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Need To Replicate Haryana, Gujarat Models To Address Water Crisis: Jal Shakti Minister Shekhawat

Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat explains to BW Businessworld why one should be optimistic about the future.

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With a sub-par monsoon only adding to the water woes through the country, the Narendra Modi government is in a mission mode to contain the damage, and to ensure that India remains water-sufficient. The newly-created Jal Shakti Ministry is a step towards this direction. Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat explains to BW Businessworld’s Sheena Sachdeva why one should be optimistic about the future.


Water scarcity may cause up to 6 per cent loss in GDP. A 2017 report said that 79.5 billion USD have been lost from climate-related disasters including droughts and floods. Further, a 2018 study informed that varying climate changes could cost the country 2.8 per cent of the GDP. What are your plans to tackle such issues? 

As far as the climate change is concerned and due to it the span of an average rainfall has been reduced. Though the average rainfall is the same but the rains due to precipitation have contracted in places. Effects are there but as far as policy matters are concerned, the total water harvesting capacity of the nation in comparison to the total harvestable precipitation we are having is very little, almost 10 per cent on the surface only. The total recipitation in the country is 4,000 billion cubic metres (BCM) whereas out of this only 3,000 BCM is harvestable precipitation. However, the total surface capacity right from the largest dam to the smallest pond in the village is less than 300 BCM, i.e. only 10 per cent of the total. As far as the data, the annual replenishable water which is available underground which is less 400 BCM. So against 300 BCM what we are getting is 700 BCM. So there is a huge scope saving water. Honourable Prime Minister took an initiative where he has written a letter to all the elected representatives in the gram panchayat, almost 2.5 lakh people in 12 different languages to push the entire village towards water conservation and water harvesting. So the philosophy is ‘ghar ka pani ghar me roko, khet ka pani khet me roko aur gaon ka pani gaon me roko’ And there are so many examples.  

As far as the total consumption of water is concerned, the usage of water for domestic purposes is just 5 per cent and 6 per cent is for industrial purposes. The remaining 89 per cent is agriculture. In the leadership of the Prime Minister, we have initiated the projects of Per Drop More Drop in large scale and other interventions which are being done by Agriculture Ministry. Through government incentives and the subsidy, we were able to convert around 20 lakh hectares of land to micro-irrigation and smart irrigation. This is the need of the hour and that is the only way to decrease the consumption of the water in agriculture. On that note, the biggest consumer of water in agriculture is paddy. People are growing paddy because of assured procurement as government agencies procure paddy, wheat and sugarcane. Haryana Government has taken an initiative ‘Jal Hi Jeevan Mission’ which should be applied to the whole country. The initiative includes the incentivisation of farmers who shall convert from paddy to maize as per 2,000 hectares along with assured procurement. Almost 80,000 hectares of conversion has happened within a year. This is a classic example. In Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnanvis has taken an initiative for sugarcane where he has made it compulsory to grow sugarcane on drip irrigation. On the other hand, the Punjab Government has implemented a remarkable scheme of ‘Pani Bachao, Paisa Kamao' to curb the misuse of groundwater. Punjab however, is a state of various rivers and the canal system but the agriculture irrigation is still dependent on under groundwater which is 67 per cent, which is a huge number unlike the water-starved state like Rajasthan. Water is continuously depleting and Punjab is one of the worst affected areas in terms of groundwater depleting. So, many states are coming up with various schemes but until and unless we follow the few practices of water conservation, it isn’t possible. 

We will have to start harvesting water along with rationalise use of water. Further, reuse of water is the most important practice. In a city like Delhi where the total sewage output is 1,100 Millions of Litres per Day (MLD). If you treat 1,100  MLD, it can be used in agriculture for thousands of hectares. It is the same case with industrial effluents, we should treat and reuse it. Treated sewage water can be used in groundwater recharge. Countries like Arizona and Singapore are using reused sewage water for drinking purposes also.  

It is the time for conviction as all our rivers are dying because of lack of green conversion. Foundations like Isha Foundation of Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev are also working in this area and will be planting 2.5 billion trees across the Kaveri river in the coming years.                      

Recently a report informed that investments in the water sector will double in the next five years whereas the estimated per capita spending on piped water projects could be Rs 8,000-9,000. This means that for complete coverage, the spending in the water network would be atleast doubled in FY20-25 as compared to FY14-19. What sort private sector participation we can expect and how will it affect the overall economy?
Everybody has to come on board. However, this number is less than what we are predicting. We are expecting more investment than this. If a model like Gujarat is taken up where total treatment and transportation of water till the destination or the distribution system is done by cooperative companies then a lot of improvement in the current system can be seen. But lots of people have to come together wherein treatment of water, transportation of water and laying of pipelines can also be done by the private companies. So, there has to be planning at a huge level.   

