India has achieved considerable success in managing water in recent years. Irrigated area has increased from 47 per cent to 55 per cent in the last six years in our net cropped area of 140 mh.

But sustainability is becoming a concern, as population is likely to increase to about 165 crore by 2047 (from 140 crore), raising requirement of food and water. There is also the uncertainty of climate change to deal with.

India has about 3 per cent of the world’s landmass, 4 per cent of water resources and 18 per cent of humanity. It receives about 4,000 billion cubic meters of precipitation. With the onset of climate change, number of rainy days are reducing and rain intensity is increasing. Land bereft of vegetation cannot hold and absorb the running rain water. Therefore, a good portion of precipitation runs off to the ocean taking along with it valuable top soil, a sine-qua-non for agriculture.

Civilisations developed along flowing rivers and open wells of yesteryears provided drinking water and protective irrigation. That changed as technology developed and populations grew. A key ingredient of our Green Revolution and the resultant food security is ‘irrigation water’ from medium/major irrigation projects.

Now, these projects are on the wane because of their capital expenditure and operational expenditure requirements, water use inefficiency, issues of water equity, water charges that do not cover O&M costs, salinisation, soil degradation and other environmental issues. Urban habitations, and growing industry too have been demanding water from these projects.

Agriculture, industry and domestic users consume about 84 per cent, 12 per cent and 4 per cent of our water resources, respectively. Our societal thinking on water use, is built on the idea of copious flood irrigation. Green Revolution furthered it, thanks to canal (flood) irrigation from irrigation projects.

Hence, whenever farmers see and get more water, they switch to flood irrigation and water intensive crops. On the demand side, the cultivation of fruit and vegetables outside of their seasons too has added to water demand. Free power plays spoilsport, notwithstanding the fact that micro irrigation is picking up.

As agriculture and urban agglomerations grew, our public policy tilted towards tapping ground water aquifers. About 65 per cent of our crop irrigation and 85 per cent of drinking water comes from ground water aquifers. Now, only one-third of our blocks are considered as ‘safe’ for ground water extraction. China, India, the US are the top ground water extractors.

For a ‘water-proof’ India

How do we ‘water-proof’ our country?

First, frugality must be the mantra in every aspect of water — technology, irrigation design, delivery and usage.

Second, prioritise decentralised planning and execution.

Third, usage of technology like SCADA in our canal-based irrigation and importantly reducing SCADA costs through domestic research is a must.

Fourth, ‘rice and wheat thinking’ must change. Farmers and consumers must adapt crops which suit local environment.

Fifth, while millets are celebrated as environmentally friendly, their consumption is by the elite and poor, that too in some geographies.

Sixth, watershed development delivered results in isolated patches, but as groundwater improved, so did its excessive use. Agroecology embedded on watersheds is the way forward.

Seventh, technology at all water discharge point(s) has to change, making it efficient. We can learn from our LED Lighting transformation.

Eighth, sustained campaigns to ensure communities rewrite their “water thinking” is a must.

Ninth, an empowered mission can bring about this paradigm shift in ideation, coordination and delivery.

Tenth, every religion reveres water and policy must tap into that.

The writer is former Deputy Managing Director, Nabard. Views are personal