A holistic approach to conserving water

Sriram Vedire | Updated on April 14, 2021

Apart from using innovative methods, Jal Shakti Abhiyan-II will seek active participation of the people in saving water

Water is not only an essential resource for agriculture and industrial sectors, but also is a basic necessity for all living beings. Changing patterns of climate, intensity of precipitation, and rates of discharge of rivers, show that it can no longer be assumed that the water cycle operates within an invariant range of predictability. With water tables falling and water quality deteriorating, a radical change is needed in the approach to water management. In this context, rainwater during the monsoon periods, which is the primary source of water in India, has to be conserved.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched ‘Jal Shakti Abhiyan Phase-II’ on March 22, 2021, the World Water Day.

On this occasion, he addressed all the District Magistrates and sarpanches of the country. He made a call to all to make the jal-sanchay (water conservation) endeavour a jan-andolan (people’s movement).

Phase-I of ‘Jal Shakti Abhiyan’ (JSA) was a time-bound, mission mode water conservation campaign, implemented in July-November 2019 , in 1,592 blocks of the 256 water-stressed districts of the country. These blocks fell under critical or over-exploited groundwater category, where groundwater was being exploited faster than it could be replenished. JSA was a collaborative effort of various ministries of the Central and State Governments.

JSA focussed on five aspects — water conservation and rainwater harvesting, renovation of traditional and other water bodies, reuse of water and recharging of structures, watershed development, and intensive afforestation. Teams of technical officers from the Central government, led by Additional/Joint Secretaries, were mapped to the 256 JSA districts.

The teams made three visits to their allotted districts/blocks. The district administration provided the baseline data for all the interventions and continues to update data on progress under the key interventions. With this campaign, huge awareness was generated among various stakeholders — government departments, agencies, NGOs, officials, panchayats, individuals, etc. — in these 256 districts. About 3.3 lakh water harvesting and watershed development structures were constructed, about 16,000 traditional water bodies were restored, and 228 districts developed district water conservation plans under this JSA phase-I campaign.

In JSA phase-II, “Catch the Rain” campaign with the tag-line. “Catch the rain, where it falls, when it falls” will be taken up by all the States and all stakeholders to create rain water harvesting structures (RWHS) suitable to the climatic conditions and sub-soil strata, with people’s active participation before the onset of monsoon to ensure storage of rainwater.

Under this campaign, drives to make RWHS like ponds, water harvesting pits, check dams, rooftop RWHS, etc., enumeration and geo-tagging of all water bodies in the districts, removal of encroachments and de-silting of tanks, etc., will be taken up in all 729 districts (rural as well as urban areas) of the country.

Phase-II plan

Mentioned below are a few new and innovative things planned in JSA Phase-II.

To be implemented in all districts in the country: Water conservation needs to become a part of the community’s ethos. Therefore, it is now proposed to take up JSA phase-II in the pre-monsoon and monsoon periods of 2021, covering both urban and rural areas of all districts in the country.

Preparation of scientific water conservation plans using latest technologies: Under JSA phase-II campaign, each district in the country will prepare scientific water conservation plans with the help of remote sensing images from NRSA and GIS mapping technology for identification of existing water bodies/water harvesting structures (WHS), and for planning future WHS.

The second component of the preparation of the scientific planning would be the identification of the works to be taken up for new WHS. These could be the basis for the preparation of the shelf of projects for water conservation works under MGNREGA. Based on a checklist, district magistrates will certify the completion of these scientific water conservation plans. A mobile application has been developed to plan and implement the structures and to provide feedback, including the geo-tagging of assets created. A portal, through which districts can report this progress, has been developed.

Convergence of all water conservation related schemes and programmes of both Central and State governments: So far, various water conservation programmes of both Central/State governments are implemented in silos. JSA focusses on converging the financial, administrative and technological aspects of all these various schemes and programmes.

Making it a people’s movement: Not just conservation of rain water, but improving awareness to do so amongst all the stakeholders and ensuring their participation is the primary objective of phase-II of JSA. It is not possible for only government programmes and schemes to achieve the full objectives of water conservation and groundwater recharge.

Apart from NGOs, CSR and social organisations, it is the participation of public at large, involving mass mobilisation of different groups of people, including farmers, school and college students, self-help groups, Panchayati Raj institution members and youth groups (NSS/NYKS/NCC), among various others which would make JSA to manifest into a large-scale campaign.

Financial grant by Ministry of Jal Shakti: The Ministry of Jal Shakti will give incentive-based financial grant amounting up to ₹2 lakh to each district for GIS mapping.

Way forward

It is necessary to build on the momentum that will be created by the Jal Shakti Abhiyan and to consolidate gains already made in phase-I and to be made during phase-II. The digital inventory of all the water bodies/resources should be completed and shared with all stakeholders.

The list of water bodies that were renovated, rejuvenated or ones in which encroachments were removed should be documented and recorded in the revenue records so that they do not fall into disuse/abuse/encroached again. Such water bodies should be linked to people’s livelihood so that the people’s economic interest can protect them.

For example, fisheries can be encouraged, and water bodies leased so that they can be maintained by communities that benefited from them.

Voluntary shramdan must be incorporated to build awareness as well as to complete various works. Capacity building of farmers on water conservation should go on simultaneously. The focus should be on micro-irrigation techniques for water-guzzling plants. A plan must be made under the current JSA to include maintenance of structures.

All government buildings must have RWH structures. Many government schools do have structures for rainwater harvesting but are mostly non-functional. These can be made functional with minor repairs. A dedicated JSA cell must be created at district level, post Abhiyan period to complete the follow-up activities under Jal Shakti Abhiyan.

The writer is Adviser, Ministry of Jal Shakti, and Chairman, Task Force on Interlinking of Rivers, GoI

Published on April 14, 2021

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