On World Water Day, celebrate MGNREGA’s role in saving water

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March 23, 2021 4:30 AM

In the last 15 years, projects under programme have created conservation potential of nearly 29,000 million cubic metres

Similarly, Barmani in Madhya Pradesh’s Sidhi district, DTE reports, was virtually abandoned because of distress migration in 2006, but by 2021, it had 7 big ponds and 39 wells that had perennial water availability.Similarly, Barmani in Madhya Pradesh’s Sidhi district, DTE reports, was virtually abandoned because of distress migration in 2006, but by 2021, it had 7 big ponds and 39 wells that had perennial water availability.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Catch the Rain campaign on Monday to mark World Water Day, the good news is that, over the past 15 years, the MGNREGA programme has helped bolster water sufficiency and management of precipitation in many villages as Down To Earth (DTE) magazine reports.

The rural employment guarantee Act was amended in 2014 to ensure that at least 60% of the expenditure was on projects that benefit agriculture and allied activities; as a result, the rural development ministry had said in 2019 that 75% of the activities in the list of permissible activities under MGNREGA “directly improve water security and water conservation efforts”.

In the last 15 years, DTE notes, 30 million water conservation-related works — that translates to 50 works/village — have been undertaken through MGNREGA, creating a water conservation potential of close to 29,000 million cubic metres of water. For perspective, that is nearly 17% of the capacity of the 123 reservoirs that are monitored for storage by the Central Water Commission.

DTE reports several benefits from MGNREGA water projects for villagers in 16 villages in 15 districts across India. While Bandlapalli in Ananthapuramu district of Andhra Pradesh — the first village in India where MGNREGA was implemented — saw recurring drought and large-scale migration in 2006, in 2021, it has 900-plus water harvesting structures.

The water-harvesting capacity helped it become drought-proof; in 2018-19, when the district reported the lowest rainfall in a century, the village was not impacted. Water harvesting has also helped many villagers to transition into cultivation of cash crops and dairy farming, and has caused a significant reduction in migration. Similarly, Barmani in Madhya Pradesh’s Sidhi district, DTE reports, was virtually abandoned because of distress migration in 2006, but by 2021, it had 7 big ponds and 39 wells that had perennial water availability.

While MGNREGA helped Pookkottukavu in Kerala go from being a water-scarce village to seeing dying water streams be revived —the village is also home to the country’s largest group of women well-diggers —residents of Himmatpura in Uttar Pradesh saw incomes rise by 10 times, with dependence on rains for agriculture reduced. The testimonies of the villages covered in the DTE report all speak of improved water and livelihood security because of the MGNREGA work executed.

Read against the DTE testimonies, MGNREGA — which saw allocation fall in Budget FY22 (at Rs 73,000 crore, it was almost a third lower than the revised estimate for FY21, at Rs 1.1 lakh crore) — assumes new importance as far as India’s planning on developing climate resilience goes.

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