Government eyes reduction in farm water use
July 22, 2019
The Narendra Modi government is likely to aggressively push for less consumption of water in agriculture as a key priority in its second term in office in keeping with the Centre’s thrust on conservation of the scare resource, officials familiar with the matter said.
A committee of secretaries (CoS), formed under directions of the PM, to look into agriculture and related matters, is set to emphasise on the need to cut down on water usage on crops, especially paddy and sugar-cane, in its report to the cabinet secretary. Soon after coming to power for the second term, Modi formed around 10 committees of secretaries (CoS) to look into major issues and vet schemes before the Union cabinet would take the final call on those matters.
The water ministry, a part of the CoS on agriculture and rural development, has pitched for less water for crops as a high priority issue. It has suggested production of alternative crops, and financial incentives to farmers for optimal water usage. “The water requirement for agriculture is considerably high in India. Out of our total groundwater availability, we use 6% for domestic use and another 5% for industrial purposes. The remaining 89% goes for agriculture. Our studies say that to grow one kilogramme of paddy, we consume 5,600 litres of water whereas China produces the same amount of paddy with just 330-400 litres of water,” Union minister for Jal Shakti, Gajendra Shekhawat, said on Sunday.
“We have to re-look at our water consumption, especially when there is a severe water crisis in many parts of the country,” Shekhawat said, pointing out that of the 178.7 million rural households in the country, only 32.7 million or 18% got drinking water from tap connections.
Modi has called for a mass movement on water conservation along the lines of Swachh Bharat, flagging concern over depleting water levels in the country. In his first Mann ki Baat after his government retained power in the national polls this summer, Modi urged upon all citizens to create awareness on water conservation, share knowledge of “traditional methods” to conserve water and highlight success stories on conservation. The recent Economic Survey stated that “By 2050, India will be in the global hot spot for ‘water insecurity’.”
India is the second-largest producer of rice after China. And the two Asian giants contribute nearly half of the world’s total rice production. But the recent Economic Survey pointed out that around 89% of groundwater extracted is used for irrigation and crops such as paddy and sugarcane consume more than 60% of irrigation water.
The survey said, “Focus should shift from land productivity to ‘irrigation water productivity’. Therefore devising policies to incentivise farmers to improve water use should become a national priority. Thrust should be on micro-irrigation that can improve water use efficiency.”
A senior official added that for sugarcane, India consumes less water than the global average but is less efficient than South Africa and Thailand. “On average, India gets around 5.2 kg of sugarcane in one cubic metre of water. This is better than the global average of 4.80 kg/m3. But South Africa produces up to 7.8 kg with the same quantity of water and Thailand gets between 5.8 and 6.5 kg/m3 of water.”
The CoS is expected to submit its report shortly with action points and new policy proposals. Modi also wants the CoS to identify areas where “impactful decisions” can be taken in the near future. According to a member of that panel, water consumption in agriculture is likely to be one such area.
Achirangshu Acharya, economist with Viswabharati University, said, “Worldwide water is fast becoming a shrinking resource. It’s about time that India changes its water habits. Indian agriculture needs to depend on newer technologies to reduce dependence on groundwater. We can’t be a net-importer of water in the agriculture market.”
Shekhawat added that rationalisation of water can only be done with the help of the states. “In Punjab farmers get free power to use pumps to extract groundwater. The state government has started a scheme whereby farmers are given cash incentives if they consume less electricity in agricultural fields. Lower use of pumps means less extraction of groundwater. In Maharashtra, farmers are encouraged to use drip irrigation for sugar-cane cultivation. It is also a proven fact that sugar-cane fed by drip irrigation has better sugar yield. So, we need the help of all states to address the issue of over-exploitation of water,” the minister said.
Source: Hindustan Times