'Our challenge is to harvest maximum water both above and below ground.'
'Afforestation and other activities have to be taken up.'
'Our water is the least productive water.'
Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat has the task of bringing clean tap water to all households by 2024.
With Rs 3.5 trillion coming its way for the Jal Jivan Mission, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech, the Jal Shakti ministry will reach out to 140 million rural households over the next five years.
He tells Ruchika Chitravanshi that the challenge is to make water productive and manage it well on both the supply and demand sides. Edited excerpts:
How do you plan to make this as big an initiative as Swachh Bharat?
This is the most relevant subject today, not only for our country but for the whole world.
India has 18 per cent of the total human population and even more livestock.
Against that we have only 4 per cent of potable water.
We depend mainly on underground water.
The total water that we get from rain is about 4,000 billion cubic metre (bcm).
Of this, only 3,000 bcm is harvestable.
Our reservoir capacity is somewhere around 250 bcm.
Even if I add all the small ponds it would be no more than 300 bcm.
Our biggest reservoir is the aquifer.
All the replenishable water that we get through reservoirs is much less than what we get from underground sources.
Our problem is that we are overdrawing. That is depleting our aquifers.
Sixty-five per cent of our total water requirement depends on underground water. Most pressure is on this resource.
Our challenge is to harvest maximum water both above and below ground.
This means identifying rivers which we have lost, reviving them and also harvesting ground water.
We will do aquifer mapping for 256 districts by March 31.
So we know what the situation is and then we can accordingly plan recharge activities.
How are you tackling the demand-side challenges?
On the demand side, 6 per cent of our total consumption is for domestic use, 5 per cent for industry and 89 per cent is for agriculture.
We have to address the biggest stakeholder. There is no doubt that individuals have to take steps.
But look at countries with a tenth of our water.
They have succeeded on four pillars - water management, judicious use of water - especially how can we save water in agriculture, reuse of water and use of technology.
Then our rivers are dying because of deforestation and urbanisation.
Afforestation and other activities have to be taken up.
Our water is the least productive water. We have to figure out how we can make it most productive.
Haryana government has said that if instead of rice you grow corn then the state procures 100 per cent of the crop. 18,000 hectare land has been transferred to the crop.
Maharashtra for instance has made drip irrigation compulsory for sugarcane farming.
Water is the most-scarce resource. How realistic is Har Ghar Jal? When are you rolling it out?
We are launching it very soon. It is our commitment. It is going to stress on the resources.
As on date we have 81 per cent coverage and access to the water - 40 litre per capita per day is accessible to more than 80 per cent through hand pumps etc.
Our commitment is to provide 55 litres of water to each and every household through taps.
It is going to create a load on sources but we have not designed this programme in that way.
It is a three-fold approach. Source sustainability is the first thing through recharge of groundwater.
Then we will provide tap water and thereafter the grey water will be reused for agriculture or to reach groundwater.
Have you identified the households you have to reach through the Jal Jeevan Mission?
There are 180 million households of which we have to go into 140 million households.
This is rural. In urban areas there is much higher coverage and it is being done through Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation.
Problem is in rural areas where the coverage is only 18 per cent.
In states including West Bengal, Bihar, Chhattisgarh it is less than 5 per cent.
How do you address the last-mile problem?
It has to be implemented by states. But we have kept it on challenge mode.
The state which will work faster and perform better will be incentivised and given access to more funds.
With Kerala under deluge, many feel dams are responsible for floods.
Not at all! Dams are there to mitigate floods. I don’t know where this idea has come from.
The government has brought various water-related departments under one roof of Jal Shakti ministry. Will we see more consolidation here?
In the second phase of integration we are expecting urban water supply, sewage will fall into our domain.
Not any time soon but we will be doing it.
There has been a lot of concern over interlinking of rivers and how it will impact eco-system. What is your view?
We have identified 31 links and they can solve the problem of flood and drought to some extent.
They can also help in rejuvenation of water bodies.
But it is still a big challenge and states will have to come on board for that.
Most of the river basins we are talking about for interlinking have surplus water at the time of monsoon only, not in the lean period.
States will have to come forward and agree, only then can this happen.
Are you also discussing the issue of water pricing?
It is again a state subject. They have to take a call.
What is the government doing to keep in check ground water extraction and recharge by industries?
We refer to the guidelines that were formed after the Supreme Court directions.
It is the Central Ground Water Board that gives permission for extraction of water.
There was an order by the National Green Tribunal that in the zones which are over or critically exploited, we cannot give any permits.
At other places they (industry) have to recharge after extraction.