This is the Year of Freshwater and the ministry of water resources has launched a series of awareness programmes to mark it. Tomorrow, for instance, it will host in the Capital, along with the Confederation of Indian Industry, a national conference on “Water Management: Public-private partnership”. The intention here is to bring together all the stakeholders on a common platform to chalk out strategies for a sound public-private partnership to manage this resource.
The government on its part has planned year-long initiatives involving policymakers, communities, women and youth, state and local agencies and a media task force. The 74th Amendment to the Constitution envisages the decentralisation of water, which has yet remained a pipe dream. One can only hope all this brainstorming will yield results. So far so good. But somewhere, however, there are fears that such year-long initiatives may just end up being a drain on the national exchequer rather than help solve the problem of an imminent water-less future. India has spent an estimated Rs 3 billion on watershed projects. The proposed interlinking of the Himalayan with the peninsular rivers is estimated to cost Rs 5,60,000 crore. The urban ministry has developed a Rs 40-50,000 crore project on rainwater harvesting. But will all this have the desired results? Per capita water availability is down to critical limits. The projected increase, say experts, in population by 2025 indicates that the per capita availability is likely to slip below the danger mark of 1000 cubic metres.
So why doesn’t the government try and learn from community initiatives? Taking a cue from Magsaysay awardee Rajinder Singh of the Tarun Bharat Sangh, Laxman Singh of Laporiya village in Dudu district, Rajasthan, has ensured that three years of consecutive drought has not made a dent in the water table of his village which remains a veritable oasis in a parched land. But the government has so far offered him no support in his untiring efforts to share his expertise with over 200 adjoining villages. It is not just local initiatives that can impart a lesson or two. Global measures to track water are afoot. E-conferencing, a New Age swift, yet inexpensive, tool to brainstorm, has opened up new doorways to solution building. Sites on water management have proliferated on the net and the government should be monitoring them and translating insights into policies.
Yet it somehow seems that the government dreads taking its deliberations to the public. Less than a month before the National Water Policy was adopted on April 1, 2002, the minister of state for water resources had agreed to hold public hearings across the country to seek diverse opinions on the draft policy, only to backtrack on this. We can only hope that this ostrich-like approach will change in this Year of Freshwater and the government works actively towards bringing people into the frame.