New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday flagged the growing water crisis in the country and said around ₹3.5 trillion will be spent under the ambitious Jal Jeevan Mission aimed at providing potable water.
Given the importance of the issue, he focussed on it during his speech and said that while many governments have done work in their own way, it is also true that half of India’s homes don’t have drinking water.
In his first Independence Day address to the nation from the Red Fort after the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government came back to power, Modi reiterated his commitment to providing drinking water to all Indians at the end of his around 95-minute speech.
Modi said that providing safe drinking water to all parts of the country remains a priority. He said that people have to work very hard to get drinking water with a large part of life going towards getting drinking water.
Under the Jal Jeevan Mission, the government will focus on rainwater harvesting and water conservation in 256 districts in the first phase and carry out other initiatives, including renovation of traditional water bodies and tanks, reuse of water and recharge structures, watershed development and intensive afforestation.
Quoting celebrated poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar, Modi said that the Tamil icon wrote that when water gets over, nature’s work stops and destruction begins.
He also referred to Gujarat’s Jain saint Buddhi Sagar Maharaj, who wrote 100 years back that a day will come when water will be sold in the grocery store.
The NDA government has formed a new ministry to address all water issues that looks at the management of water resources and drinking water supply in a holistic manner. The Jal Shakti Ministry, formed by integrating the Water Resources and Drinking Water and Sanitation Ministries, aims to work with state governments to ensure Har Ghar Jal to all rural households by 2024.
This assumes importance given that water crisis has presented itself as a clear and present danger to India. Policy think-tank Niti Aayog said in a report that nearly 600 million Indians already face “high to extreme water stress." It said 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.
The government has identified as many as 1,592 blocks in 256 districts which are facing acute water crisis and have reported over-exploitation of groundwater. With the slow progress of the crucial southwest monsoon and below normal rains in June, water levels in reservoirs have fallen significantly.
“This scheme shouldn’t remain a government scheme but be a public one, like the cleanliness drive undertaken earlier," Modi said.
According to documents reviewed by Mint, India’s most water-stressed blocks are in Tamil Nadu (541), followed by Rajasthan (218), Uttar Pradesh (139) and Telangana (137), with several states reeling from drought-like conditions.
Talking about several efforts to be undertaken through the scheme, Modi said the importance of water will be taught to the children.
Mint reported on 8 July about over 400 top government officials fanning out across the country to bolster efforts to battle one of the most severe water crises in decades. The 446 officials, in turn, are being supervised by 256 additional secretary and joint secretary level officials who will be the central nodal officers or Central Prabhari Officers responsible for each of these 256 districts. 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 groundwater availability.
To encourage local participation, National Cadet Corps, National Service Scheme and Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan will be involved along with non-government organisations (NGOs) and students from local engineering colleges.