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The Real Water Crisis Should Concern Us More Than 'Fake' Degrees

20/05/2016 3:04 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Shivanand Baswantpati from Latur district of Marathwada, Maharashtra uprooted his pomegranate trees -- once a steady source of income -- and replaced them with soybean in the hope that this hardier crop would somewhat tide him over in the drought and see him through another dry year, reported the Financial Times.

In West Bengal, near the shores of the river Ganges, a fisherman, Balai Haldar is distraught at his meagre catch of prawns. The BBC quotes him as saying, "The river has very little water these days. It is also running out of fish. Tube wells in our village have run out of water....There's too much of uncertainty. People in our villages have moved to the cities to look for work."

This is the second year in a row that the water crisis has continued, snatching away the livelihood of farmers and consequentially adversely affecting the economy.

There are millions more like Baswantpati and Haldar and their stories reek of desperation, resignation and helplessness. Often, these stories end in tragic suicides. The current water crisis in many parts of the country is said to be bigger than the drought in the 1970s, most adversely affecting the rural areas that constitute the biggest chunk of the country's population. Commendable efforts are being made since April last month by the Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu who directed the Indian railways to send a train full of 54,000 litres of water to Latur, Marathwada which is the epicentre of the drought in Maharashtra with more water to follow suit. But this is just a drop in the ocean, pun unintended. An alarming 20-30 suicides were reported per week starting 1 January, 2015. The year has seen the highest number of drought-related suicides, triggered by farmers repeatedly facing failed crops due to lack of rain and mounting debt burdens.

This works as a strike against the performance of a government that had vowed to reduce the suicide rate. Corruption and in-fighting prevail, with the ruling and opposition parties busy duelling over the issue of loan-waivers to drought-hit farmers.

Up in the north, meanwhile, the age-old squabble between states for ownership of river waters continues between Punjab and Haryana. Parkash Singh Badal's bold move earlier this year to take the helm of the Sutlej-Yamuna Canal Link Bill and getting it passed in the Assembly was unprecedented.

Never has it been more important than today to make every effort to curb the wastage and mismanagement of water.

This Bill, initiated first in 2014 by Amarinder Singh (the original "Saviour of Punjab Waters") may well be gaining Badal some momentary political mileage, but in the long run it makes him look vulnerable as it was his government that appealed for a sum of ₹3 crore from the Haryana government for this project back in 1978. The canal is still not complete. With water through tubewell irrigation being supplied to not one but three states (Rajasthan included) feeding off Punjab, the scarcity of water is looms as a threat in the future. While the Modi government stands opposed to this Bill, Punjab's latest political player -- the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) -- is yet to catch up with all that it has missed.

Will political agendas get in the way of ending the water shortage in these parts?

I am from Chandigarh, a Union Territory and capital of both Punjab and Haryana. I am told that because of the water shortage today within the tri-city areas of Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali, municipalities have been directed to cut off water supply to swimming pools and public water bodies in a desperate effort to save water wherever possible.

We must all be very concerned that this is the second year in a row that the water crisis has continued, snatching away the livelihood of farmers and consequentially adversely affecting the economy. Never has it been more important than today to make every effort to curb the wastage and mismanagement of water. The Supreme Court that heard the PIL against the IPL matches being conducted in Maharashtra during what is likely to be the worst drought the country has faced in many years rightly asked, "Are people more important or the IPL?" It termed as "criminal wastage" the requirement of 60 lakh litres of water (for 20 matches total) to maintain cricket pitches.

I now reside in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates - a city that experiences a permanent deficit in rainwater every year. To counter this, the city uses cloud-seeding technologies that involve the injection of salt crystals into clouds to create a larger quantity of rain. It's what led to this year's record-breaking rain. Various states are currently mulling over making greater use of this option in India as well.

When words are followed by timely action, personal attacks on credibility and the government's capabilities begin to fade automatically.

When issues like whether Modi's college degree is real or not start making the news headlines instead of this very real water crisis, we should really rethink our priorities.

The heat wave in many parts of India is set to intensify and the monsoon, while it is expected to be adequate, will be delayed by about a week. In the meantime, the political establishment and the citizenry have to treat the problem with the urgency it warrants. Better harvesting of rain water, replenishing groundwater resources, and better coverage of dams and canals for irrigation are just some of the key points that need to be looked at. And very importantly, we need to curb the misuse and waste of water.

When political propaganda and corruption begin to mar the wellbeing of its own people, a country cannot hope to progress. Votes and empty promises can only get you so far. Collaboration with state administrations towards common goals and discussions of how water can be better managed rather than sparring over water ownership and chasing votes is certainly a starting point.

When words are followed by timely action, personal attacks on credibility and the government's capabilities begin to fade automatically. Until then college degrees and their authenticity will take precedence in media trials over a deeply concerning country-wide water crisis.

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