Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
Managing India’s Freshwater
“There will be constant competition over water, between farming families and urban dwellers, environmental conservationists and industrialists, minorities living off natural resources and entrepreneurs seeking to commodify the resources base for commercial gain”
-UNICEF report on Indian water
India’s water crisis is predominantly a manmade problem. India’s climate is not particularly dry, nor is it lacking in rivers and groundwater. Extremely poor management, unclear laws, government corruption, and industrial and human waste have caused this water supply crunch and rendered what water is available practically useless due to the huge quantity of pollution
Ministry of water resources— With 2.5% of global landmass, India has 4% of the world’s freshwater resources. This has however come under increasing demographic stress since India is home to about 16% of world population and the distribution of freshwater is skewed spatially and temporally.
Central Water Commission— estimated that the:
Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin with 33% of the landmass had 60% of total water flows
The western coastline with 3% of the area had another 11%
The left out 29% of water resources in the remaining 64% of the area in peninsular India—accustomed to varied incidences of drought and farmer suicides is a routine
Rainfall is received over a relatively short duration during the monsoon leading to temporary flooding
Huge amounts of surface water quickly drain into the sea and the pace of this run-off can be reduced through—inter-basin transfers, new storage reservoirs, desilting, reviving traditional water storage structures such as ponds, dissemination of groundwater recharge technologies, and water harvesting structures such as check dams, open draw wells and rooftop devices.
The surface water resources are renewed year after year through the hydrological cycle with the Indo-Gangetic plain being one of the biggest groundwater reservoirs in the world as it is a natural freshwater sink
Decline in freshwater resources—
Biggest culprit: Agriculture accounting for 80% of all freshwater usage
Flood irrigation, prevalent in more than 95% of the irrigated area, damages both ecology and farm economics.
Farmers at the tail end of major command systems receive delayed and deficient supplies, while those upstream uses the grossly under-priced water wastefully
Eg: The development and distribution of cheap electricity and electric pumps have triggered rapid pumping of groundwater and subsequent depletion of aquifers.
Solution: A time-bound plan to bring the entire cropped area under controlled irrigation (sprinklers, underground pipes and other water conservation devices) should be undertaken.
Unsustainable withdrawal of freshwater:
Occurs mostly when water trapped in underground rock formations below the phreatic water table in deep aquifers over centuries, millennia or even millions of years, is extracted at levels exceeding the natural rate of recharge—with the help of recently developed technology to tap deep aquifers (completely empties them within a relatively short period of time)
Leads to: Excessive withdrawal has also led to increasing concentration of toxic elements such as fluoride, arsenic and salinity in several areas
Due to poor piped drinking water supply—Because the rivers are too polluted to drink and the government is unable to consistently deliver freshwater to the cities, many urban dwellers are turning to groundwater, which is greatly contributing to the depletion of underground aquifers
Amenities of typical urban life, such as flush toilets and washing machines
Water is both an important input for many different manufacturing and industrial sectors and used as a coolant for machines, such as textile machines.
Cheap water that can be rapidly pumped from underground aquifers has been a major factor in the success of India’s economic growth
Industrial waste is largely responsible for the high levels of pollutants found in India’s rivers and groundwater— corporations end up polluting the very water they later need as an input
Rural areas: Regions away from river systems, or disadvantaged by the scarce availability of surface water bodies, are constrained to fall back on groundwater for agricultural expansion, as in large parts of western, central and peninsular India. These are mostly areas of dry land cultivation, where agricultural productivity has expanded in recent times through massive, unsustainable exploitation of deep aquifers.
The rowdy machines: The drilling rig and electric pump revolution has permanently depleted groundwater reserves in several areas
Climate Change: Climate change is exacerbating the depleting supply of water. As the climate warms, glaciers in the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau have been melting-
Increased flooding initially, especially during the monsoon season when rainfall is already at its heaviest
In subsequent years, there will be less and less glacial meltwater to continuously supply India’s rivers. Nearly 70% of discharge to the River Ganges comes from Nepalese snow-fed rivers, which means that if Himalayan glaciers dry up, so could the Ganges
Make rainfall more erratic and cause unpredictable weather
Increased average water temperate in oceans, will increase the probability and intensity of monsoons during the summer
Way Ahead—Towards Management o freshwater resources
Modern science and technology can be leveraged to artificially increase the rate of recharge of aquifers, thereby enhancing the sustainable exploitation of deep aquifers
There is a need to have a good database updated in real time on the size and sustainable levels of exploitation of our freshwater resources— National Hydrology Project work needs to be extended and made more comprehensive, including thorough mapping of deep aquifers in the country and determining rates of recharge
Well-framed legislation & a proper monitoring mechanism is the need of the hour to regulate the use of groundwater—put water on par with other natural resources
Change— Where private property sits on a deep aquifer, the owner is within his rights to drain the entire aquifer that may extend far beyond the boundaries of his property. This needs to change. Landowners should be free to tap the annually rechargeable phreatic water table through open wells on their property, but deep aquifers need to be treated as a common resource.
