– Rattan Lal Kataria
(Minister of State for Jal Shakti and Social Justice & Empowerment)
As a child, the onset of monsoons brought much-needed succor from the dry and harsh summers. Playing outdoors was no less than walking on a sizzling hot clay oven – often giving blisters on feet. The Village ponds used to dry up denying children of their unassailable right of diving into the water along with their accomplice – the domestic cattle.
Come Monsoons and the entire landscape changed. The first rains brought with it water for crops, village ponds, wells, and most importantly – hope for the farmers. The importance of rains can be appreciated with the fact that 60% of our farmers covering 55% of the gross cropped area are dependent on Rainwater for irrigation purposes. Besides, rain-fed areas support 64 percent of cattle, 74 percent of sheep, and 78 percent of the goat population in the country. Therefore, preparing for the Monsoons was a sacred ritual for the entire village. Ponds were de-silted and cleaned through collective efforts. Fields were appropriately prepared with bunds. But for us children, feeling the trickle of rainwater on our palms and “Catching the Rain” in it, offered unparalleled joy.
Diving into our rich history, we discover that it is replete with marvelous structures of storage and irrigation tanks which were built primarily to cope with seasonal fluctuations in water availability. They are called by distinct local names like bawri, Baoli, Bavadi, Vav (Gujarati), Pushkarani (Kannada), Barav (Marathi), etc. The earliest known structures date back to 2500 BC as cylindrical brick-lined wells and ‘Great Bath’ were reported at the Mohenjodaro site under the Indus Valley civilization. First Ghats were built in northern India around 100 AD. Many of these structures exhibit complex engineering skills and are even known to have withstood several earthquakes. Some of these water bodies are inextricably linked with our mythological epics. The existing Bawris of Kalka and Taals of Morning hills in my parliamentary constituency were reportedly used by Pandavas during the exile period.
We live in a different era now. We need water both for our personal as well as developmental needs. With a burgeoning population, our overall requirement for water has increased manifold. A majority part of this need is catered to by extracting groundwater. As per a World Bank report, India is more dependent on water pumped from aquifers than any other nation — it accounts for about a quarter of global demand for groundwater. Roughly 80 percent of India’s 1.35 billion residents depend on groundwater for both drinking and irrigation. This has led to the depletion of groundwater levels at an alarming rate.
Our country is home to 18% of the global human population but has only 2% of the landmass and 4% of global freshwater resources. India receives, on average, around 1170 mm annual rainfall. 80-90% of it is received during the Monsoons. Therefore, tapping rainfall becomes an absolute necessity.
As per a study report, even if half of the rainfall is captured, every village in India will be able to meet its own domestic water needs (R Agarwal et al,2001). Another study (UN-Habitat & Govt of MP) mentions that Rooftop rainwater harvesting, for a plot size of 250 sq m, saves water (50 liters per person per day) for a family of 5, throughout the year.
Realizing the imminent need to tap rainwater, the Modi Government started a Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA) in the year 2019 covering 256 water-stressed districts of the Nation. This was a first-of-its-kind campaign where a team of technical experts from CWC and CGWB, led by a Joint Secretary rank officer, visited field formations to sensitize local authorities about tapping rainwater. The results were overwhelming as successful interventions were made for rejuvenating existing water bodies and for harvesting rooftop rainwater.
Now, the Prime Minister, on 22nd March 2021, has launched a Nationwide campaign (JSA-2) Jal Shakti Abhiyan 2 titled – Catch the Rain: where it falls, when it falls. Our aim is to leverage all big-sized Public and Private enterprises to synergize their actions in this direction. Our Ministry has coordinated with the Ministry of defense, Rural Development, Environment, and Forest, Agriculture, Urban Development, Railways, Airports Authority of India, all PSUs, Public sector Banks, Universities, etc to join hands for ‘Catching the Rain’.
Despite the severe second wave of COVID-19, the Abhiyan has made modest yet noticeable achievements. Ministry of rural development has reported construction of 1.12 lac water conservation and rainwater harvesting (RWH) structures, incurring an expenditure of Rs 3,671 crore, while work is in progress on 1.35 lac additional structures. 24,332 traditional structures and existing water bodies have been renovated to date with an expenditure of Rs 1,660 crore and 30,969 additional structures are expected to be rejuvenated shortly. Ministry of Urban Development has renovated 897 RWH structures while adding 1.01 lac new RWH structures. Not limited to building structures, the Abhiyan has gone further to include crop diversification, afforestation, and disseminating information on water use efficiency (WUE) under its mandate. The Department of Agriculture has conducted 315 training sessions, through KVKs, training nearly 10,000 farmers on appropriate crop and WUE. Around 3,604 seed packets and 44,952 saplings have been distributed to urge farmers to shift to suitable crops.
All this has been done without spending a new penny but by fostering convergence amongst various departments and utilizing their allocated budgets, in line with the ideology of our Government -‘Minimum Government – Max Governance’. The amazing fact that baffles a rational mind is that – these departments, budgets & officials were available to all previous governments, then why no one cared to address the critical issue of Water conservation at this scale. ?Why No one exhibited the vision or intent. ?I leave it for your good judgment.
A campaign of this magnitude could not have succeeded without tapping the vibrant energy of youth. To make them an important stakeholder, a dedicated cadre of Nehru Yuva Kendra was roped in to carry a robust awareness generation program in 623 districts. Training has already been accorded to 700 State/District level NYKS coordinators and around 2.27 crore people have so far participated in close to 16 lac activities organized through them.
It is said that leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. It was the vision of Sh. Narendra Modi to take up the cause of water conservation on top priority in Modi 2.0. Immediately after swearing in for the second consecutive term, the Jal Shakti Mantralaya was set up and JSA-1 was launched. The Prime Minister is leading from the front. He has written a letter to all Gram Sarpanchs as well as Chief Ministers of the states to actively participate and contribute towards the success of this Campaign. His efforts speak volumes about the firm resolve to work in the field of water conservation. With these sincere efforts, supported by public participation, I am confident that soon we will be able to transform “Jal” aandolan into a “Jan” aandolan.
Invoking a Shloka from the RigVeda, it terms “Parjanya” (cloud), son of heaven, as the bestower of Rains on earth which in turn is responsible for germinating the seed of life on this planet.
With JSA-2, let’s collectively ‘Catch the Rain’ for sustaining life as well as livelihoods. In fact, what we tried with our palms during childhood days, needs to be scaled up with the help of technological intervention and public participation.