Aug 22, 2009
Who cares for vanishing ground water?
In another 15 years, the food bowl of the country -- Punjab and Haryana -- will go dry. A 2007 report of the Central Ground Water Board had projected that groundwater availability for irrigation in 2025, quotes a report in The Times of India, is negative. Already Punjab, for instance is over-exploiting the underground water at the rate of 45 per cent more withdrawals every year than the natural recharge.
This study assumes importance in the light of the recent NASA report which has used the data provided by twin satellites GRACE. Accordingly, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan are consuming 109 cubic kms of water in six years. With a paddy coverage of 38,061 sq kms, the north-western parts of the country is losing groundwater at the rate of a foot each year. In another study of the Indo-Gangetic plains, NASA finds that the groundwater withdrawal is 70 per cent more in this decade than in the 1990s.
The bad monsoon this year has compounded the crisis. I have always been saying that blame for the prevailing drought is 30 per cent on the truant monsoon, and the remaining 70 per cent is man-made. We are primarily responsible for accentuating drought conditions because of the relentless water mining that we have indulged in merrily over the years. But have we learnt any lessons? Are we willing to make necessary corrections howsoever radical they may be? The answer is NO.
I have been pleading for changing the cropping pattern. In an article Change Cropping Pattern (Deccan Herald, June 2, 2005) I wrote: It makes no sense to grow water guzzling crops in dry lands. Such crops would only turn lands barren. I see no justification in growing water guzzling sugarcane in the semi-arid tracts of Rajasthan. Or for that matter, cultivate mentha, which requires 1.25 lakh litres of water for every kilo of oil, in the dry lands of Bundelkhand. Common sense tells us that we should be cultivating crops which require less water in the dry lands. You will be shocked to know that we actually promote and cultivate in the drylands hybrid crops -- hybrid rice, hybrid sorghum, hybrid maize, hybrid cotton and hybrid vegetables -- which require almost 1.5 times to 2 times more water than the high-yielding varieties.
On top of it the government is now busy pushing GM crops. First it promoted (and is still doing) Bt cotton, whose water requirement is 10-20 per cent more than even the hybrids. The GEAC is now waiting to accord commercial approval for Bt brinjal. I am not sure how much water does Bt Brinjal consume, but going by the experience of Bt cotton it appears that Bt brinjal too would require about 20 per cent more water. Is that the way we should allow the seed companies to exploit the underground water resources?
The alarm bells have been ringing for quite sometime. I find the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh making the right kind of statements, but acting just the opposite way. On the Independence Day, Aug 15, I was surprised when in his speech he mentioned that the control over the natural resources should be with the people. My surprise was because it is he who has been actually pushing for private control over the natural resources, including land resources. He had sometimes back told a conference organised by The Economic Times that the time has come for the Special Economic Zones. How can the resources belong to people when you aggressively promote SEZ and land acquisitions?
While you contemplate the veracity of PM's statements, I suggest you read the excellent news analysis Driving Water Under Ground: