INTERVIEW | Depleting water reserve a challenge, says Gajendra Singh Shekhawat

A subject like water needs to be treated holistically, Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat says, as he speaks to TNIE about the challenges in conserving water.

Published: 29th September 2019 09:56 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th September 2019 01:07 PM   |  A+A-

Gajendra Singh Shekhawat

Gajendra Singh Shekhawat (Photo | Shekhar Yadav, EPS)

Water has been a key focus area of Modi 2.0. What is the progress so far? 

Nature has given us a lot. The total precipitation that our country gets is 4,000 billion cubic metres per year. But our water holding capacity over the surface is very low, about 250 billion cubic metres per year – only 8 per cent. Our total requirement for drinking water is only 50-60 billion cubic metres per year.

Our surface holding capacity is very less and after processes like evaporation and others, our usage capacity is only around 200 billion cubic metres.

The water what we are getting as replenished water every year is more than 400 bc3/year. But the water we are drawing from under the ground is very high, around 750 billion cubic metres per year. This is the problem. It is like someone is depositing Rs 400 and withdrawing` 700.

What are the challenges in achieving targets?

The biggest challenge what we face today with regard to water is that the entity was fragmented under various roles and ministries.

A subject like water needs to be treated holistically. All types of water are important. Be it water beneath the surface or on the surface of the earth, irrigating water, discharged water or effluents.

In India, the challenges we saw and the visible impacts of climate change made it important that we deal with the subject holistically.

We are drawing almost one-fourth of the world’s underground water and we are drawing more than 1.5 times water than both the US and China combined. Creation of water holding capacity over the ground and under the ground is the challenge.

What are the focus areas? 

As far as water holding capacity over the ground is concerned, we started a programme last time — AIPB (Accelerated Irrigation Programme Benefit).

Under the programme, 99 projects have been identified which had been pending for a long time. We have taken up a mission to complete them. Almost 50 per cent of these pending projects have been completed.

After the completion of all, our irrigation capacity will increase by 5 million hectares, apart from boosting drinking water supplies.

However, underground water reserve is a big challenge. We are monitoring around 6,800 blocks by CGWA.

Of these 1,500 are overexploited or critically exploited. This number is increasing rapidly. To resolve this problem, the PM, in his first Mann Ki Baat address after assuming power for the second time, expressed concern over the issue. He wrote 2.5 lakh letters in 12 different languages to gram pradhans and sarpanchs. 

PM has set a target of providing piped water to every household by 2024. What is the status? 

As far as drinking water is concerned, the PM has taken it up like a challenge.

In 72 years, we have created infra to provide drinking water through taps to 3 crore households, which is only 20 per cent of the total households.

We have to do four times more work in the next 60 months as compared to what has been done in the past 72 years. It is a big challenge. 

Agriculture is a water-guzzling sector and how do you plan to address that?

India is the only country where there one can draw any amount of water and it is a serious issue.

If we fragment domestic water use, it is just 6 per cent and 5 per cent is industry and rest 89 per cent is agriculture.

Our waters are least productive water in the world.

To grow a kilogram of rice, the average requirement of water is 5,600 litres while China is growing same quantity from 350 litres of water.

The technologies are available with us and they have not been disseminated to farmers and farmers’ legacy does not allow them to use them. It is time that all states will have to take a call to increase the efficacy of water use in agriculture.

Simultaneously, we have to come in big way to create infrastructure for the treatment of sewage water.  

Any policy for water regulation?  

Water is a state subject, so we cannot regulate it. States will have to create water use policy. We are ready to provide them all technological support and assistance for diversion of crops, increased water use efficacy, micro-irrigation and drip irrigation.

The country’s first river inter-linking project is still stuck?

Ideally, it is much required. For 70 years, one-third of our nation was under floods and another one-third under drought.

India is a big country and our river basins are different from Europe’s where water comes from glaciers. Leaving Indus Basin Rivers, most of our rivers get water during monsoon. Inter-linking is a big challenge but very soon we will see work on it start.

A Supreme Court committee has called Ken-Betwa interlink economically unviable?

Maybe, but at some point, we have to think beyond economics. It is the country’s requirement. There were many issues and we have got all statutory clearances and compliances.

Another key project was Ganga cleaning. Where do we stand today?

First of all, I absolutely disagree with the notion that the Ganga is a dirty river. It is one of the cleanest rivers in the country from source to end and among the 10 cleanest rivers in the world.

We have cleared almost 298 projects to stop the pollution, to stop the disposal of untreated sewage and industrial effluents. About 100-plus have been completed and the remaining will be completed in the next two years.     

We have started cleaning of tributaries also and I can say with full confidence that before the Kumbh in January 2021, no untreated sewage and industrial effluents will flow into the Ganga, right from the Gangotri to Rishikesh. 

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