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Free power for farmers fuelling water crisis: Environment Minister

Anil Dave backs NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant's remarks that free electricity has made people drill deeper and turn large parts of States such as Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana barren.

Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Anil Dave, linked the rampant extraction of groundwater to the free electricity supplied to farmers and mooted a fresh approach towards rivers and water bodies to impose discipline on water consumption.

The Minister backed a call for stronger ground water management regulations made by NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant, who said free electricity has made people drill deeper to get water for irrigation and is turning large parts of States such as Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana barren.

“Who were the planners and policy makers who decided the way we should do agriculture 30-40 years ago? Today, we are saying that we have taken out water from deep in the ground and the soil has become barren. Who’s responsible for taking the battle in the wrong direction?” Mr Dave asked on Wednesday, stressing that India’s environmental challenges — be it about water or degrading soil quality — are rooted in policy decisions taken without factoring in India’s needs.

‘Disciplined consumption’

“Shouldn’t the country have a policy on its water and rivers? We think about consumption but we don’t talk about utility and disciplined consumption. If the country’s future water problem has to be tackled, then it needs the Gandhian philosophy that others also have a right on water bodies and one must take only as much as you need,” the Minister said, while addressing a sustainability conference hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry in the capital.

“Not only do we have to enhance and improve water consumption for irrigation, we need very strong regulations for ground water management. Too much of water is being consumed because we are not charging people for electricity,” said NITI Aayog CEO Mr. Kant, stressing that groundwater consumption for irrigation has gone up from 20 per cent in the 1950s to over 64 per cent now.

“Several parts of States like Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan are becoming deserts as you have gone so deep to drill water that we are leaving nothing for future generations and are actually drilling out poison,” Mr Kant said, adding that the country is not recharging its aquifier.

Water-intensive crops needed

“In a country, which has 17% of the world’s population but only four per cent of the fresh water reserves, we are consuming three times more water for agriculture than USA, Brazil or China,” he said, stressing the need to move towards less water-intensive crops.

Arguing that soil degradation has resulted from excessive use of inorganic fertilisers like urea, Mr Dave said that India must pursue policies based on its own realities. “India’s decolonisation is still pending. The British had drafted the Indian Penal Code and the Forest Act. Shouldn’t independent India now have its own forest law, where the forests, its dwellers, scheduled tribes and wildlife can live in an integrated manner?” he said.

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