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‘Catch the rain’ campaign - Water Use Efficiency

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April 02, 2021

What is the issue?

  • On World Water Day (March 22), Indian PM launched a campaign named ‘Catch the rain’, under the Centre’s flagship Jal Shakti Abhiyan.
  • In this context, here is an overview on Indian agriculture’s water efficiency.

What is the ‘Catch the rain’ campaign?

  • Under this campaign, drives to make check dams, water harvesting pits, rooftop RWHS (rain water harvesting system), etc will be made.
  • Other measures to be taken up with the active participation of people include -
  1. removal of encroachments and de-silting of tanks to increase their storage capacity
  2. removal of obstructions in the channels which bring water to them from the catchment areas, etc
  3. repairs to step-wells
  4. using defunct bore-wells and unused wells to put water back to aquifers, etc
  • To facilitate these activities, states have been requested to open “Rain Centers” in each district.
  • This centre acts as a technical guidance centre to all in the district as to how to catch the rain, as it falls, where it falls.
  • Under the initiative, all water bodies in the districts are to be enumerated (checked with revenue records) and encroachments to be removed.

How is India's water usage scenario?

  • Central Water Commission’s assessment of water availability using space inputs (2019) sheds light on this.
  • Accordingly, India receives mean annual precipitation of about 3,880 billion cubic metres (bcm).
  • But it utilizes only 699 bcm (18%of the above).
  • The rest is being lost to evaporation and other factors.
  • The demand for water is likely to be 843 bcm in 2025 and 1,180 bcm by 2050.
  • Notably, these targets are not beyond reach.
  • It only requires being focused and following an appropriate strategy.
  • The need is to not only ‘catch more rain’ but also manage demand of water better.
  • UN’s report on Sustainable Development Goal-6 (SDG-6) - Clean water and sanitation for all by 2030 - also notes on this.
  • As per this, India achieved only 56.6% of the target by 2019, indicating the need to move much faster.
  • Composite Water Management Index of Niti Aayog (2019) shows that 75% households in India do not have access to drinking water on their premises.
  • India is ranked 120th amongst 122 countries in the water quality index.
  • It is identified as a water-stressed country.
  • Its per capita water availability is declining from nearly 5,000 cubic metre (m3)/year in 1951 to around 1,500 m3 in 2011.
  • This is likely to go down further to 1,140 m3 by 2050.
  • All these hint at a worrying picture of India in the water front.

What is the right approach now?

  • Agriculture uses about 78% of India’s freshwater resources.
  • As India develops, the share of drinking water, industry, and other uses is also likely to rise.
  • The need of the hour is thus to produce ‘more crop per drop.’
  • It requires not just increasing land productivity measured as tonnes per hectare (t/ha) but also maximising applied irrigation productivity measured as kilograms or Rs per cubic meter of water (kg/m3).

How is the irrigation scenario?

  • For decades, there had been large public and private investments in irrigation.
  • However, only about half of India’s gross cropped area (198 million hectares) is irrigated.
  • Groundwater contributes about 64%, canals 23%, tanks 2% and other sources 11% to this irrigation.
  • This results primarily from the skewed incentive of free or highly subsidised power.
  • This is particularly the case in the northwestern belt of India, the erstwhile seat of the Green Revolution.
  • Over-exploitation of groundwater has made this region one amongst the three top water-risk hotspots.
    • The others being northeastern China and southwestern US (California).
  • Overall, about 1,592 blocks in 256 districts in India are either critical or overexploited.

What is to be done?

  • If water is to be used more wisely in agriculture, two crops - rice and sugarcane - deserve special attention.
  • These two crops consume almost 60% of India’s irrigation water.
  • While Punjab scores high on land productivity of rice, it is at the bottom with respect to applied irrigation water productivity.
  • Similarly, in case of sugarcane, irrigation water productivity in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu is only a third that of Bihar and UP.
  • Thus, there is a need to realign cropping patterns based on a per unit of applied irrigation water productivity.
  • Technologies exist that can produce the same output with almost half the irrigation water in these two crops.
  • Drip-irrigation is one of the options that is showing promising outcomes.
  • Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) and System of Rice Intensification (SRI) can also save 25-30% of water compared to traditional flood irrigation.
  • But, for technological solutions to make headway, pricing policies of agri-inputs should be put on the right track.
  • Farmers should also be incentivised for saving water.
    • E.g. Punjab government, along with the World Bank and J-PAL, has launched certain pilots under its Paani Bachao Paise Kamao policy.
    • It is to encourage rational use of water among farmers.
    • Under the initiative, water-meters are installed on the farmers’ pumps.
    • If they save water/power compared to what they have been using (taken as entitlement), they get paid for those savings, with direct transfers to their bank accounts.
  • It is thus time to switch from highly subsidised pricing of water, power, and even fertilisers, to direct income support on a per hectare basis.
  • Water and power need to be priced as per their economic value or at least to recover significant part of their costs to ensure sustainable agriculture.
  • Also, investment policies should help farmers with newer technologies and innovations.

 

Source: Financial Express

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