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Maharashtra drought situation: Using recycled water will help tackle drought, says water management expert

Water management expert Madhav Chitale proposes strict reforms to tackle recurring drought in Maharashtra. In an interview with The Indian Express, he speaks about how to overcome water scarcity.

Written by Shubhangi Khapre | Mumbai | Published: October 22, 2018 8:01:30 am
Maharashtra drought situation: Using recycled water will help tackle drought, says water management expert Madhav Chitale

Maharashtra is again heading for drought. How to tackle water scarcity?

It is high time that we evolve a long-term strategy on using recycled water. There is no alternative to adopting technology to promote recycled water. We have to make huge investments and set up water treatment plants. Water has to be recycled at every level — from villages to cities. If 20 per cent to 25 per cent of the available water is recycled and used, it would go a long way in drought mitigation. Fortunately, science and technology can provide long-term solutions. We should capitalise on it.

But how practical will this be in the context of Maharashtra?

Recycling water is being pursued even in the most developed countries. The use of recycled water is no longer confined to agriculture, industries and non-drinking purposes. The use of technology has helped to even make recycled water potable. In Singapore, we get potable water under the lable ‘NUWater’. Now, this is the cleanest water.

Such projects require huge financial capital.

We have to realise that water is a resource. Moreover, why should we always think that the government will do everything. Every citizen should play a role in fighting drought. Whether you are a farmer engaged in agriculture in a village or working in the corporate sector in a city, water scarcity adversely affects everybody.

Water levels in dams show a deficit of 10.8 per cent.

This is a huge deficit, indicating water scarcity. Based on the water levels in dams, funds are allocated for three major sectors — 80 per cent for agriculture and 10 per cent each for industry and drinking water. As no compromise can be made when it comes to drinking water, major adjustments will have to be made on water allocations for agriculture and industry.

If we look at the last three years, over two lakh water conservation projects have been carried out under Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyaan. Then what is the reason for drought?

Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyaan has yielded very good results. It has helped make villages drought free and raise the underground water levels. But along with water conservation projects, there should be a strict policy on water management. The surplus water should not go waste. Unfortunately, we have a strong sugarcane lobby controlled by politicians, which is not willing to reconsider going for alternative cultivation. In drought-prone regions, like Marathwada, you cannot allow sugarcane cultivation. High water intensive crops cannot be allowed in districts that get poor or moderate rainfall. Now, there are districts in Marathwada, where despite poor rainfall (600 mm average), farmers grow sugarcane.

Are you suggesting a change in crop pattern?

The change in crop pattern is essential. There are better options that bring higher financial remunerations for farmers. We have to educate them on alternative crops. Sugarcane cultivation has reached its saturation point. If farmers take up various options through horticulture, they would be able to compete better in domestic and global markets. Cultivation of fruits and seasonal vegetables, which are short-term and market linked, should be emphasised to ensure quick returns for farmers.

Will allied agricultural activities be useful to farmers?

Switching from agriculture to other allied activities should be weighed carefully. Take an example of dairy farming, which was being aggressively promoted in Marathwada. This requires plenty of water as water consumption of cattle is higher than humans. Moreover, milk processing plants cannot be viable without adequate water. So, dairy farming in drought-prone regions is a problem.

But the real challenge remains climate change?

Climate change brings in new challenges every day. There is a growing urgency to adopt a scientific approach to tackle water crisis. Integrated watershed projects should be given priority. Higher yield per hectare with minimum use of water should be the new agriculture model. Use of sprinklers and drip irrigation, which helps curtail use of water, should be made mandatory. Besides saving water, it also ensures higher yield and better farm produce.

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