The famous English poet Wystan Hugh Auden had once rightly said that “Water is the soul of earth” as all prominent civilisations such as the Indus Valley Civilisation, the Mesopotamian Civilisation have come up on the banks of the Indus and Nile rivers. The land along the rivers was very fertile and all these civilisations have reaped the benefits of the life giving properties of the river and its fertile land. Water plays a vital role in the human life. It can be used for domestic purposes as well as industrial purposes. The importance of water can be judged from the fact that we have witnessed some international conflicts such as the Jordan river conflict between Israel, Lebanon and Jordan and the Nile river conflict between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan as well as the national conflicts like Hogenakkal Dam issue between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. A good water supply ensures a good harvest and increases the revenue of a country like India where agriculture contributes around 17-18% to the GDP and employs over 50% of the workforce. As a result the irrigation projects have seen an increased allocation in the Union Budget 2018-19.
India is a land of rivers which can be grouped under two categories—Himalayan Rivers and Peninsular Rivers. The Himalayan Rivers are fed by the glacier and flow in the Northern Plains. As a result they are a useful source of irrigation. On the other hand the Peninsular Rivers are fed by rains. Since the rainfall in the country varies so does the water level in these rivers. This variation in rainfall has given rise to a need of water conservation projects. The severity of this development can be gauged from the fact that Tamil Nadu and Karnataka faced drought-like conditions in 2017 whereas Assam and Manipur were flooded due to incessant rains. India received a 12.9% deficient rain in 2014-15 and 14% deficiency of rain was recorded in 2015-16.
The deficiency and seasonal fluctuation in rains affect irrigation in a negative manner. Irrigation in India includes a network of major and minor canals but according to the World Bank report of 2013 two thirds of cultivated land still relies on the erratic monsoon as an irrigation source. The irrigation in India is carried out through wells, tube-wells and canals. Well irrigation accounts for more than 60% but greater parts of peninsular India cannot implement this scheme because of the rocky terrain. On the other hand, tubewell irrigation is cheap and the nutrient rich ground water increases the fertility of soil but this scheme cannot be implemented in areas with brackish water or in the areas with low ground water supply. Though canal irrigation proves cheaper in long run, it is suitable only for plain areas as the construction costs escalate in rocky areas. Moreover, the excessive flow of water into the fields leads to deposition of alkaline salts in the soil. Due to these disadvantages of the conventional techniques, there is a need of new irrigation techniques that will reduce the wastage of water. Drip irrigation and sand bore irrigation are such technologies which aim to minimise the water wastage. In drip irrigation, the water is directly delivered to the root of plants in the form of drops. Drip irrigation has showed a reduction of 20-40% for crops such as sugarcane and cotton. On the other hand sand bores utilise water from a depth of 30 feet without adversely affecting the groundwater.
The Central Government in Union Budget 2018-19 has allotted Rs. 9,429 crore to the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana. This scheme which was launched in 2015 focuses on achieving precise irrigation and minimal wastage of water. This scheme also comprises of a sub component called ‘Har Khet ko Paani’ which aims at developing groundwater irrigation in 96 districts where less than 30% of land is assured of irrigation. Israel is a well established leader in the field of water management, desalination and recycling techniques. Under the ‘Make in India’ scheme, technology transfer of the innovative Israeli irrigation techniques combined with support from Israeli agronomists has led to cheap and affordable irrigation solutions for the farmers.
The solution to solve water crisis is to make rain water harvesting compulsory for all buildings. Tamil Nadu was the first state to implement this law in 2001. Other states such as Maharashtra have followed suit. Pune has made rain water harvesting compulsory for buildings. Other innovative and cheap solutions like rain water syringe which provides pure drinking water can be encouraged in rural areas. Alternative measures to improve water conservation would be to impose fine on parties that are involved in wastage of water. The Arvind Kejriwal-led government in Delhi has increased the tariff over water usage over 20,000 litres by 20%. This would lead to reduced water theft cases.
More funds should be released for the research and development of drought tolerant crops which consume less water. Currently these seeds were developed under the project ‘Water Efficient Maize for Africa’, an initiative supported by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. A similar project could pave a revolution in India in the field of food security as maize is the third most important crop of India after rice and wheat. Implementation of water saving agronomic steps would also solve India’s irrigation woes. For example, direct seeding of rice reduces the water consumption by 30% compared to the flooded transplantation of rice. Proactive encouragement of technology adoption coupled with incentives for innovative irrigation techniques mentioned in the preceding paragraphs would lead to success. Some of these methods have been discussed for long but all that we need now is a singular focus toward their implementation to solve the impending water crisis. At present, India accounts for 25% of extraction of groundwater. India is ranked first on this list. The groundwater usage has increased from a mere 7 cubic kilometre, in 1940 to a whopping 270 cubic kilometre, in the past decade. According to Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni, Executive Director of Advanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM) it would take at least 30 years to restore the groundwater to normal levels. To make matters worse, according to him there are no proper records for water usage by industries which is often clubbed with domestic usage. Thomas Fuller once said ‘We never know the worth of water until the well is dry’ which holds true for the present. It is high time and if steps are not taken towards water conservation we would be staring at a very dark and bleak future.