Success in water sector development depends on a ‘jan andolan’: Jal Shakti Minister

An integrated approach will change water situation and the subject is being dealt with holistically, says Jal Shakti Minister

Updated - July 23, 2019 07:27 am IST

Published - July 22, 2019 10:23 pm IST

People’s participation — a jan andolan — and a holistic approach are crucial to ensure the success of the scheme to supply piped water to all, says Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.

The Jal Shakti Ministry has brought together many departments under your leadership. Are you prioritising one aspect, and is there any concern that some areas may be ignored?

This is the first time that the subject of water is being dealt with in a holistic manner, and I believe that no subject which is dealt with holistically ends up ignoring any aspect of it. We would have gained a lot if such a synergy had been attempted earlier. There are five pillars for this: rainwater harvesting; judicious use of water by individuals, agriculture, industry; use of technology for groundwater recharge, sewage treatment and desalination; reuse and recycling of water; and afforestation. If these five principles are followed, you will see change in the country’s water situation.

One of your priorities is to provide piped drinking water by 2024. However, the previous National Rural Drinking Water Programme failed to reach its goals of piped water to half the population by 2018, reaching only 18% of households. What is going to be done differently this time?

Today, there is so much more money. We have been given ₹10,000 crore in the budget allocation. But as importantly, we are following an integrated approach on the issue now.

It is not only about piped water supply. Prior to that is source sustainability, which can be attained in India by groundwater recharge only. Second is piped water supply and third is grey water disposal and reuse, either after treatment or for groundwater recharge. So it’s a holistic approach. Previous drinking water programmes did not achieve at this pace because these aspects were not there.

In the previous programme, the CAG had shown that States did not even use the funds given to them.

This time, we have said it will be in challenge mode. So whichever State performs better, we will give more incentive to that State. If you do more work, you will get more funds. We are also taking a district-wise approach. Let each District Collector make the plan for his own district. Otherwise, what happens is that the bulk of the money just sits unused with the State.

If anyone wants to do work on these issues, there is no shortage of funding. What is needed is commitment and will to get it done. For that commitment, the jan andolan is the way forward. Anywhere in the world, you will find that success in water sector development has only happened because there has been a jan andolan in that country, not because of what the government has done.

What kind of policy changes are you looking to make to incentivise a jan andolan ?

The biggest incentive is that in your house, you will get water. For every woman, what greater incentive does she need?

You have previously been in the Agriculture Ministry, and have said India has the most inefficient use of water in terms of agriculture, with 89% of our water going to that sector.

The lowest productivity of water in the world is in India. To grow one kilogram of rice, we require 5,600 litres of water, whereas the same is done in China with just 350 litres. We have rice in surplus today and if we want to diversify our crops, we have to incentivise it. In this context, I appreciate the work done by [Chief Minister] Manohar Lal Khattar ji in Haryana; he went to the basic reason why the farmer was growing paddy, which is that there is government procurement and hence an assured market for the crop. So paddy farmers were asked to switch to maize and told that the government would procure it, and simultaneously give a ₹2,000 per acre subsidy. At one shot, 18,000 hectares of land transferred from paddy cultivation to maize.

In Maharashtra, a similar thing was done by Devendra bhai [Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis] in the case of sugar cane, which is the largest water guzzler. He announced that no sugar cane could be grown without precision drip irrigation. They will be saving 75% of their water.

We have scheduled a meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture this week itself, on how best to take it forward nationally.

How will you ensure that State governments will get on board with all this? Are you going to put water on the concurrent list?

That is no solution. This will have to be a Jan Andolan , a people’s mission. The day people’s participation gets into the mission, then only it will work.

In my childhood, the entire village used to be concerned about waterbodies, their health and recharge. Now after tap water, the catchments of ponds was impaired, there was encroachment on ponds, and this slowly finished off the catchments, mainly because people were not invested as communities.

I have given a deadline to finish aquifer mapping by March in 256 water-stressed districts. If they are given the knowledge, laymen on the ground can do so much. For example, in Laporia village in Rajasthan, 40 years ago, there was not a single drop of water. One man, Laxman Singh, started working on water harvesting and groundwater recharge. Today, Laporia is water secure, and so are 58 nearby villages. Israelis came and studied our technology to replicate in their place.

There have been a number of steps taken to clean the Ganga... But in terms of impact, when you measure the presence of faecal coliform in the river, its still high.

Faecal coliform is just one parameter.If you look at the levels in 2018 in comparison to 2017, you will see there is some improvement. But also, there is a gestation period for capacity building being done by States, and you will start seeing the impact all together. By the end of the year, we will be able to stop any untreated sewage flowing into the Ganga up to Haridwar and in Jharkhand. In U.P., it will take another year or so.

We have planned till 2035, taking into account the expected increase in population. You ask by what date the Ganga cleaning mission will be done. When you and I are not there any more, the Ganga will still be there. This is not an issue that will finish today.

That is true, but we keep setting deadlines and then extending deadlines...

We have planned targets for 2035. Previous experience shows that you make the STP, but nobody in the States has the money to run it. So we took another approach, where the manufacturer has build, operation and maintenance responsibility for 15 years.

So at least till 2035, we do not have to look at that again. Also under the ‘One City, One Operator’ concept whoever is is building a new STP, will have to run the existing STPs for the next 15 years in that city.

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