While India stares at its crippling water crisis, what can we expect from the new Jal Shakti Ministry and schemes like Jal Shakti Abhiyan and Jal Jeevan Mission?
The National Water Policy accords top priority to the drinking and domestic sector in the country. The new Jal Shakti Ministry has been created by bringing the Department of Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation (DoWSS) and Department of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation (DoWR, RD & GR) under the one umbrella. This will facilitate addressing the key issues of providing safe drinking water to the entire population of the country. At the same time, a major thrust has been given by the Ministry of Jal Shakti on water conservation and rainwater harvesting through the launching of Jal Shakti Abhiyan and Jal Jeevan Mission.

It is expected from the Jal Shakti Abhiyan, that as an outcome and at the end of Phase I of the mission, the district/block level water conservation plan will be readily available for implementation in convergence with other schemes of the government. At the same time, the visiting officials and technical officers are providing necessary corrective measures for the ongoing interventions being implemented under MGNREGA, watershed development programme, afforestation etc. as well as other programmes of States to make it more effective. In this regard, a team of officers from central government along-with technical officers from the Ministry have been deputed to visit water-stressed districts and to work in close collaboration with district-level officials to undertake suitable demand-side and supply-side interventions.

Jal Jeevan Mission is focussed on integrated demand and supply-side management of water at the local level, including the creation of local infrastructure for source sustainability like rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharge, and management of household wastewater for reuse in agriculture. ‘Nal se Jal’ scheme is a component of the government’s Jal Jeevan Mission meant to provide piped drinking water to every household.

The key expectations from the schemes are to provide safe drinking water to the entire population of the country and source sustainability. The USP of these programmes is bringing the community, state authorities and central organisations under one umbrella and convergence of various schemes of Central and State government in a mission mode.

Water is priced at an ecologically low rate both for domestic and industrial purposes due to which people don’t value its worth. Don’t you think some incentive or fees should be fined to make people value it more?  
Earlier in India water was considered to be like ‘Jal Hi Jagdeesh’. But after generations now water is spent irrationally where nobody values it. So now we have to come to a point where we should save water like money (Pani Ko Paise Ki Tarah Bachana Hai). It is not the fees which always matter. It is important but there is a requirement of behavioural change which we did in Swachh Bharat Mission. It is not just about creating infrastructure. Also, as per our honourable Prime Minister’s guidance that piped water scheme is not only providing access to piped water to every household but much more than that. It looks at three promises including; ensuring source sustainability which includes groundwater recharge; providing of piped water and the treatment and reuse of disposed water. If we work on these three areas then the problem of the importance of water and its rate will be covered. But all this may take time but the result can give a common solution to all the prevailing water-related problems.    

Desalination plants are considered to be the next possible solution. Is NITI Aayog working on a policy-related to it? Is this the only resort to solve the prevailing water crisis?  

It’s a discussion. We don’t need a policy in this area. If desalination plants become a viable option then it is the best option. However, viability is a problem because of the cost of electricity. 

As agriculture uses 80 per cent of freshwater, what sort of shift is required for advanced agricultural practices to save water? 
 In terms of agriculture, we should follow a few practices to decrease the consumption of water. This includes the adoption of cropping pattern as per Water Budget, zero/minimum tillage agricultural practices, avoidance of flood irrigation and use of furrow or check method of irrigation. We should maximize the use of micro-irrigation (drip/sprinkler) for improving irrigation efficiency and further enhance crop production. However, high yielding seeds along with conjunctive use of fertilizer with organic manure should be used during farming. 

With the current state of the water crisis in the country, there is an alarming concern for both domestic and industrial consumption of water. What are your plans to solve such problems?
To mitigate the looming water crisis in the country, the Ministry is adopting the two-pronged approach, which includes demand as well as supply management at the level of the consumer. This inter alia include source augmentation, which is one of the key objectives of ongoing Jal Shakti Abhiyan. Additionally, all technical inputs are being provided by the Jal Shakti ministry through Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) in the implementation of water conservation interventions of MGNREGA to make it more effective. To facilitate this, an MOU has been signed in this regard with Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD). National Project on Aquifer Management (NAQUIM) programme has been expedited to complete the aquifer mapping in the country by the year 2021, which will provide required data and knowledge for effective implementation of groundwater development and recharge programmes.

To manage the demand, the focus of the Ministry is on improving water use efficiency in the agriculture sector as well as for the industrial sector. National Water Mission is making all efforts to formulate comprehensive state-specific plans for water conservation. To regulate and control groundwater usage in the industrial sector, Jal Shakti Ministry through CGWA is regulating the groundwater usage and making a recharge, recycle and reuse mandatory to optimise the growing freshwater requirement. To address the concerns of drinking and domestic water in rural areas ‘Nal se Jal’ scheme has been contemplated.

