Water

Centre to send babus to 255 water-stressed districts. Here’s what they should keep in mind

MGNREGS has implemented a slew of projects, but to hardly any effect. We need to look at the problem afresh

 
By Sushmita Sengupta
Last Updated: Monday 01 July 2019
Major initiatives for recharging groundwater have been taken in Karnataka. Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

The Narendra Modi government’s second innings started amid concerns of drought: 44 per cent of the country’s area was already affected by early April. The government has announced the ‘Jal Shakti Abhiyan’ (literally, Water Power Campaign) to tackle this. The plan is to fan out senior bureaucrats to 255 districts to focus on harvesting rainwater and conserving rainwater.

That may sound good, but is it the remedy India needs?

Under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), thousands of such works have been implemented since its inception in 2006. Since 2014-15, India has gained:

  • Nearly 14 lakh soil and water conservation structures
  • More than 2 lakh groundwater recharge structures
  • Around 18 lakh farm ponds, as part of irrigation work

Completed water-related works under MGNREGS

 

Soil and water conservation Groundwater recharge Farm ponds as part of irrigation work

2014-15

2,06,871

26,286

1,77,090

2015-16

2,01,124

36,664

1,41,552

2016-17

3,31,787

74,225

3,08,727

2017-18

2,61,262

48,465

3,50,479

2018-19

3,62,980

44,162

1,93,320

2019-20

981

10

425

Total

13,65,005

2,29,812

11,71,593

Source: Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India

Such projects have been carried out across the country, but the focus has been greater on Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Karnataka and other states of the south.

Major initiatives for recharging groundwater have been taken in Karnataka particularly, according to the ministry’s data.

Another 17 lakh farm ponds were also constructed under a special MGNREGS drive in the same time. Around 43 per cent of them were constructed in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

Farm ponds as special drive

Year Farm ponds

2014-15

38,580

2015-16

1,52,087

2016-17

6,10,120

2017-18

5,22,569

2018-19

3,45,875

2019-20

38,580

Total

17,07,811

Source: Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India

How viable are such ponds though? It was unclear whether ponds, that are rainfed, will bring relief to drought-affected areas, according to hydrologist and member of the erstwhile Planning Commission A Vaidyanathan.

Farm ponds are also not viable for drought relief in areas with hard rocks, according to a section of experts.

The effectiveness of groundwater recharge structures was also under doubt. In Telangana, around 19,000 tubewells / borewells were abandoned, unused or defunct there, the state’s rural development department recently said.

This at a time when 34,000 soil and water conservation structures and 35,000 recharge structures were built there between 2014-15 and 2018-19. The state’s average groundwater level reportedly dipped by almost 2 metres from approximately 14 m below ground level (mbgl). At places it reached more than 42 mbgl.

A large number of dugwells and wells in Maharashtra, constructed under MGNREGS, also ran dry.

Clearly, there is now a question mark on the efficacy of such initiatives on water conservation and groundwater recharge. The current batch of officials to visit the 255 water-stressed districts, thus , should emphasise on planning, designing as well as monitoring such structures.

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