Should water be priced? Should electricity be desubsidized? These are questions likely to raise the ire of most Indians. For any government, therefore, they are hair-raising issues that can decide its electoral future. Yet, if the depleting groundwater reserves in India are to be protected, these are the measures that could be most effective.
As its recent suggestions to the government indicate, the Planning Commission thinks so too. Rampant overuse and the absence of any checks against it have made groundwater increasingly scarce, threatening the agricultural and human activities that depend upon it. Pricing water and the electricity used to draw it can be useful disincentives against this abuse.
But what is rational for the commission would be foolhardy for the government. People don’t vote for parties that charge them at market rates for using fuel or electricity, certainly not water. Till that conundrum exists, groundwater in India is likely to find few saviours.