Further, the National Water Mission is working efficiently to tackle the water management and in this regard, a sustainable approach needs to be adopted keeping in mind both the present and future need of the country. Participatory water management is the way forward to achieve sustainable water management. Rainwater harvesting, water structures like ponds, lakes rejuvenation, wetlands and spring rejuvenation, groundwater recharge structures, production of low water consumption crops and reuse and recycling of water in industries will be our main strategies.

As per NITI Aayog’s 2018 report, 21 Indian cities will start running short of groundwater by next year, including New Delhi and Bengaluru, and recently Hyderabad is also added to the bandwagon while 200,000 people in the country die each year because of a lack of access to safe water. What is the ministry doing in this respect? What will be the economic aspect of such vagaries? 
NITI Aayog in its report titled ‘Composite Water Management Index’ 2018 is based on the estimates of annual groundwater replenishment and its extraction. However, it does not take into account the groundwater availability in the deeper aquifers. Further, out of 21 cities, 17 have water supply both from surface and groundwater, with a majority being dependent on surface water sources to a large extent. DoWR has circulated a Model Bill to all the States/UTs to enable them to enact suitable groundwater legislation for its regulation and development, which includes the provision of rainwater harvesting. So far, 15 States/UTs have adopted and implemented the groundwater legislation on the lines of the bill.

Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) is also working in this area through policy interventions. The implementation of the rainwater harvesting policy comes within the purview of the state government/urban local body/urban development authority. The Jal Shakti Abhiyan is a time-bound campaign with a mission mode approach intended to improve water availability including groundwater conditions in the water-stressed blocks of 256 districts in India. Besides, for enhancing water use efficiency, the central government is promoting micro-irrigation systems, command area development works, participatory irrigation management, recycle and reuse of water amongst others.

In most parts of the country, the groundwater is decreasing rapidly. What are the strategies are been adopted to solve the problems of both households and farmers?  Various initiatives have been taken by the Ministry as a strategy to control water depletion and promote rainwater harvesting/conservation, which will ultimately address the shortage of water for drinking/domestic as well as irrigation and also provide sustainability of groundwater sources. The National Water Policy 2012 advocates rain water harvesting and conservation of water and also highlights the need for augmenting the availability of water through direct use of rainfall. Further, CGWA has also issued directions under Section 5 of “The Environment Protection Act, 1986” for mandatory Rain Water Harvesting/Roof Top Rain Water Harvesting for all target areas in the country.  Further, CGWB under its Master Plan for artificial recharge to groundwater in India- 2013 has envisaged construction of 1.11 crore rainwater harvesting and artificial recharge structures in the country at an estimated cost of Rs. 79,178 crores to harness 85 BCM (Billion Cubic Metre) of water, in an area of 9,41,541 by harnessing surplus monsoon runoff to augment groundwater resources.

India treats 33 per cent of wastewater and reuses only 8 per cent of it. Moreover, 70 per cent goes down into water bodies untreated. What sort of technological innovations should be done to utilise the wastewater which can further solve the water scarcity issue?
For the reuse of wastewater, the wastewater can be treated in conventional and/or comprising of advance treatment process which includes nitrogen and phosphorus removal along with advance filtration process for enhanced removal of Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BoD), Total Suspended Solids (TSS) and Coliforms, along with ultra-violate disinfection. For the implementation of effective use of treated wastewater the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) or agencies handling wastewater treatment projects need to define the ultimate use of this treated water. In terms of agriculture or horticulture, the conventional treatment process for removal of BoD, TSS and fecal coliforms. For industrial wastewater, a conventional process can be used as per the need of the industry. Augmentation of surface water and groundwater recharge should also happen along with proper treatment of aquifer storage and use. However, to achieve all this effective public awareness and public participation with capacity building for ULBs and agencies needs to be conducted.

What are the other integrated water management schemes that the ministry is planning to work on and what are your plans in this area? 
Integrated water management (IWM) is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare equitably without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.

To achieve the goal of IWM, we need integrated river basin planning, development and management by preparing river basin master plans.

But to do this we need to prepare a long-term perspective plan for the development of the basin’s water resources along with a comprehensive and integrated approach to the development of water and other natural resources using water with due regard to the constraint imposed by configuration of water availability.

