The Supreme Court has been unrelenting and forward looking in its judgement with the current drought. In its directions lies an opportunity for elected representatives.
While Members of Parliament (MPs) discussed drought during the current Parliament session and the Supreme Court intervened, MPs can help address the immediate situation and invest in long term solutions.
Given that Members of Parliament represent each and every corner of the country and can fan out to literally every nook and corner through their party workers, the outreach and action potential is tremendous.
Man ki Baat had the PM questioning: Can we conserve the rainwater in every village? The answer is yes.
With the Parliament session drawing to an end, MPs need to go back to their constituencies to make the most of the monsoons. While some steps are immediate others are towards constituency water security as long term measures.
The monsoon is almost upon us. Yet it’s not too late to:
1. Form drought mitigation committees in the villages: These village committees should comprise of panchayat members and representatives of all interest groups in the village. These committees will take care of, and monitor drought requirements and management.
2. Elicit commitment to prevent suicide: The distressed villagers should have confidence that they are not alone and collectively take an oath that they will not commit suicide.
3. Arrange for tanker water supply where there is drinking water scarcity: Involve villagers to ensure that the water is safe and provided to all in the village. The Ministry of Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation has provisions for emergency situations such as drought and these should be availed of.
4. Arrange for water and fodder for livestock in livestock camps: People are forced to sell/ release their livestock since they are not able to provide for them. These camps will provide essential requirements for livestock and prevent distress sale.
5. Utilise MGNREGA and MPLAD Funds: All funds allotted for MGNREGA must be directed towards reviving, creating water conservation structures. There is a need to facilitate smooth and swift transfer of funds to the villagers. This is now a Supreme Court direction as well.
6. Implementation of the Right to Food (RTF): Assess the functioning of the PDS and other programmes under the RTF and ensure availability of food grains to the affected. This again, is a Supreme Court direction.
7. Restore/rehabilitate/ create water conservation structures: Send a message to the villagers that every drop of rain that falls on a field, habitation, village or GP should not go waste. This monsoon must be harvested. There are several things that can be done. For instance,
a) Farmers can make medbandhis (boundaries around their field) on their field so that the rainwater can be conserved. A small recharge pit should also be dug to capture the rain. Dugwells should be cleaned and ready for recharge.
b) Almost all the villages will have a tank, talab, dug well, or any other structure. The village committee can assess the status of these and undertake repairs, desilting, etc. All nallahs, streams or rivers should be protected and used for recharge.
c) New rainwater conservation structures such as ponds, etc should be constructed. After the monsoon arrives, it is important that villagers map the areas where water flows or collects so that these can be used in the future for creating rainwater conservation structures.
Long term measures:
These will require detailed planning and funds but the task is doable. Every region of India has had traditional water harvesting systems suited to the region, which must be revived at scale.
Measures to protect them should be put into place so that these can be used for recharge.
1. Constituency plan for rainwater conservation: This plan should be based on the rainfall of the constituency and the total water resources available. Constituency-wise database of ponds, tanks, lakes, nallahs, streams and rivers should be available with the MP to use for recharge and follow up action.
2. Moving towards constituency drinking water security: The Ministry for Drinking water and Sanitation has a website that gives habitation wise data of the coverage of drinking water. Sometimes the habitation is classified as covered (expenditure made and infrastructure developed) but still drinking water is not available. Compare this list with the situation in the village for assessment and take appropriate measures if required.
3. Use MPLAD and other funds for rainwater conservation: MPs should start spending more of their MPLAD funds for water conservation projects and also make efforts to bring water conservation projects in their constituency.
A constituency level water committee for periodic and serious monitoring will keep the progress of the water conservation works on track. This committee should comprise of technical experts, PRI representatives, civil society organisations working there in addition to concerned government officials.
4. Create water banks by artificial groundwater recharge: The percentage of recharging of groundwater needs to be at least doubled. This is easily possible by natural and artificially directing rainwater into underground aquifers. River beds offer a great opportunity for recharge. Over time, there will be a balance between the surface and groundwater leading to rivers that will flow throughout the year and recharge groundwater aquifers.
5. Water audits for new development projects: New projects in the constituency should be chosen carefully: Only those projects should be allowed which are suitable to the available water resources without affecting the requirements of other sectors.
6. Promote agricultural crops which can grow in available water: Crops like sugarcane and rice for example require huge amounts of water. These should be grown only in areas where there is sufficient water. Local varieties should be encouraged and a minimum price/ market and marketing systems developed for these.
7. Encourage water efficiency in agriculture: There are several technologies that can be easily used for cutting down irrigation water. Drip irrigation and laser levelling are just two examples. These can be promoted throughout the constituency: If there are challenges to using these technologies then solutions should be found.
8. Encourage a water responsible industry: A database of industries in the constituency should be available with each MP. Having regular meetings with the captains of these industries to encourage them to assess their water footprint and make commitments to reduce it through various means will enable co-existence.
India is drying and desiccating like a coconut. There is a crying need to reach out to all corners of the country for conservation.
If undertaken in rural and urban areas from the smallest unit up to the state (see Figure below, then there is cause for optimism. Are the MPs ready to take on the mantle?
The views expressed in the above article are that of Dr. Indira Khurana, Lead – WASH, IPE Global.