Implement proper policy coordination to improve the management of the country’s scarce water resources
Privatization of water— Prevent waste, improve efficiency, and encourage innovation. The World Bank supports a policy of privatized water in India, claiming that water could be supplied to all of India’s inhabitants, but at a higher cost
Extraction rates would need to be capped, calibrated to recharge
Need to change the departmental fragmentation— for example,
Agriculture being outside the purview of the ministry of water resources that frames the national water policy
Drinking water falls within the domains of the ministries of rural development, urban development and Panchayat Raj
Connecting the Dots:
Is India standing on the stage of major international water wars? How can India avoid this bloodied future?
‘India is facing a looming water crisis that has implications not only for its 1.1 billion people, but for the entire globe’. Discuss.
Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections; Governance Issues
General studies 3:
Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System- objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security.
Looks like the Public distribution system (PDS) works
A recent survey by the National Council of Applied Economic Research(NCAER) found that more than 90 per cent ration card-holders in Below Poverty Line (BPL) / Priority Households (PHH) and the Antyodaya Anna Yojna category purchase foodgrain at subsidised prices from the PDS in selected States.
An evaluation study of PDS was conducted in 24 districts in the six States of Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and West Bengal. Of these, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka had implemented the National Food Security ACT (NFSA) or its variant at the time of the survey. The other three States were following the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).
What is Public distribution system (PDS) all about?
Public distribution system (PDS) is an Indian food security system.
PDS means distribution of essential commodities to larger section of the society, mostly vulnerable people, through a network of fair Price Shops on a recurring basis.
Established by the Government of India under Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution and managed jointly with state governments in India, it distributes subsidized food and non-food items to India’s poor.
This scheme was launched in India on June 1997.
Major commodities distributed include staple food grains, such as wheat, rice,sugar, and kerosene, through a network of fair price shops(also known as ration shops) established in several states across the country.
Food Corporation of India(FCI), a Government-owned corporation, procures and maintains the PDS.
What are the objectives of the PDS system?
The main objective of the PDS is to provide foodgrain at low prices.
Make goods available to consumers, especially the disadvantaged /vulnerable sections of society at fair prices.
Ensure social justice in distribution of basic necessities of life.
Even out fluctuations in prices and availability of mass consumption goods
PDS is getting popular :
The India Human Development Survey conducted jointly by the NCAER and the University of Maryland, supports the finding that there’s been an increase in accessing the PDS, nationally.
Its popularity is attributed to wide coverage of poor beneficiaries and increasing amounts of food subsidy along with volatile market prices of foodgrain.
It is also heartening to know that the amount of implicit subsidy per capita per person is considerably high in the three States operating under the NFSA compared to the States following TPDS.
Implicit subsidy refers to the amount of money saved by a household when it purchases from PDS at a lower price compared to the market price.
What does National Council of Applied Economic Research(NCAER) survey say ?
The NCAER survey reveals that lack of awareness of issue price is the primary reason for the discrepancy.
In many places, beneficiaries know how much to pay for a food basket in aggregate for diversified commodities. But they are ignorant about the per unit price of separate commodities.
Display boards at fair price shops are supposed to mention the right amount of entitlement and issue price for each of the PDS commodities. In reality, such boards may not be displayed everywhere or what’s displayed may not be legible.
FPS dealers in some parts of Uttar Pradesh confess that they charge extra to cover the cost of transportation from the godown to the local FPS. Although the cost of transportation is supposed to be reimbursed to the dealer, FPS dealers claim that they end up covering it.
What does recent survey reveal on grain entitlement?
BPL families in Assam, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh are entitled to receive 35 kilos of foodgrain a household a month from PDS.
Bihar, following the NFSA regime, allocates 5 kg foodgrain per person per month.
Karnataka, after adopting a modified version of the NFSA, called the Anna Bhagya Yojna, allocated grain based on household size. Grain entitlement for a single-person family, two-person family and families with three or more people was 10 kg, 20 kg and 30 kg, respectively.
The proportion of beneficiaries receiving less than their full quota varies widely. Among BPL/PHH households, it ranges between 2 per cent in Chhattisgarh and 91 per cent in Assam.Lack of awareness regarding appropriate entitlement along with a weak monitoring system are the primary reasons for this.
Way ahead : Strengthen the system
To improve the overall functioning of the PDS, the monitoring system needs to be strengthened, beneficiaries’ awareness regarding entitlement and issue price has to be increased, and modern techniques need to be adopted to curb malpractices in the system.
Introducing electronic weighing machines in place of conventional ones to curtail weight-related anomalies could be considered.
To tackle awareness-related issues, it should be made mandatory for all fair price shops to maintain display boards containing information about entitlement, availability of foodgrain and issue price. The information on the board should be written legibly and in the local language
NGOs and government officials should disseminate PDS-related information among those who cannot read.
Respondents in the survey suggested that display boards be kept in prominent places in the village such as the local panchayat bhawan and near schools, in addition to those at fair price shops.
Connecting the dots:
What is Public Distribution System (PDS) all about? What are the advantages of the PDS system? What are the issues plaguing PDS system. Suggest ways to make PDS an effective means to eliminate poverty in India.
PDS is a vital means to achieve Food security and Nutritional security. Comment