Aimed at checking depletion of groundwater in the country, the World Bank-funded Atal Bhujal Yojana (ABHY) is still waiting for the Union Cabinet’s approval more than a year after the World Bank board approved it in June 2018.
As per original plans, the ambitious scheme was to start from the 2018-19 financial year.
The Expenditure Finance Committee under the chairmanship of Secretary, Department of Expenditure, Ministry of Finance, cleared the proposed scheme in March 2018. The government allocated a token sum of Rs 40 lakh in 2018-19, and Rs 1 crore in 2019-20 for ABHY. Proposed as a Central sector scheme, ABHY’s estimated total cost is Rs 6,000 crore, of which Rs 3,000 crore is World Bank assistance and an equal amount is to be contributed by the Union government as Budgetary support.
According to sources in the Jal Shakti Ministry, after the World Bank board’s approval last year, the then Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation circulated a Cabinet note.
“After this, the PMO made some observations about the scheme, which have been clarified. But the scheme could not get cleared by Cabinet,” a source in the ministry said. The source said, “Earlier this month, senior officers at the PMO reviewed developments related to the scheme. It is now expected to get the Cabinet’s nod soon.”
Sources said the initial plan was to implement ABHY in the most water-stressed 78 districts of the country for five years — from 2018-19 to 2022-23. However, one-and-a-half-years have already passed and the scheme is awaiting government approval.
India is facing a challenge to check further depletion of groundwater resources. The number of over-exploited units has increased from 839 in 2004 to 1,186 in 2017, according to official statistics. There is also a decline in groundwater level in 61 per cent of the monitoring wells.
The situation is especially grave in North India, as more than 60 per cent of the assessment units in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan are either over-exploited or at a critical stage.
Against this backdrop, the government announced its intention to start a programme for sustainable management of groundwater resources in the 2016-17 Union Budget. The government had planned to roll out ABHY as part of this in water-stressed areas of seven states.
As part of the programme, the government wants to introduce the concept of ‘water user associations’ and water budgeting.