By dedicating the ‘Atal Bhujal Yojna’, an ambitious water management scheme on the birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the nation; India has shown its determination to lift millions of people out of water-related crisis. In fact, the country’s approach to deal with water crunch was before the world when Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his second term formed the “Jal Shakti” Ministry. It has helped in freeing the subject of water from a compartmentalized approach to a more comprehensive and holistic one.
New India’s vision will not fructify unless the country’s problems are resolved in consonance with people’s expectations and aspirations. Atal Bhujal Yojna addresses not only the problem of declining groundwater level in 78 districts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka, but also helps create awareness among farmers on the need of alternative crops for cultivation.
Agriculture in India is largely based on irrigation carried out through the use of groundwater which has depleted hugely on account of large extraction and changing rainfall patterns. According to a study, groundwater table has decreased by 61 per cent in the past 10 years in the country. Global warming is cited as the major reason for erratic monsoon rainfall and the consequent groundwater decline. Since 1950, average rainfall has declined by around 7 per cent. In India, monsoon usually occurs in June, July, August and September when winds from the southwest pick up moisture from the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal and drop it as rain over the land. Between October and December, winds shift and blow from the other direction. However, on account of climate change, this seasonal cycle of rainfall has got disturbed.
Instead of the regular pattern, there are now phases of not enough rainfall followed by drought and sometimes flood too. India is facing all this despite the fact it has historically contributed fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than many developed countries.
The good news is that the Indian government is prepared to tackle the menace of groundwater depletion. In built mechanism of Atal Bhujal Yojna suggests this in clear terms. It envisages strengthening of institutional framework for groundwater management and bringing about behavioural changes at the community level for sustainable groundwater resource management.
Participation of the communities in various activities such as formation of water user associations, monitoring and disseminating ground water data, water budgeting, preparation and implementation of Gram Panchayat-wise water security plans—are key objectives of Atal Bhujal Yojna.
Nearly 8350 Gram Panchayats spread in 78 districts of seven states will be benefitted by the scheme which has a provision of incentivizing those Gram Panchayats which perform better in water management. Revelation about this was made by Prime Minister Modi during the launch of the scheme. Prime Minister said, better performing Gram Panchayats will be given more allocation of funds under the Atal Jal Yojna. This really marks a bold approach towards groundwater management.
However, to make it more result oriented, farmers need to be taken into confidence and should be asked to bring a change in their farming behaviour. They need to be asked to shift towards those cultivation methods where in crops need less water for irrigation. Crops like sugarcane need lot of water and land where they are grown has witnessed decline in groundwater table.
To reduce wastage of water, there is also a need of bringing a change in old-age farming techniques. Farmers should be encouraged to make a water budget where groundwater is very low while villagers should come together to make a water action plan and create a water fund. Nevertheless, it will be a rich tribute to the country’s visionary Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee if the scheme lives up to his dream of turning parched land into a green field by making people change their behaviour towards the use of water and its management in the country.
Script: Shankar Kumar, Journalist