Water-stressed in India: Will flood-prone Katihar slowly turn dry

Mismanagement of supply and cultivation of paddy and maize to cause change

By Vivek Mishra
Published: Wednesday 18 March 2020
A flooded paddy field in Katihar. Photo: Vivek Mishra

The inclusion of the Dandkhora block of eastern Bihar’s Katihar district in the Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA) of the Union Jal Shakti ministry came as a surprise as the area is more prone to floods than drought.

Bordering Jharkhand and West Bengal, Katihar lies along the Ganga, Mahananda and Kosi rivers. Its 3,071,029 people (2011 census) lives in 1,540 villages, two towns and a census town. Covered with fertile and moist soil, the district is mostly agricultural. Katihar district receives an average of 1,022-1,200 millimetres of rainfall annually.

“I do not know on what basis this area was selected. The entire area remained waterlogged during the time the Jal Shakti Abhiyan was launched between July and September 2019. Central officials came for investigations but not a single water structure could work under the JSA,” Veena Kumari, programme officer of Dandkhora block, said.

But the signs of Katihar going from a water-surplus to a water-stressed district are there.

Every year, Manihari panchayat suffers a lot of damage due to floods. However, there are no plans to store flood waters under traditional watersheds.

Nor has there been any study on the availability of ground water, surface water and traditional water sources in the district. Supply of clean drinking water is a major challenge in this district with iron and arsenic-rich groundwater.

The government is working to supply tap water to every house.

This, say officials could increase pressure on ground water, although the ground water level in Katihar remains within a maximum range of 7-15 feet.

Water Executive Engineer Subodh Shankar of the district said no assessment had been made on the availability of water in the district. However, according to estimations of the population’s water demand by 2030, water is being supplied at the rate of 81 litres per person per day.

So far, 200 water tanks have been built in Katihar’s rural areas. A total of 4,000 water tanks are to be constructed in the district.

Pankaj Pandey, who provides technical training for agriculture-related works in the district under a NITI Aayog programme, says flood irrigation is more prevalent in Katihar.

Farmers in Katihar, says Pandey, are decreasing the area of cultivation under wheat in favour of paddy, maize and fox-nuts. Katihar not only consumes more water due to irrigation but also mismanages it. This is a concern that needs to be worked out.

On one hand, the pressure on ground water will increase due to the supply of water. On the other hand, the cultivation of water-guzzling crops and indiscriminate and improper use of ground water for irrigation can cause water scarcity in Katihar.

Katihar was ranked 199 in India among 256 water-stressed districts across 36 states and Union territories for the work done to conserve water. It scored 11.15 points out of total 100 per cent under the JSA.

The district got 10 out of 10 per cent for block and district conservation plans and only 0.15 in 10 per cent for awareness generation. It got zero marks for forest intensive plantation.

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