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Time to break the groundwater-energy nexus, says Vijay Kumar

Feb 06, 2014

A myriad of problems and challenges need to be addressed to ensure food security, out of those, ground water management is the most important, says Vijay Kumar, Distinguished Fellow, TERI

Agriculture and allied activities account for 14.1% of India’s GDP in 2011-12 but the proportion of the people dependent for employment in this sector is as high as 58.2.The average annual growth rate of agriculture during the Eleventh Plan Period was about 3.6%. However, declining per capita availability of food grains is of major long term concern. For ensuring nutritional security, it is not only important to increase the per capita availability of food grains, but also ensure the right amount of food items in the food basket of the common man. A good food security framework needs to focus not only on productivity but diversification as well.

The performance of Indian agriculture is still heavily dependent on rainfall and the monsoon substantially affects production and productivity, with more than half of the cultivated area dependent on the monsoon. As such, climate change risks in relation to precipitation patterns including frequency and intensity are substantial and complex.

There are a number of constraints and challenges to be addressed in the quest for food security. Heavy investments will be needed in farm research, rural infrastructure and in supply and efficient utilization of inputs, in order to ensure sustained increase in production and productivity. These have implications for water use patterns, which may impose limitations.

These challenges can only be met by a multipronged and multidimensional approach to the conjunctive use of land and water and elements of the approach would need to include: -

Moving away from a narrow engineering-construction based approach to a more multidisciplinary participatory management approach to irrigation with a sustained effort to reduce waste and improve efficiency of water use.

- Massively expanding the current Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) by converging MGNREGA with IWMP (and with the programme for Repair, Restoration and Renovation of Water Bodies).

- Treating surface and ground water as a single resource etc.

Since Independence, while public investments have focused largely on surface water, substantial private investments, groundwater resource exploitation both for drinking water and irrigation has been supported mainly by private sector investment, both institutional and individual. In the last 4 decades, nearly 84% of the total addition to net irrigated area has come from ground water, often through unsustainable extraction.

Today, because of poor governance, farmers even in Command Areas are switching to tube wells, incentivized in many cases by subsidized energy. This adds a new one to the already enormous problems facing the sustainable management of ground water resources. Yet there is no dedicated national programme for ground water management, which is suffering the same fate as other common property resources (CPR). Clearly, as a first step, ground and surface water need, at a macro level, to be treated as a single resource not least in order to ensure that reforms and efficiency gains in surface water are not nullified. At the same time reforms in ground water management are needed including:

- Breaking the groundwater-energy nexus by separating the power feeders for agricultural energy from household energy.

- Undertaking, as already stated, watershed development programmes on a massive scale for increasing ground water recharge, in particular by organically linking IWMP and MGNREGA.

- Programmatically, linking the NRAA, Ministry of Agriculture and Department of Land Resources institutionally under the NMSA. Systematically inventorising small water bodies at local level and linking the Scheme for Repair, Renovation and Restoration of Water Bodies (RRRWB) with IWMP and MGNREGA.;and

- Formulating legislative backing for ground water protection, management and regulation, seeing that it is a common property resource.

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