NEW DELHI: With the problems of water conservation becoming urgent in the face of uneven monsoons and climate change-induced extreme weather, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday called for a national effort to protect and augment India’s water resources on the lines of the Swachh Bharat programme he had launched in his first term in office. Ruing that only 8% of water received from rainfall was being utilised in the country despite scarcity in many parts, he made “three requests” to urge all Indians to join hands and save every drop of water in his first monthly ‘Mann ki Baat’ radio broadcast after being re-elected. Times ViewPrime Minister Narendra Modi has given a very timely call for a national effort to conserve, protect and augment India’s water resources. This promises to be one of the big ideas of Modi 2.0 on the scale of Swachh Bharat. The call for popular participation and awareness is key to the plan’s success. Uncertainties over monsoons and increased frequency of extreme weather conditions mean India must act to ensure its agriculture and drinking water needs are met by protecting river basins and groundwater. This requires a massive effort to make green planning central to all urbanisation, and encourage a revival of traditional methods like step wells, johads and sand bores in rural areas. Modi has shown that he can leverage his popular appeal to change social behaviour. Water conservation is certainly an extremely urgent and worthy cause.His three requests included making water conservation a mass movement like the cleanliness drive, sharing many traditional methods that have been in use over the centuries in India and extending information about individuals or NGOs so that an extensive database can be created of those working in the field of water conservation. “Come, let us join water conservation and involve ourselves in making a list of more and more innovative methods to motivate people to conserve water. You can all share your content using the hastag JanShakti4JalShakti,” the PM said. He added that India’s challenge of water conservation was significant but could be met with concerted and joint action. “I believe, like the other problems on hand, we can also solve this predicament through participation of the people, ‘Janbhagidari’, and their power, ‘Janshakti’. We are bound to find a solution through the strength, cooperation and resolution of 130 crore citizens,” Modi said. His remarks came a day ahead of launch of a ‘water conservation campaign’ in 255 water-stressed districts in the country. The campaign — Jal Shakti Abhiyan — will begin on Monday and continue till November 30 in 1,593 water-stressed blocks, falling under 255 critical districts. He said the creation of a new jal or water ministry will streamline decisions and give an impetus to water planning and conservation. Most of the identified blocks are passing through a crisis situation due to delayed monsoon and depletion of reservoirs. Activities during the campaign will include the construction of rooftop rainwater harvesting infrastructure, check dams, trenches, ponds and watershed structures. Water distress has hit urban and rural areas with disputes assuming the proportion of water wars. Recalling his letter to ‘sarpanchs’ and ‘gram pradhans’ across the country, requesting them to work for water conservation and rainwater harvesting, Modi said, “I am happy that they have shown exemplary enthusiasm on this front and on 22nd of this month, crores of people contributed free labour, ‘Shramdaan’, across thousands of panchayats.” The water conservation programme is closely tied with the sanitation and sewage programmes. The main reason rainfall is wasted is because sewage lines are used to carry rainfall runoff and there is little effort to capture and use water. Concepts like slowing water runoff and using the resource for groundwater replenishment is needed just as there is a need to diversify agriculture away from water-guzzling cereals and crops like sugarcane.
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