The Maharashtra government has launched, with Pani Foundation, water conservation scheme named Jalyukt-Shivar Abhiyan to make Maharashtra a drought-free state by 2019. The program aims to make 5000 villages free of water scarcity every year. Jalyukt-Shivar Abhiyan means a journey towards village surroundings full of water! This is all done by Shramdan, self help, people of all walks of life offering free services, in most cases manual hard work. These groups have people who live in those villages. The drive has caught on very well and Hindi film hero Amir Khan has driven this movement by providing celebrity support and perseverance . He has taken along with Hindi film fraternity, Marathi film personalities like Sunil Barve and others too! I am sure this will help in sustaining the drive. Their organization provides technical support and training to people for correctly doing these things. It is because of the leadership and drive provided by personalities like Amir Khan, there has been a good progress. I am told that the government agencies are also waking up, albeit slowly, because the Chief Minister Mr. Fadnavis is also giving great push to this drive.
I am trying to understand why such tough situation has arisen. Along with increase in population, need for more crop production has also become essential. There are some crops like sugar cane which need large amount of water per acre. India’s sugar production has reached a level of 30 million tons against the requirement of 25 million tons. So, this is excess production! The rain is the only primary source of water for us in agriculture and day to day life; but nobody can be sure that the rain will definitely fall on specific days. Hence, we have gone for water irrigation in a big way, by building dams and canal system. Water available for irrigation is again dependent on rains! But irrigation can also reach limited areas. So, at some stage, this water is not going to be available for farming till the next rain cycle. India is not a country of perennial rains and we have our rains in specific months due to south west or north east monsoons. People started reaching out to third source of water, the wells and so they starting using ground water. Again, the same cycle repeats here and we are dependent on rains, when wells dry out. That is the phase where people started using bore well technology to get water from the ground. It will be good idea to know how we ground water is stored. This will really pin point real problem we are facing.
The study of water flow in aquifers and the characterization aquifers is called hydro geology. An aquifer is an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock, rock fractures or unconsolidated materials (gravel, sand, or silt). Groundwater can be extracted using a water well. The study of water flow in aquifers and the characterization of aquifers is called hydro geology. Related terms include aquitard, which is a bed of low permeability along an aquifer, aquiclude (or aquifuge), which is a solid, impermeable area underlying or overlying an aquifer. If the impermeable area overlies the aquifer, pressure could cause it to become a confined aquifer. So water availability really depends on unconfined acquifers. Though other areas under ground store water, this is a a very slow process and impermeability or low permeability does not allow water to reach confined acquifers quickly enough. Once we start touching these storage areas, we are in trouble.
Why have the water conditions gone from bad to worse? What does the Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan do to change this situation? The government of Maharashtra has a law which forbids drilling of bore wells beyond 250 feet or 80 meters. Is there any cross check on this? No, the bore wells have been drilled to the depth of 250 meters, 3 times the allowed depth. How many bore wells can be drilled in an area? My friend Shende told me the other day that in Solapur district where he does farming, in an area of 4.5 to 5 sq km, there ten thousand bore wells! To me this is beyond indiscriminate, it is criminal. When he told me this number, I could not believe it so I asked him again and he said the figure is right. If you try to suck ground water from so many wells what will happen? You don’t get water even at the depths of 250 meters. Ok, our population has gone up so we need more water, crops which need a lot of water are planted in abundance, sugarcane is the prime example of that. In India, this year we have manufactured 30 million tons of sugar against our requirement of 25 million tons. International sugar prices are already low so there is a big problem! On top of that we do this indiscriminate pumping. We don’t need experts to say what will happen!
What is being done under Jalyukt Shivar Yojana? The main aim is to increase the water table levels in areas where possible. This is done by various methods. Over a period, top soil in many areas becomes impermeable. Trenches are dug, contour digging on slopes is done. This increases the ability of the soil to absorb water. All the actions that are taken are to ensure that during rainy season, the water that we get, seeps to the water table in the area where this work is done. When these actions are not taken, the top soil in that area would be like “opaque glass”. The water would not seep but would flow away to other areas, making the top soil only wet and causing erosion. When the dredging is done by various methods, the soil becomes like “transparent glass” and water seeps through easily.
I asked my friend Shende what benefit they are expecting after this year’s work. He said that last year, only 1 % of their water needs for farming were met. They expect that after this year’s monsoon, because of the work being done, the availability should go up to 25%. They expect water table to come to the level of at least 80 meters. This is quite a jump but nowhere near what they need. What should the society do in general? First and foremost is the discipline; unless we follow basic discipline of depth of bore well, water table issues will continue. Secondly, maybe people should try and cultivate products which are suitable to the water availability. When we don’t use ground water, it does not go anywhere. It remains there. But out of fear that others will use the water anyway, everybody breaks the discipline. The thought process is probably, if I do not get it then I will not let others also to get it.
Let us not forget that earth is the only natural resource that human race has. Once any resource gets depleted, it can take thousands and thousands of years to regenerate it. By pursuing this current drive relentlessly, we will probably get a method, whereby we may be in a position to get water regularly for agriculture and drinking! The nature does not have द्रौपदीची थाळी, a Marathi idiom for unlimited resources. We think it has. Civilizations in olden days have gone down the drain, no pun intended, over a period of time due to indiscriminate use of natural resources. Cape Town in South Africa will become water less in a month of two. There is a serious a discussion going on to pull some Icebergs towards Cape Town, to get fresh water. To me this is the first step towards disaster, in terms of bore well we are trying to dig to 120 meters! So let us heed to such warnings unless we want to be left water less and I don’t know what worse scenarios. Honestly I can not imagine one!