Rajasthan government’s water conservation drive Mukhya Mantri Jal Swavlamban Abhiyan recently found mention in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s monthly radio address, Mann ki Baat. The programme’s goal is to make every village of the state self-reliant for water.

In an interview, Sriram Vedire, chairperson of Rajasthan River Basin and Water Resources Planning Authority and advisor to the Union ministry of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation, spoke about the scheme, why interlinking of rivers is important and measures to tackle water crisis. Edited excerpts:

The Mukhya Mantri Jal Swavlamban Abhiyan was recently mentioned by PM Modi in Mann ki Baat. How has the progress been so far?

We have finished 42,000 and have started work on around 78,000. We are racing against time and we will reach the target of finishing 90,000 works before monsoon starts. Work on the remaining 10,000 will start by June-July. This completion is real completion and not just on paper. We have done geo-tagging and there is real time monitoring. There are various levels of checks as well. Every work that is completed is done in the real sense.

Considering the shortage of water in Rajasthan, how is this water conservation scheme unique?

It is unique in four ways. Firstly, every department was working in islands of isolation. Now we have converged all those departments and tuned them to work together. There are seven-eight departments, including watershed, ground water, water resource department and forest. Whatever work we are doing here, we are doing similar work in forests as well and they have been made to come out of their department and work together with the team which typically doesn’t happen. There is the convergence of these four departments in the supply side.

On the demand side, there are agriculture and horticulture departments. The convergence between the demand and the supply sides has happened. Secondly, is the usage of technology. Every structure is geo-tagged. The survey done by the people is real and they can’t fake it on paper. Watershed treatment begins when the rain water starts flowing will go into the well and that is where the first stream starts. What structures need to be taken in each order are well defined. This has brought transparency in the way work is executed.

The officials working on this have been given access to a mobile application. When the work is in progress and finished, they have to take photographs and upload it. Transparency is brought in through geo-tagging and mobile usage. This has never been used in the country.

The third thing is that we have made this into a mass movement. All over the state, almost 60-70% of the villages turned in to give shramdaan (voluntary service), those who couldn’t, gave cash. Our cash and kind contribution is close to 75 crore right now. It is becoming a people’s programme and that is what the PM has also been speaking about. Fourth is that everything is online. Previously, everything was done by departmental procedures but now everything, including reporting, is online and it is given work-wise, village-wise. Also, a person can track where the money donated has been spent.

The basic unique thing is the scientific approach to watershed treatment. In Rajasthan we have covered 3,500 villages this year and plan to cover 6,000 villages every year during the next three years. We would cover half of Rajasthan by 2018-19.

PM Modi has asked the NITI Aayog to look at its replication in other states. Do you think it can be done?

For any programme, the government should have strong political will power. NITI Aayog is making some revolutionary changes where it is noticing the good things done by various states. It is seriously being looked into and NITI Aayog is sure to take this up. The government of India can only plan a programme but it is for the states to take it up. A similar scheme was first taken up by Maharashtra.

The country is currently facing a water crisis. What steps can be taken to ensure water security?

In the last two years, we have seen less than average rainfall. This has resulted in decline in the water reservoir levels in the country. Unfortunately, that is nature-driven. The good thing is that the forecast for this year is good—10% more than average rainfall is predicted which means good days are ahead.

Also, measures need to be taken in high volume. When drought occurs, rainfall gets reduced. All water sources are dependent on rainfall. We need to look at water storage. The only recourse is to save every drop of rainwater which is currently not happening. Our river water is flowing into the sea because we don’t have the measures to tap that. We also have to look at surface storage. In minor irrigation, every drop should be accounted for and saved. It is the only way forward. Major reservoirs need to come up and interlinking will also help.

How will river interlinking ensure water security?

It is a key programme of this government. There are three or four rivers which see floods and excess water. Our goal is to not to waste that water by letting it flow into the sea, provided there is also an ecological balance. We have to utilize the water where it is needed. There are floods in West Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh. A lot of money is put to tackle the floods and get the states back to normalcy by the central and state governments. The Ken-Betwa river linking project will start in the next couple of months, for which last-minute environmental clearance is left. This will be the first example and others will follow.

What are the key challenges?

The key challenge is that every state says that it doesn’t have surplus water. We have to work with states to encourage them to come out of this mindset. It is our responsibility that states in the river basin should not lose out and ensure that enough water is utilized by them, and then take the rest of the water. Funding is the other challenge.

What is the progress on Namami Gange?

We are not behind in our targets but going ahead in a planned manner. We are planning it in such a way to produce maximum result. We don’t want to run in a haphazard manner. Ganga flows through five states and they have to agree to a common minimum program because it has to be implemented by them. The plan will be defeated unless the states are taken on board.

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