Moreover, GoI has sanctioned a special package for the completion of irrigation projects to address agrarian distress in Vidarbha and Marathwada and other chronically drought-prone areas of rest of Maharashtra during June 2018. The package consists of eight major and medium irrigation (MMI) projects approved by the ministry along with 83 Surface Minor Irrigation (SMI) Projects. The balance estimated cost of projects of Maharashtra to be completed under this package is Rs 13651.61 crore as on April 1, 2018, with Rs 3831.41 crore. On completion of the balance works of these projects, additional irrigation potential of 3.77 lakh h would be created. Further, a new MoU has been signed in 2018 between MoWR, Rajasthan and Punjab Government to provide central assistance of Rs.620.42 crore. and Rs.205.758 crore for selected relining of Rajasthan Feeder Canal and Sirhind Feeder Canal, respectively.  The project’s timeline is until June 2021. 

Recently, Meghalaya was the first state to gets its draft of Water Policy passed through the cabinet. Don't you think that our country needs a Central Water Policy? 
 The policy is great. Again water being a state subject we cannot do anything from the centre. We can just issue a draft or an advisory. Ultimately, the states have to come together. Just like this dam safety, is also a similar subject. Recently, the cabinet has approved a bill on dam safety. However, the process of creating authority for dam safety is happening since 1982. Its been 40 years. The legislation was not been able to get approval. I hope it sees the light of the day.     

There have been various encroachments on water bodies across the country. Various cases are around this but states like Delhi are bounded because it's a center subject and cannot do anything in this area. What are your plans to solve such problems?
It is a painful problem. This is generally because we have lost connection with the water bodies. In the city of Jodhpur, there are more than 1,000 tradition water structures. Being from the city myself, even we are not aware of the exact number. However, I have started my officers to get in touch with the state and take the help of technology including ASI to identify all traditional water bodies throughout the country and make a proper data and register them officially. Water being a state subject we cannot do much from the centre. But still, if a people’s movement is developed then such problems can be solved. The best example is of Bundelkhand where restoration happening of so many water structures. Chandel King of Bundelkhand has constructed 9,000 ponds ranging from 1,000 cubic metre (cm) to 600 cm. Out of these 9,000 ponds, hundreds of ponds are interconnected. So we have started a programme of renovation with the help of people. However, recently this process has started through suo moto only. They have reclaimed more than 250 ponds in a year or two. 

In a city like Chennai, a recent report shows the images of lakes of Chennai from 1950 till 2018, over 3,000 lakes were there. It has all vanished. 

However, we cannot sit on the situation whatever has happened has happened. We have to work now.         

Water Mafias are rampant in the country. A report informs that the tanker business in Mumbai generates revenues of over Rs.1,000 crore each year. How are you planning such issues? 
All the mafias work when there is some water scarcity. When you fulfill the demand of water then such mafias will vanish automatically. However, I cannot comment on how much revenue they create. But it is definitely there. But as water is a state subject so at then sates have to take a call on it.

Recently, National Green Tribunal notified the Ministry of Environment of prohibiting the use of drinking water prepared through RO. More than 60 per cent of the water gets wasted during this process. What are the plans of the ministry concerning recovering losses by unsustainable use of RO machines from the manufacturers of RO? Considering, the water purification market to reach $4.1 billion by 2024.
The problem here is that we have lost faith in our system. In the past, the way governments have worked, we have lost the faith we had. Generally, no one doubts the quality of piped water that comes to our households. However, there was a report wherein Delhi’s 20 location's water quality of tap water was tested. It was found that at every place the water quality was better than the European standards. But Delhi’s 50 per cent of households have a purification system which wastes 40 per cent of the water of the kitchen. So, we have to revive the faith of people that the water coming from the tap is good enough. Secondly, we have to find out the possibility that how can we stop this mentality. But to find this out we have to do a survey to get a bigger picture and then we can explore further opportunities in this area.           

India's water and wastewater market alone is worth $420 million and is annually growing by 18 per cent.  Is there scope for growth in the economy through this industry? How are you planning to utilise this market to solve the water crisis of the country? 
I have recently made the plan with the Oxford Alumni acquisitions here in the country and Chicago University Centre, to bring together and present world’s water technology available whether desalination, water treatment or water-saving or groundwater through an India Water Show. This shall include simultaneously a competition amongst all the startups working across the globe on the water which will also include rewards along with work on the ground. In this competition, the most doable and most practical startup solution will be rewarded with a prize and will also work with the government.           

The river-linking project is still in progress. What are your plans to expedite the process?
The Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) programme is being taken up in a consultative model to achieve consensus among the States concerned.  This process is time-consuming as each State has its plans to develop and utilise its water resources. Formation of authority under the Union Government on the lines of National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) through legislation will certainly expedite the process.

If the existing special committee on Inter Linking of Rivers (SCILR) is empowered through a legislation, States can be brought on board and consensus-building can be achieved. If arrangements for full funding of the scheme by the Union Government are made, then the States can be convinced to be a part of the ILR.

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Ganjendra Singh Shekhawat

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