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A silent revolution in the water sector

Nine Years of TransformationA silent revolution in the water sector

As we mark the ninth anniversary of the Narendra Modi government, one of the biggest achievements which has not hogged the limelight has been its work in the water sector .Water governance in India is now one of the most successful projects undertaken by the government, as it has been a game changer and has had a huge impact on both the classes and the masses. It was good to see India announcing “Water Vision” as a part of the Prime Minister’s “Vision India @ 2047” plan. India is showcasing its huge success stories in the water sector, while hosting the G20 presidency. Recently, the Prime Minister flagged off the world’s longest river cruise, MV Ganga Vilas in Varanasi which has put the spotlight on the silent but huge work that has happened in the water sector.

The Ministry of Jal Shakti was formed in May 2019 by merging the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, and the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. This reorganization brought the much-needed unity of effort and synergy in working towards robust water governance. The flagship programs of the Ministry of Jal Shakti include Jal Jeevan Mission, Jal Shakti Abhiyan, Swachh Bharat Mission, Namami Gange, PM Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, and Atal Bhujal  Yojana. The Jal Jeevan Mission is on the way to provide tap water to 157 million households by 2024, which is perhaps the most necessary public service delivery project undertaken by any government.

The Jal Shakti Abhiyan is an intensive, time-bound, mission-mode water conservation campaign built on citizen participation to accelerate water conservation across the country. The scale of ambition can only be gauged by the fact that PM Modi has termed it as “Jan Andolan,” or a people’s movement, which harnesses the creative energy of people at large. This project targets major silos of water conservation and rainwater harvesting, rejuvenation of water bodies, watershed development, and reforestation. With the tagline, “Catch the Water”, the Jan Shakti Abhiyan has created a total of 10.58 lakh water conservation and rainwater harvesting structures. The Har Ghar Jal initiative is transforming the landscape of availability of clean water, by transforming lives and bringing a positive change even in the distant and border areas of Ladakh.

The Jal Jeevan Mission has shifted from “mere water supply infrastructure creation” to “service delivery of clean water.” People are willing to pay for improved services, and the culture of utilities is taking roots. The government has also created the Rashtriya Jal Jeevan Kosh to enable NRIs and other people, organizations, etc. to contribute to clean water supply and grey water systems in India. The Jal Shakti Abhiyan ensures that the efficacy of the project is not compromised and that it is built on citizen participation.

We must praise the steps taken under the Namami Gange programme, which strives to maintain water security in the entire Ganga basin. This truly has been a game-changer for Indian policymaking and execution, so much so that Namami Gange is now being extended to cover every other river-body of the country. One should read the excellent book titled, Ganga written by Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, former DG of Clean Ganga Mission, along with Puskal Upadhyay. One of the positive achievements of the government has been creating an ecosystem where technology can be used for solving water related problems. Indian organisations like Gujarat Mahila Housing Sewa Trust and Villgro Innovation Foundation are currently using Artificial intelligence(AI), Machine Learning (ML) and the Internet of Things (IoT) to address the threats of water scarcity and flooding across the nation. These organizations got funding from APAC Sustainability Seed Fund, which got a massive grant from Google’s philanthropic arm. Similarly, Tata Trusts have been involved in transformational work with technology in the water sector

Keeping in step with the initiatives of the government, the private sector has also been doing some extraordinary and consistent work in water conservation. For instance, ITC’s Water Stewardship Initiatives across 1.3 million acres are part of its Sustainability 2.0 agenda and have been a long-standing one. The ITC initiative comprises a range of interventions such as watershed development, creation of water harvesting structures, water demand management best practices for farmers, restoration of river basins, and creation of sustainable livelihoods, among others. The company’s focused demand-side management approach has led to savings of over 700 million kl of water, with crop-wise savings ranging from 20-45% across 15 crops. The restoration of large-scale river basins by ITC includes the Ghod river basin in Maharashtra. These initiatives have been able to bring a “water-positive” change to the lives of over 3 lakh farmers across 11 states. ITC’s remarkable achievements in water conservation have made it the only company in the world of similar size to be water positive for 20 years.

Despite the significant progress in the water sector, there are still several challenges that the Modi government needs to work on. One of the primary challenges is the management of groundwater resources. Another challenge that the government needs to address is the inadequate sanitation infrastructure particularly in rural areas. The Swachh Bharat Mission has made significant progress in improving sanitation facilities, but there is still a long way to go to ensure that every household in the country has access to proper sanitation facilities. The government also needs to focus on improving the efficiency of water use in the agriculture sector. The government needs to incentivize the adoption of efficient irrigation techniques such as drip irrigation and promote the cultivation of crops that require less water.

A silent revolution has been ushered in on multiple fronts in the water sector over the last few years and the most promising aspect of this development has been its emphasis on generating inclusiveness in the true spirit of Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s Antyodaya philosophy.

Rajesh Mehta is an international affairs expert focusing on areas like market entry, innovation, geopolitics and public policy.

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