Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

[oped of the day] Not many lessons learnt from water planning failures


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Jal Shakti Abhiyan

Mains level : Analysis of JSA


The Central government launched the Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA), a time-bound, mission-mode water conservation campaign to be carried out in two phases, across the 255 districts having critical and over-exploited groundwater levels. 

Jal Shakti Abhiyan

  • This campaign was not intended to be a funding programme and did not create any new intervention on its own. 
  • It only aimed to make water conservation a ‘people’s movement’ through ongoing schemes like the MGNREGA and other government programmes.
  • The JSA is modelled and driven by success stories such as NGO Tarun Bharat Sangh’s experiment in Alwar, Rajasthan and Anna Hazare-led efforts in Ralegan Siddhi, Maharashtra. 
  • These projects primarily involved building tanks and ponds to capture rainwater and building recharge wells to recharge groundwater. 
  • It is unclear whether they were based on reference to watershed management or groundwater prospect maps.

Planning scientifically

  • Hydrological units – Water planning should be based on hydrological units, namely river basins. Political and administrative boundaries of districts rarely coincide with the hydrological boundaries or aquifer boundaries. 
  • JSA’s units – JSA was planned based on the boundary of the districts, and to be carried out under the overall supervision of a bureaucrat. This divided basins/aquifers into multiple units that followed multiple policies. 
  • Data – There was no data on basin-wise rainfall, no analysis of run-off and groundwater maps were rarely used. One never came to know whether water harvested in a pond in a district was at the cost of water in adjoining districts.
  • Water-stressed basins – Most of India’s water-stressed basins are facing closure, with the demand exceeding supply. Groundwater recharge happened at the cost of surface water and vice versa. The absence of autonomous and knowledge-intensive river-basin organisations is a problem.

Current Status & Limitations of data

  • The JSA’s portal displays impressive data, images and statistics. It claims that there are around 10 million ongoing and completed water conservation structures; 7.6 million recharge structures. 
  • It also says that one billion saplings have been planted and that six million people participated in awareness campaigns. 
  • Missing data – The data displayed on JSA portal do not speak anything about the pre-JSA water levels, the monthly water levels and impact of monsoon on the water levels across the 255 districts with critical and over-exploited blocks. 
  • They also don’t convey anything about the quality of the structures, their maintenance and sustainability. 
  • Even if the water levels had been measured, it is unknown whether the measurement was accurate. 
  • The results for a 2016 study conducted by the Central Groundwater Board showed that water levels always increase post-monsoon. It requires long-term monitoring of water level data to determine the actual impact of a measure like JSA. 
  • Lack of parameters – There is no such parameter to measure the outcome of such a mission-mode campaign.

Facile assumptions

  • Common people – it assumes that common people in rural areas are ignorant and prone to wasting water. They are the ones who first bear the brunt of any water crisis. 
  • Distorted allocation – The per capita water allocation to those living in rural areas is 55 liters, whereas the same for urban areas like Delhi and Bengaluru is 135-150 liters.
  • Urban waste – the sewage generated from towns and cities pollutes village water sources such as tanks, ponds, and wells.
  • Poor quality – Most of the farm bunds built with soil can collapse within one monsoon season due to rains and/or trespassing by farm vehicles, animals and humans. 
  • Supervision – there are issues like lack of proper engineering supervision of these structures, involvement of multiple departments with less or no coordination, and limited funding under MGNERGA and other schemes.
  • Water-intensive crops – no efforts were undertaken to dissuade farmers from growing water-intensive crops such as paddy, sugarcane, and bananas. Agriculture consumes 80% of freshwater.


Jal Shakti Abhiyan

Govt. to start Jal Shakti Abhiyan for 255 water-stressed districts

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