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Jal Shakti ministry could be a step in the right direction to fight India's water crisis

The idea for merging the ministries is to unify all departments related to management of water and look at the water issue holistically -- a move recommended by several expert committees
Jun 9, 2019 / 03:09 PM IST

As water crisis looms, some of the state governments in India are finding new ways to resolve the problem. It is neither a special fund that the state governments have allocated for improving water resources, nor is it a new scientific discovery.

Two states -- Tamil Nadu and Karnataka -- have asked temples to conduct special poojas to please Varuna Bhagavan (Rain God in Indian mythology).

Last month, the Tamil Nadu government’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department issued a circular to major temples in Chennai asking them to perform varuna pooja as the city is facing severe water shortage. The temples were also asked to submit a report to the department regarding the poojas performed for the purpose of getting rain.

The Karnataka government followed suit. On June 6, rain rituals were performed across the state, including Bengaluru, Sringeri, Mandya, Chamarajanagar and Mysuru. Pictures of two priests sitting in a tub of water for the ritual with smartphones in hand went viral on social media.

However, in all seriousness, many see this as a last ditch effort to tackle the worsening water shortage that the state in facing.

According to reports, close to 156 of Karnataka’s 176 talukas have been declared drought-stricken. Many villages in the state are sourcing drinking water from private tankers as natural resources dry up. Many schools have delayed the opening day by a week or two due to water scarcity.

These issues are anything but new. We are seeing similar story play out in different parts of India. For a few years now, Indian villages and towns have been facing water shortage due to delay in the onset of monsoon. According to the Drought Early Warning System, 43 percent of India is reeling under drought with situation particularly grim in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

The Centre and state governments have made efforts such as river linking to launch schemes that will solve water crisis on long term basis. However, they continue to exist only on paper.

Tamil Nadu and Karnataka continue to fight over Cauvery, once a perennial river, now reduced to slit. Yet, when it rains, the city is flooded with there being no mechanism to save excess water that goes waste.

It is high time we step up our water conservation and sustainability efforts and make it a priority.

Though it was a not a key election issue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s project of piped water for all by 2024 and new ministry for Water Sustainability called Jal Shakti could be a step in the right direction.

After assuming charge, PM Modi merged the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation to form the ‘Jal Shakti (Water Power)’ Ministry. It is now headed by Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.

The idea for merging the ministries is to unify all departments related to management of water and look at the water issue holistically -- a move recommended by several expert committees, according to reports.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in its manifesto had said that the Centre will implement the river linking project, which dates back to 1980s and was given shape during the Prime Ministership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

However, it was not pursued by successive governments. PM Modi in his manifesto had said that the new ministry will take up this ambitious project to solve India’s water crisis. The project aims to create over 30 river links across India.

Will these initiatives help? It is too early to pass a judgement. However, having a single ministry for water will give the necessary impetus to manage the looming crisis. This at least shows that we are ready to have a conversation about water crisis even if we are far from arriving at a permanent solution for it.
Swathi Moorthy
first published: Jun 9, 2019 03:09 pm

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