Union minister of Ministry of Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat has said that the time has not yet come to charge farmers for water usage, adding that the ministry is supporting a ban on all construction activities that do not use recycled water.
"Time has still not come to charge farmers for water usage," Shekhawat told
CNBC-TV18, while agreeing that agriculture withdraws the largest share of ground water.
Recommendations from a committee set up by the environment ministry have suggested a water charge for farmers owning 3-5 hectares or more of land and using ground water for irrigation and ban on construction activities in severely water stressed regions, among others. National Green Tribunal (NGT) is yet to hear the committee recommendations this week.
“I don’t think all of environment ministry’s recommendations will be adopted at once. There is no need for a water charge immediately; we can work with community participation to conserve water. If we fail here then in the future we will have to look at all possible options," said Shekhawat.
However, the Union minister said that the Jal Shakti ministry was supporting environment ministry’s recommendations to ban all construction activities that do not use recycled water.
The stress on conserving and recharging groundwater is priority under Jal Shakti Abhiyan. The minister said that the amount of groundwater being drawn in India is over 450 billion cubic metres (BCM). Around 65 percent of irrigation in India is dependent on ground water, making it the largest user of the resource.
Shekhawat stressed on the need for changing cropping pattern and reduce acreage under crops like paddy and sugarcane. He said that these crops are water tolerant and hence water is not used efficiently. “To grow 1 kilogram of paddy, 5,600 litres of water is being consumed whereas China produces the same amount of paddy with just 330-400 litres of water.”
On a direct question on whether the government will change its procurement and minimum support price (MSP) policy to favour less water intensive crops, Shekhawat said the central government will have a new policy soon.
The minister highlighted that for water conservation and water security under the Jal Shakti Abhiyan, the government is aiming for village level sustainable programs. The government has identified 1,500 critically exploited blocks in 256 districts, where senior teams of Joint secretaries and water experts are surveying the region. While creating awareness about water security, teams will focus on ways to recharge traditional water sources. Aquifer mapping of these 256 water stressed districts is being done on priority basis.
“Sixty five percent of drinking water is still coming from underground water resources. Source sustainability is a key and we will also implement open defecation free (ODF) plus scheme in rural areas and merge MNREGA [Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act] and other watershed schemes for water management,” Shekhawat said.
ODF plus scheme calls for segregation of solid and wet waste and sewage treatment and interlinking of rivers. The central government is already in talks with various state governments to initiate implementation of these programs on a mission mode.“PM Modi’s cooperative federalism approach to implement broader schemes like
Swachh Bharat, Ujjwala Yojana and Jan Dhan Yojana etc have given great success. We are confident all states will come together to work on water security too and make it a mass movement.”