Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

[op-ed snap] India stares at water scarcity


Mains Paper 3: Disaster Management| Disaster and disaster management.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Nothing as such.

Mains level: The news-card discusses about tackling drought that must be the immediate priority for administrators across the country today, in a brief manner.


  • The coming elections to the Lok Sabha which are crucial to the future of our democracy, pluralism and federalism, are only a few weeks away.
  • However, according to the experts, tackling drought must be the immediate priority for administrators across the country.


  • India is facing a low rainfall year. The rains’ let down this time comes on top of an already low-rain and, in many places, no-rain ground situation.
  • The next nearest rains are six months away and there is no guarantee that June will see the onset of a normal monsoon.
  • The political class is ware of the situation since the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has given them enough data.
  • But when droughts and elections intersect, it is extremely uncomfortable to leaders.

Need to create awareness over the issue

  • Just weeks before the elections, the reservoirs might dry up, taps will sputter to a stop and we may well be looking at water-rationing.
  • Public awareness, prodded by public discussions on meteorological data and media reports, has kept droughts from deepening into famines in our country.
  • However, the IMD report on scant rains has not received much attention so far, with exceptions being provided by several experts of relentless warnings and observations.
  • The failure of rains this time is so serious that ‘drought’ now means not just a farm crisis but a national crisis that will affect towns and cities no less than villages.

Rain deficit facts

  • The actual deficit last monsoon was modest — barely 10%.
  • But the post-monsoon rainfall (October to December, 2018) or PMR as it is called by meteorologists has registered a 44% deficit.
  • This national average deficit conceals shortages in some regions where it is much higher.
  • In Marathwada, according to the IMD, the deficit is 84%, in Vidarbha, 88%.

 Reasons to worry this time

  • This low-rain and no-rain situation is going to aggravate the water crisis that we have brought upon ourselves without the ‘help’ of a dry sky.
  • Years of policy-driven, corporate-driven water transfers from rural to urban, agriculture to industry, poor to rich and so on have made our country-side chronically water-scarce.
  • Urban India does not realise this well enough until when there are power-outages and air-conditioners do not work.
  • According to experts, by April-May, this drought could be tormenting millions in several States and that is when election-campaigning will be at its peak.

Drought is going to be the real issue for the next general Elections

  • The pre-election mood nowadays is all about agrarian distress and farm-loan waivers. However, the need is to think about drought and what can be done to address it.
  • It does not take more than one failed farm-season to turn the farmers to impatience and then to rage.
  • It is going to be the biggest and immediate test for the new governments in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh.
  • The drought is going to be the real challenge to the ‘collective opposition’ as it seeks to oust the present regime.
  • The rural voter will vote against the government unless the ‘government party’ makes drought relief, water-use, food security and massive earth-related programmes its absolute priority.

Way Forward

  • Appointing a commission like the Farmers’ Commission: The next Prime Minister should appoint a commission like the Farmers’ Commission, which Dr. M.S. Swaminathan headed, to advise him or her on how water scarce India needs to face drought.
  • The Commission must be given just one month to complete its study and make its recommendations.
  • Penalties should be incorporated rather than making mere advisories or appeals to the defaulters.
  • Addressing the deepening drought, agrarian distress and water-management are the most critical issues that India faces today.
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