Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call, during his previous ‘Mann ki Baat’ radio address, to take up rainwater preservation measures ahead of the arrival of the monsoon is both timely and need-based. The most opportune period to carry out the groundwork for gathering rainwater, such as building rainwater harvesting structures and sprucing up catchment areas of water bodies, is the pre-monsoon phase between April and July. The need for such measures has assumed added urgency this year as water resources have already begun to dwindle and many of them may vanish as the summer progresses. Many parts of the country are, thus, staring at an acute water crisis in the coming months. What has aggravated the situation is the uneven spread of monsoon rainfall last year and near absence of winter showers.
The overall water stock in the country’s 91 major reservoirs has dipped to less than one-fourth of their combined storage capacity. The position is truly precarious in several dams, forcing steep cuts in water releases. In the Sardar Sarovar dam over the Narmada, for instance, the water level has plummeted to below the drawdown mark. Supply of water for irrigation has almost been stopped, and for drinking and household purposes severely rationed. Several small rivers
and tributaries of main rivers
in many parts of the country are rapidly emptying out. The Prime Minister himself named the Sasur and Khaderi rivulets, in the Fatehpur area of Uttar Pradesh, which has dried up. Most step wells, as also ponds and dug-wells, which have traditionally served as rainwater harvesting structures, have been heavily depleted or have dried up due to neglect and encroachment in their catchment areas.
India is basically not a water-deficient country. It has been rendered so due to mismanagement of this renewable resource. The country’s total average annual rainfall of around 120 cm, including 89 cm during the monsoon period, is far higher than the global mean average of 98 cm. This, coupled with water received as snowfall, should if managed sensibly, be sufficient to meet the country’s needs. However, a sizeable amount of rainwater is allowed to run off to the seas, eroding precious soil in its wake. Unlike some other countries which have put up enough water storage capacity to take care of two or more years’ consumption needs, India has failed to create adequate storage to meet even one year’s requirement.
Thanks to recurrent droughts, the country has managed to evolve a good ‘drought management code’ which comes into force immediately on declaration of drought in any particular area. It facilitates timely action and utilisation of funds by the states without prior permission of the Centre. The efficacy of this code has been validated by the successful management of some recent droughts, including the rare event of back-to-back droughts of 2014 and 2015. But what is still wanting is a good weather code, outlining actions that must be taken during normal times to conserve water to mitigate the impact of dry spells. If the Prime Minister’s well-timed plea for stepping up water conservation activities leads to result-oriented action on this front, it will greatly help in drought-proofing many vulnerable parts of the country.