India tormented by water crisis
And approximately quarter million villages in 254 out of India’s 678 districts have little water to drink, let alone for agricultural use. Worse still, India’s Central Water Commission reveals, water levels in 91 major reservoirs across the country is alarmingly low, with no water absolutely in three reservoirs of the western state of Maharashtra where the cricket association has been directed by the judiciary to relocate this season’s Indian premier cricket league.
Besides, in March this year a giant thermal power plant on the bank of a 2,500 kilometers long River Ganges, a virtual lifeline to one quarter of India’s population, in the eastern state of West Bengal had to be shut down hurriedly when the water level in the canal connecting the river to the plant started receding rapidly. River water is used to produce steam to run the turbines and cool vital equipment in this coal-fired power station. The situation came to such a pass, due to suspension of power generation at the 2,300MW plant generating a quarter of India’s electricity, that not only the adjacent township housing power plant employees’ families were forced to survive without water in the scorching heat for an extended period but India’s national power grid also remained perilously on the edge because of adverse collateral effect of the forced shut down.
As the power plant remained closed for 10 long days, unprecedented in its 30 years history, fire engines had to be rushed to the river to extract water for cooking and cleaning purposes of local residents. Further downstream, passenger ferries were stalled as sandbars emerged and 13 barges carrying imported coal to the power station were stranded midstream because of insufficient water level in the river with an average depth of 16 meters. Elsewhere in India situation remained equally grim. In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, popularly known as India’s agriculture basket, at least 100 million people in 50 out of 75 districts have suffered due to severe drought conditions even as continuing depletion — ranging from 20 to 30 percent — in groundwater level assumes alarming proportion, which is likely to affect food grain output adversely in key agriculture hubs.
Madhya Pradesh, in the central heartland of India, is far worse so far as severity of water crisis is concerned with 46 out of 51 districts in the state reeling under severe climatic conditions. However, the number of people hit by drought and associated water shortage could be far higher as states like Bihar and Haryana have shied away from officially acknowledging the seriousness of the scenario despite recording deficient rainfall in the recent past, while in Modi’s home state of Gujarat more than 637 villages are faced with severe water crisis. Even, 74,000 hectares of agricultural land in the seven hill districts of Uttarakhand at the base of the Himalayas in northern India are suffering from drought unprecedentedly. Unfortunately, as the poor subaltern class in the rural hinterland struggled to confront the vagaries of nature, Modi’s administration was caught off guard, as it basked in the glory of the pat that it got from the International Monetary Fund for enabling the nation record an economic growth of 7.3 percent in the background of a crisis ridden international economic scenario.
As Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party remained preoccupied with spreading awareness among the public on the usefulness of their Hindutva version of nationalism or faithfully chanting slogans to hail “Mother India,” interjected by the boastful declaration of turning India into a glittering star of the global economy, there was complete disappearance of drought-hit people’s misery from the national discourse, with even the mainstream media failing to highlight the enormity of the crisis in time. But then, drought is not a calamity that strikes suddenly without giving an advance warning. Rather, it is caused by at least a full preceding year of deficient rainfall. And a situation like the present one arrives only after the failure of monsoon for not one but two or three consecutive seasons previously. As the Indian government somehow failed to bring the seriousness of the situation in public domain, not only water availability in India’s reservoirs shrunk to the lowest in a decade, with stock standing at 29 percent of the total storage capacity, the water levels in aquifers — source of 85 percent of India’s drinking water — have also shown drastic fall in scorching pre-summer heat.
Though Modi has belatedly called for a serious effort in water preservation in the coming days, through rapid mobilization of youth organizations, to deliver secure and sustainable water for all, the crisis will take a more alarming proportion and may even result in deadly intra-societal conflict unless the central government comes up with adequate fund for short-term relief and compensation. Ever since Modi rode to power by appealing to reformist aspirations of the Indian middle-class, he has put the burden of securing funds for rural social welfare schemes on the cash-strapped provincial governments. Modi’s government has so far released only one third of the $7 billion required to contain hunger in drought-hit parts. Finally, it is high time that India followed the Bengal-model of water reservation and preservation to tackle a crisis affecting one in every four citizens.
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