February 21, 2020
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Just Wet Tears

Six states reel under an acute water crisis

Just Wet Tears
Just Wet Tears
Finally, the Supreme Court had to intervene. Acute water scarcity across Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu has forced the apex court to direct the Union government to produce a blueprint for tackling the problem by August. The court's directive came during the hearing of a PIL filed by lawyer K.M. Balakrishnan on disappearing wetlands. It expanded the scope of the petition to include the water crisis affecting the country.

According to the last assessment in 1993, out of the total precipitation (snowfall included) of around 4,000 billion cubic metres in the country, 1,869 billion cubic metres of surface water and replenishable ground water is available. But topographical and other constraints allow the use of only about 60 per cent.

The water shortage has led to violence as well as panic. Consider this:
  • Tourists have begun fleeing Shimla because of water scarcity. There is water supply only on alternate days.
  • On May 14, three members of a Bhopal family were killed in a fight for water.
  • Madhya Pradesh's neighbouring cities of Indore and Dewas are in confrontation over water. Ban orders were imposed on May 26 to keep pipelines safe.
  • In March, half of the water-dependent industries in Ujjain closed down because of water scarcity.
It isn't as though there is no water. According to the central water commission, the total utilisable water per capita is 1022.7 cubic metres every year. The per capita demand in 2000 was 634 cubic metres and is projected to go up to 1,093 cubic metres by 2025. Experts say that the situation in India as far as water availability is concerned is not bad, but the problem lies in unequal distribution and poor water management. So while some parts of the country have very little water, others have it in abundance.

This year there is concern even in a state like Rajasthan, which is used to water shortages in summer. In parched Pali, locals wait eagerly for the water train—a 65-tanker goods carrier which makes two rounds a day, providing around 26,00,000 litres of water daily to people in Pali, Dungarpur, Rajsamand, Barmer, Nagaur and Jhalawar.

The situation is as bad in Madhya Pradesh, which is witnessing its worst-ever summer. In Bhopal, three members of a family—Jeevan, his wife Sita and son Raju—were killed because they were allegedly pilfering water from a pipeline. Several industrial units in Ujjain have closed down due to the water crisis. Says Jitender Rathi of Poha Parmal Processors' Association: "The government is doing nothing. We are putting up with huge production losses in this sluggish market." The situation in Dewas is such that prohibitory orders had to be imposed to keep people from damaging the pipeline from the Narmada to industrial units. Dewas gets water supply once in six to seven days. Ajatshatru, the collector of Ujjain, told Outlook that the government will ensure that the industries restart at the earliest.

What is the Centre planning to do about the crisis? T. Ramaswami, secretary, science and technology, says the August deadline is unrealistic. "This problem can't be solved in months," he says. "For the past three weeks, the science and technology ministry, with 15 partner ministries, has been holding meetings. One solution can't be applied countrywide. It has to be a national effort and everyone has to contribute."

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