The abysmal ranking of the Union Territory in Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) report released last month by NITI Aayog should serve as a wake up call for formulating measures to address the critical situation, former MP M. Ramadass has said.
The CWMI, which collected data from the States and UTs for the year 2017-2018 and arrived at scores against a total value of 100 points, had ranked Puducherry (39 points) 21 among 27 States and UTs. Gujarat with 75 out of 100 points tops the ladder of ranking closely followed by Andhra Pradesh with 74 points and Madhya Pradesh 70 points.
Tamil Nadu with 58 points ranks sixth and Delhi with a meagre 20 points occupies the last position.
The index measured the management performance of States and UTs on a comprehensive set of nine themes covering 28 indicators.
The report assigned weightages for the construction of this index for themes including source augmentation and restoration of waterbodies, irrigation, watershed development, participatory irrigation practices, sustainable farm water use practices, urban/rural drinking water supply systems and policy and governance.
The 239-page report while acknowledging the fact that water is a focal point for economic and social development of the nation, warns that the country is facing a severe water crisis caused both by the supply demand gap and inefficient management of this scarce resource.
“Augmentation of water supply is no doubt a permanent palliative for the problem, but more critical is the adoption of better water management practices by the States and UT.
“It is in this context that this report explores how the country and its States and UTs have performed in the sphere of management of depleting water resource of the country,” Mr. Ramadass pointed out.
The abysmally low ranking of Puducherry indicates that it is an underperformer at the national level and in terms of well stipulated scientific criteria of water management.
This finding is rather baffling and worrying as there are several positive factors in the Union Territory which should have normally secured high ranking especially given the small size of population, considerable coverage of rural and urban areas with drinking water, 100 per cent capacity to treat its waste water and high proportion of national rainfall (2.6 per cent as against 1.3 of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh,1.4 of Andhra Pradesh, 1.6 of Tamil Nadu).
The UT also had a gross cropped area of 25,970 hectares, high irrigation intensity of 85 per cent, high degree of electrification of tubewells and pumps at fixed rate and a regulatory framework for water use and other factors should have obtained a rosy picture for Puducherry.
“Normally, a State with high per capita income should also have high water management Index. But the negative correlation between these two vital variables in Puducherry is something inexplicable and hence warrants a thorough probe,” Mr. Ramadass said.
The lack of credible data on many of the indicators used for the construction of this index and low water use efficiency may be proximate causes of this syndrome.
“It is high time that the policy makers, planners and administrators of Puducherry wake up, peruse and understand the implications of this document and defend or refute the finding of this report which has painted a dismal depiction of Puducherry and also to formulate a plausible strategy framework to improve the situation,” he said.
The Government should realise that immediate interventions are required to address concerns in the water sector especially in Karaikal where the degree of water stress is higher.
Establishment of a new Department of Water Supply and Management and Integrated Data Centre for water resources in the UTP and constitution of Water Management Committees and Water Users’ Associations in Puducherry and Karaikal regions may set the tone for efficient planning and utilisation of available water.
Besides, protection of waterbodies from encroachments and declining health and regular cleaning and restoring of canals, ponds, lakes like Ousteri and Bahour and effective maintenance of irrigation assets can improve water availability and accessibility to small and medium farmers.
He also suggested that mapping of these overexploited areas and building recharging structures on these identified areas can not only arrest depletion but also enhance the water table level.
Motivating farmers to select optimal crop mix consistent with the availability of water resource and to adopt micro irrigation techniques such as sprinklers and drip irrigation can conserve water and improve crop productivity per unit of water. Indiscriminate permission for new establishments in urban areas without considering the availability of water in the region should be avoided, Mr. Ramadass said.