Agriculture is one of the major consumers of groundwater in India due to the absence of volumetric supply of water. The increasing dependence on groundwater has already led to its depletion, resulting in water woes in various parts of the country. As a result, planning and management of water resources has become the need of the hour. To this end, the central and state governments are taking several policy initiatives for water conservation. NITI Aayog has undertaken the grading of states based on their water conservation practices. The government also plans to come up with a campaign that aims to encourage rainwater harvesting across the country and promote storage of rainwater as soil moisture, using carbon water sponges.
Initiatives by the centre
The central government has been taking significant policy initiatives to streamline the water and irrigation sector. The Atal Bhujal Yojana (ATAL JAL) was launched on December 25, 2019 to improve groundwater management through community participation. A total outlay of Rs 60 billion to be implemented over a period of five years (2020-21 to 2024-25) has been announced for the scheme. The scheme will be implemented in seven states – Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. It is expected to benefit nearly 78 districts in these states. The scheme will promote panchayat-led groundwater management and behavioural change with a primary focus on demand-side management. On February 17, 2020, the Government of India signed a $450 million loan agreement with the World Bank for the Atal Bhujal Scheme.
In July 2019, the Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was passed by the Lok Sabha. It amends the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956. Under the bill, when a state puts in a request regarding any water dispute, the central government will set up a disputes resolution committee (DRC) to resolve the issue amicably. The DRC will comprise a chairperson and experts with at least 15 years of experience in relevant sectors, to be nominated by the central government. The DRC will seek to resolve the dispute through negotiations, within one year (extendable by six months). If a dispute cannot be settled by the DRC, the central government will refer it to the Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal.
The Dam Safety Bill, 2019 was passed by the Lok Sabha in August 2019. The bill provides for surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of specified dams across the country. It also provides for an institutional mechanism to ensure the safety of such dams. At the national level, it constitutes the National Committee on Dam Safety, whose functions include evolving policies and recommending regulations regarding dam safety; and the National Dam Safety Authority, whose functions include implementing policies of the national committee and resolving matters between state dam safety organisations (SDSOs), or between an SDSO and any dam owner in that state.
Initiatives at the state level
At the state level, a few states such as Punjab and Uttar Pradesh have been proactive in ensuring the optimal utilisation of water resources in their territories.
In January 2020, the Punjab cabinet approved a draft bill to set up a water regulation and development authority to effectively manage and conserve water resources of the state. It will be responsible for the management and conservation of water resources of the state in a judicious, equitable and sustainable manner. To check further depletion of groundwater in the state, the Punjab Water Regulation and Development Authority will also be mandated to oversee installation of new tube wells.
Meanwhile, the Uttar Pradesh cabinet approved the Ground Water Act, 2020 on February 11, 2020 to improve the falling groundwater level. The Ground Water Act makes registration mandatory for installing submersible pumps. An online registration facility has been made available for the same. Besides this, the Uttar Pradesh government has made rainwater harvesting system mandatory in all private and government schools and colleges.
Issues and challenges
The gap between water supply and demand has increased over the years. Further, there has been a decline in the water quality. Meanwhile, overexploitation of groundwater is causing the water table to decline even further. There is an urgent need to improve efficiency through measures such as the adoption of micro-irrigation systems. Canal infrastructure is also in a bad shape owing to issues such as a dearth of financial resources and the lack of interest by states. Crop planning is also a big issue. The government needs to ensure that crop planning is commensurate with water availability. Besides, participatory irrigation practices need to be taken up to spread awareness and educate farmers.