Unpacking the Water Crisis: Was the Environment Minister Right?
A woman draws water from a well in Rajasthan. (Photo: iStock)
A woman draws water from a well in Rajasthan. (Photo: iStock)

Unpacking the Water Crisis: Was the Environment Minister Right?

In a country where 68 percent of cultivable land is prone to drought, conserving water is an important issue. This year alone more than 300 million people were affected by drought and farmer suicides number in the thousands every year.


Though farmers are the first to suffer during droughts, they are also part of the problem, Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave said this week. When farmers are given free electricity, they deplete groundwater stores by over-exploiting their reserves, rendering parts of Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana barren, he added.

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Today, we are saying that we have taken out water from deep in the ground and the soil has become barren. Who’s responsible for taking the battle in the wrong direction? We think about consumption but we don’t talk about utility and disciplined consumption. 
Anil Madhav Dave, Environment Minister
In some villages, when farmers get free electricity, they pump continuously without rationing their consumption. (Photo: iStock)
In some villages, when farmers get free electricity, they pump continuously without rationing their consumption. (Photo: iStock)

But India’s history with drought is more complex than farmers pumping too much water. 


Across many states, money intended for efficient irrigation gets pocketed by officials, according to research by the Economic Survey. Though Rs 70,000 were allocated to irrigation projects in Maharashtra between 2002 and 2012, the state’s irrigation potential only grew by 0.1 percent, the review found. 


Dams also cut off water supply for communities living downstream. 

The Marathwada drought has earlier resulted in a shocking number of farmer suicides (Photo: PTI)
The Marathwada drought has earlier resulted in a shocking number of farmer suicides (Photo: PTI)

Certain parts of the country grow crops that aren’t well suited to their climate. 


Maharashtra’s water-guzzling sugarcane industry drains the state’s groundwater reserves. Crops like arhar, millet and jowar would do better in a dry environment like Maharashtra, activists say.


At the same time, temperatures around the world are gradually rising. Rajasthan recorded its highest temperature yet at 51 degrees Celsius. 


With changing climate conditions, droughts are becoming more frequent and more severe. In recent years, monsoon rains have been below average in many parts of the country.  


Water shortages will be an inevitable part of India’s future, experts warn. 

If the country’s future water problem has to be tackled, then it needs the Gandhian philosophy that others also have a right on water bodies and one must take only as much as you need.
Anil Madhav Dave, Environment Minister

(With inputs from The Hindu, Scientific American, Huffington PostReuters, National Institute of Disaster Management)

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