The author, a seasoned politician and former Chief Minister of Karnataka, was prompted to write this book when he saw wasteful use of water through overuse, resulting in water-logging and salinity. Lack of drainage and low or non-pricing of water is such that a scarce resource is treated as a free good to waste or overuse, the author felt that treatment of water as a public trust would only help to lead to saving of water. Though water has a large number of uses, the largest amount is directed towards irrigation to sustain the country’s food supply. Though the amount of water devoted to non-agricultural uses is rising with population growth, industrialisation, recreational and ecological uses, agriculture sill remains by the far the largest user in tropical conditions. The author’s concern seems to be to find ways to ‘stretch’ the finite water resources to meet the pressing new demands and feed the growing mouths.
The two basic problems according to the author are: first overexploitation of groundwater and second, poor prioritisation of government spending – over 60 per cent of its resources go into budgeting for large dams and canal projects without ensuring that the gains from these are optimised. He says that groundwater is in fact India’s lifeline, “feeding an estimated two-thirds of all irrigated foodgrain-producing farmlands, providing most of the rural drinking water and half of all urban and industrial use.” But since groundwater is often over-exploited, what happens is that more water is drawn out on an average than is replenished by rain. What aggravates the water problem is that after 60 years of Independence, 60 per cent of the farmlands are still dependent on monsoons. Efforts to increase the area under irrigation in the past decade have been an abysmal failure.
Discussing the National Water Policy for the 21st century, the author says that water should be treated as a national resource for the purpose of national developmental goals and planning, though the management of water has been decentralised with both the local community and concerned state government adopting strategies to economise the use of water.
* Some of the manifestations of water crises listed by the author are:
* There is hardly any city which receives drinking water for all the 24 hours
* Chemicals like arsenic, nitrates and fluorides are reported to be present in drinking water in many rural habitations
* Farmers are forced to deepen their wells and replace their pump sets as the groundwater table is declining due to over-exploitation
* Increasing burden of rising costs and time overruns are common for many major and medium irrigation projects as they seem to remain under execution forever
* The old systems are giving way
Despite investment in irrigation, the gross irrigated area is not increasing. For raising agricultural production, the gap between the potential created and the area irrigated remains large.
Water is a prime natural resource, a basic human need and precious national asset. In view of the vital importance of water for human and animal life, for maintaining the ecological balance, for economic and developmental activities of all kinds and according to its increasing scarcity, planning and management of this resource and its optimal, economical and equitable use has become a matter of outmost urgency. Dr Moily’s strategy is to get more ‘drop per drop’.
He wants small farmers to resort to these systems through cooperatives or contractual means and while significant capital and energy costs may have to be incurred, the resultant gains are likely to be far greater. Diversification that ensures more cost-effective and ecologically sound cropping patterns would seem a better alternative together with resort to newer varieties that demand less water or are salt tolerant. Improved tillage practices, such as mulching and SRI (system of rice intensification) offer higher crop-water returns. The need is to look at water markets, water parliaments and other innovative measures to overcome the problem.
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