With rampant water scarcity in the spotlight, whether in urban centres like Chennai or as drought in parts of central India, the Centre rolled out the Jal Shakti Abhiyan on Monday as a jan andolan or people’s movement on water conservation.
However, there is no additional funding or specific targets for the campaign to achieve, according to Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. Instead, the campaign is meant to “bring sensitivity on the subject, and give focussed approach,” he told journalists.
To increase awareness
Over the next two and a half months, the campaign will push to implement existing water conservation schemes and increase awareness in 256 water-stressed districts. As The Hindu reported last week, 256 Central Indian Administrative Service officers of Joint Secretary or Additional Secretary-level have been deputed to monitor implementation, along with 447 Deputy Secretary-level officers.
Despite this huge Central deployment for a scheme on water — which is purely a State subject under the Constitution — Mr. Shekhawat said that this was “not at all a top-down scheme…As Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his Mann ki Baat , water conservation is everyone’s responsibility. It needs to become a mass people’s movement, just like we made sanitation into a people’s movement with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.”
Per capita availability
India’s annual per capita water availability has dropped from 5,177 cubic metres in 1951 to just 1,545 cubic metres in 2011. Climate change has also made the country more vulnerable to water scarcity, said Mr. Shekhawat, adding that rainwater harvesting capacity is only 8%. Most of the 1,592 blocks where the Jal Shakti Abhiyan is being implemented fall into the critical or over-exploited groundwater category, where groundwater is being withdrawn faster than it can be replenished.
Asked about any budget allocation or additional funding for the scheme, the Minister said that there was plenty of money already allocated for existing schemes under the Central and State budgets. “They can be converged into a single scheme, with a focussed approach,” he said. Many of the check dams and water conservation projects to be carried out fall under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act programme; however, the Minister would not commit to additional funding for the job guarantee scheme’s labour budget either.
With regard to targets in terms of the number of reservoirs, check dams or traditional water bodies that would be created, restored or recharged under the scheme, Mr. Shekhawat said that he had requested States to prepare an inventory of water bodies. “At this point, no one knows,” he said. Officials said one objective of the campaign would be to create a baseline, but said this may not happen in all districts. The Minister also dismissed the need for new groundwater guidelines, saying that if aquifers were recharged, more stringent withdrawal norms would not be necessary.
Pressed for specific figures on funding and targets, Mr. Shekhawat said, “More than numbers, what is required is the number of working hands and commitment of people…Only if it’s a people’s movement, can it be successful. It is about change of mindset and behaviour, and a rational use of water can be arrived only with a change of behaviour.”