an idea of its current ground water storage capacity because we have not invested time or resources in mapping ground water sources. He had said more than 85 per cent of rural water supply, about 55 per cent urban and about 60 per cent industrial water supply comes from our ground water sources. And that 30 per cent of all ground water units in India now come under the "over exploited" category. This refers to units where the annual ground water extraction exceeds the net annual ground water availability.
According to a government survey of ground water units across the country in 2011, 16 per cent of the ground water units across 30 states and six union territories were in the "over exploited"category. So the number of units in the "over exploited" category has almost doubled to 30 per cent, as per Thakkar, in five years.
Waking up to the water crisis finally, Minister Uma Bharati has now asked the Central Water Commission to prepare a report on the status of water storage in all states, which will then be sent to state governments so that water related projects can be completed.
In reply to a question in Lok Sabha on Monday, she said the average annual water availability for the country has been assessed by Central Water Commission as 1869 billion cubic meters (BCM). Due to topographic, hydrological and other constrains, the utilizable water has been estimated to be about 1123 BCM, comprising of 690 BCM surface water and 433 BCM of replenishable ground water.
She also said that the Central Ground Water Board has prepared a conceptual document entitled “Master Plan for Artificial Recharge to Ground Water in India” during 2013. This envisages construction of 1.11 crore Rainwater Harvesting and Artificial Recharge structures in the country to harness 85 BCM (Billion Cubic Meters) of water. The augmented ground water resources will enhance the availability of water for drinking, domestic, industrial and irrigation purposes. The Master Plan has been circulated to all State Governments for implementation.
Again, though this Master Plan has been circulated to all state governments for implementation, whether any of these proposals have been implemented or not remains a mystery.