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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Haryana groundwater crisis: The deep state and baby steps towards the big leap

Almost 60 per cent of villages in Haryana are categorised as “groundwater stressed” or “potential groundwater stressed”, which means there is a direct impact on the lives of close to 20 million people.

April 18, 2022 12:26:12 pm
Dr Satbir Singh Kadian (left) is the engineer-in-chief with the Irrigation and Water Resources Department, Haryana while Partik Kumar (right) is State Social Development Expert in Atal Bhujal Yojana, Haryana

Dr Satbir S Kadian, Partik Kumar

Two senior officials in Haryana explain how serious is the depleting water level problem in the state and how is it being checked.

Extent of the crisis

Almost 60 per cent of villages in Haryana are categorised as “groundwater stressed” or “potential groundwater stressed”. This means there is a direct impact on the life and livelihood of close to 20 million people. The impact on ecology and economy is yet to be envisaged and emphasised. In some regions, over the past five decades, the groundwater level has seen a depletion of more than a hundred feet. Lack of institutional setup for groundwater governance, absenteeism of stakeholder institutions, prominence of water-intensive crops and undesirable behaviour of stakeholders have been some of the key challenges.

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Also, most of Haryana lies in alluvial aquifers and according to groundwater pundits, the complexity enclosed in biophysical characteristics of resource units, socio-economic conditions of users, geopolitical circumstances of state and ecological concerns of the geographical region, makes it further challenging to deal with.

Plan to find out a solution

The Atal Bhujal Yojana has been initiated in the state with the support of the central government and the World Bank. The primary objective of the scheme is to implement Participatory Groundwater Management (PGWM) to improve the state of groundwater management in the targeted areas. The essential framework of the program is based on the principles of decentralised decision making, enhancing water use efficiency, landscape-based management and fiscal decentralisation.

The Atal Bhujal Yojana aims that all necessary decisions relating to groundwater management should be taken by last-mile stakeholders i.e. village level institutions and community members. In the process to empower the community to take the decision, it is necessary to demystify the science of groundwater or in other words, the groundwater needs to be made visible to them. To ensure effective groundwater visibility, the state is establishing a Hydrogeological Monitoring Network (HMN) at the gram panchayat (GP) level.

A single unit of HMN will consist of a piezometer, rain gauge, water flow meters, periodic water level and water quality data. The GP level data from these tools will help in efficiently plotting the quality, quantity, accessibility and durability of groundwater to the community. All data collected through HMN will be in the public domain and will be modified in local understandable language. It is believed that HMN established under Atal Bhujal Yojana will be the world’s one of the most intense groundwater monitoring systems.

Under the Atal Bhujal Yojana, a community-led gram panchayat wise Water Security Plan (WSP) will be prepared. The WSP is a proposition of various variables to prepare the GP level water budget. The WSP will be prepared through the involvement of the community, adhering to natural conditioning and indigenous knowledge, incorporating HMN data and valuing stakeholders’ priorities. With the support of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and water resources inventory, the gram panchayat level water balance will be calculated. The water balance will give a clear picture of how much water is annually available in a gram panchayat, how much is annual utilisation and what is the net balance. The water utilisation exercise will help in identifying the water guzzlers like crops, industries and alike.

As the whole process will be carried out by the community, they will be in a better position to make their decision. It is believed that once the stakeholders know, what is the groundwater situation in their gram panchayat, how much water is available for the future and where most of the water is going, they will decide judiciously. For example, in an annual cycle, if a gram panchayat is ending up in a water stress situation and still, they are cultivating paddy, the community will be triggered for crop diversification and adaptation of water-sensitive crops. In another case, if the annual balance of a village is negative and flood irrigation is in practice, then they will be supported to adopt micro-irrigation.

In a nutshell, the groundwater will be made visible to stakeholders and they will decide upon the future course of action, good or bad, their choice. The Atal Bhujal Yojana believed in bottom-up planning and to endorse the ownership, the administration will execute what the community demands and plans. Gram Sabha resolution is mandatory for administrative consideration of the Water Security Plan of any gram panchayat. To loop in this whole process as well as for on-field facilitation, Village Water and Sewerage committee (VWSC) are notified as a community institution under Atal Bhujal Yojana.

Role of the youth

Under the plan, a cadre of local youth transformed into para hydrogeologists through training and fieldwork will act as a catalyst in this endeavour. On approval of WSP through the laid decentralised process, it will be implemented through the convergence of various ongoing schemes. The Government of Haryana is providing financial credit to the farmers who are shifting from Paddy to any other water-sensitive crops. Also, a subsidy of up to 90 per cent is available for farmers on the adoption of micro-irrigation practices.

Rejuvenation of traditional water bodies and community-led decentralised rooftop rainwater harvesting structures are a few other endeavours that are building up in the state.

Considering that Participatory Groundwater Management (PGWM) is a relatively new and paradigm shift in water governance, a dedicated focus is also on Institutional strengthening and capacity building. Throughout the project period, a total of 45,000 training sessions will be conducted.

The training will be conducted for all stakeholders including farmers, Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) members, VWSC members, para hydrologists and officials of line departments at different levels. To bring the desired paradigm in responsive decision making and for information dissemination, a rigorous behavioural change communication strategy is designed by the state.

The stakeholders will be informed and educated through Jal Panchayats, Kalash Yatras, exhibitions, social campaigns, seminars and workshops. In order to bring efficacy and efficiency in the implementation of Atal Bhujal Yojana in Haryana, the state had engaged various experienced non-governmental organisations (NGOs) including PGWM pioneers like the People’s Science Institute (PSI) and Advanced Center for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM).

Not merely a scheme but a revolution for groundwater governance

The mitigation strategy for climate change, societal heterogeneities and social wellbeing will define the course of the 21st century and the groundwater governance approach will be a vital player in this. Atal Bhujal Yojana is an ambitious attempt in the same direction. Atal Bhujal Yojana is not merely a scheme but a community-led and state-supported revolution for groundwater governance. The goal is to establish an institutional system for equitable and judicious management of groundwater-based life, livelihood and ecology. If the last century was of the looming groundwater crisis and the last decade was of diagnosis, then certainly this decade is of remedies in groundwater governance.

(Dr Satbir Singh Kadian is the engineer-in-chief with the Irrigation and Water Resources Department, Haryana while Partik Kumar is State Social Development Expert in Atal Bhujal Yojana, Haryana)

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