Let’s get aqua-savvy

Chronic differences in opinion relating to sharing of water from inter-state rivers have highlighted the need for promoting “jal swaraj”, or sustainable water security throughout the country. Building a sustainable water security system for a human population of nearly 1.2 billion and a farm animal population of over a billion is a priority task for the government and the people of India. On the direction of the Supreme Court of India, the department of science and technology of the Government of India has launched a technology mission titled, “Winning, Augmentation and Renovation (WAR) for Water”.  The aim of this mission is the development and dissemination of rese­a­rch-based technologies for addressing the serious water challenges facing the country. The ap­p­r­oach will include measures for augmentation of supply, managem­e­nt of de­m­and, and harnessing new techno­logies that relate to drinking water as well as recycling of waste water.
India’s water security system sho­uld give concurrent attention to all the major sources of water, namely, rain, surface, ground, sea and recycled sewage and waste water. The conjunctive use of these water sources will help to enhance the irrigated area for agriculture. At present, only about 40 per cent of the cultivated area is irrigated, the rest 60 per cent being rainfed.
Unfortunately, ground water expl­o­i­tation is happening in an unsustainable manner, leading to a steep drop in the water table. It is essential to harvest every drop of rain water and store it underground or in tanks, since most of the rainfall in India comes within a limited period. Saving and sharing of rain water should become a national et­h­ic. I would like to highlight here five areas where we should pay particular attention.
l Rain Water Harvesting and Efficient and Equitable Use: This is a priority item of work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (MGNREGA). Our aim should be to bring about synergy between labour and intellect in this programme. The institution of a Water Security Saviour Award to recognise and reward the work of the best MGNREGA Water Harvesting Team will help generate awareness of the importance of the work unskilled labourers are doing for public good. The “watershed programme” should place emphasis on improving both on-farm productivity and non-farm employment. If this is done, we will have a national grid of bioindustrial watersheds.
l Sea Water Farming: India has a shore line extending to over 7,500 km as well as the Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep group of islands. An effective method of de­s­alination of sea water is its use for promoting agri-aqua farms (cultivation of mangroves, Atriplex, Salicornia, Casuarina, Sesuvium and ot­her salt-tolerant species, to­g­e­t­her with coastal aquaculture). Ne­a­rly 20 per cent of India’s population li­ves near the coast and the sea water farming movement will help to generate more jobs and income for co­a­stal communities. Since sea wa­ter constitutes nearly 97 per cent of gl­o­bal water resource, sea water fa­rming will help to utilise this un­d­er-utilised resource for food security.
Through the Dandi March, Gandhiji emphasised that sea water is a social resource. On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the Dandi March, we should launch a Mahatma Gandhi Sea Water Farming Movement to strengthen the ecological security of coastal areas, through mangrove and non-mangrove bioshields, which will serve as speed breakers at the time of tsunamis and coastal sea water surges, as well as lead to livelihood security of costal communities.
l Water Security for Farm Animals: There is need to plan for water security for the over one billion farm animals of India. Under conditions of drought, “cattle camps” will have to be organised around sources of water. One approach will be the development of a national network of Ground Water Sanctuaries, which are concealed aquifers that should be tap­p­ed only in severe dr­ought. 
l Harnessing Flood Water in the Northeast: The Jal Kund (water pond) movement already started by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research in the Sorah (Chirapunji) area of Meghalaya can be replicated all over the Northeast so that there is no water scarcity from December to April. Sorah receives nearly 14,000 mm of rainfall during a year and yet there is water scarcity during winter months. This situation is now changing due to the development of community water harvesting ponds. 
l National Corps of Community Water Masters: We should train at least one woman and one man in every panchayat or local body in the science and art of water harvesting, efficient water management and equitable sharing of the available water. They should also be trained in sustainable aquifer management. Such a National Corps of Community Water Masters will also be helpful in organising Pani Panchayats (water parliaments) and in maximising farm productivity and income per drop of water. 
Recently, the ministry of environment and forests had initiated a programme for enrolling two crore young boys and girls to serve as “Paryavaran Mitras”. If developed and trained property, the two crore friends of the environment can spearhead an aqua-happiness movement in the country. Conflicts can then give way to cooperation, resulting in a dynamic and science-based land and water care programme in every panchayat and nagarpalika. This is the only sustainable route to winning the War for Water. 

M.S. Swaminathan is the chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. He is considered to be the father of India’s green revolution.

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