The searing lack of water in Karnataka has led water experts and environmentalists to focus on the demands made by water-intensive agriculture, which is estimated to account for 84 per cent of water use. Industry and domestic use are said to make up 12 per cent and 4 per cent, respectively.

NITI Aayog member Ramesh Chand recently said that the demand for vegetables right through the year had led to rising use of water, particularly groundwater. He also said that the country used twice or thrice more water to produce a tonne of crop compared to other parts of the world.

There can be no case against curbing wasteful use of water in agriculture. But it is also worth pausing for a moment to consider whether the farm sector alone should be at the centre of water conservation efforts.

Does the inefficient use of water to grow food (and less so cash crops) amount to bigger lapse than the wasteful use of water by, say, the construction sector, the entertainment industry (IPL matches) and activities of peripheral utility such as car washing?

Much as agriculture needs to move away from water-intensive crops in dry regions, by perhaps putting a price on water, the same holds true in larger measure for urban users who don’t grow any food, or to put it less charitably, produce stuff of limited utility.

Urban water tariffs should be aligned with electricity units consumed, so that the rich pay more. Utilities need resources to invest in rainwater infrastructure, recycling of wastewater and prevention of leakages. The urban water crisis is at its core a public finance issue. If cities want to tap into rural sources of water without paying for it, that’s far worse than water-inefficient farming.