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New Delhi: Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her second budget speech on Saturday announced comprehensive measures to address shortage in 100 water-stressed districts as part of the 16-point action plan for the agriculture sector.

The announcement comes in the backdrop of the country struggling with one of the severest water crisis in decades. India’s most water-stressed blocks situated in Tamil Nadu (541), followed by Rajasthan (218), Uttar Pradesh (139) and Telangana (137), with several other states reeling under drought-like conditions. While 313 blocks have been termed critical, there are 1,186 blocks which have been over-exploited for water. In addition, there are 94 blocks with limited ground water availability.

Under the banner of the Jal Shakti Abhiyan water conservation campaign, the focus is on rainwater harvesting and water conservation. Other initiatives include renovation of traditional water bodies and tanks, reuse of water and recharge structures, watershed development and intensive afforestation.

Providing safe drinking water to all parts of the country remains a priority, Sitharaman had said when she had announced in her maiden budget speech the launch of Jal Jeevan Mission, aimed at providing potable water to every rural household by 2024.

Policy think-tank NITI Aayog, in a report, has said that 600 million Indians already face “high to extreme water stress", adding that 21 cities including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Hyderabad will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people.

Matters are only likely to worsen with the country’s water demand likely to double by 2030, indicating there will be a 6% loss in gross domestic product by 2050.

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