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Saturday, 16 June 2018 00:00
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Given India’s rising water-stress—some 600 million already face high to extreme stress—the NITI Aayog’s Composite Water Management Index that ranks states on their water management efforts should serve as an important guide for policy. The NITI analysis of how 24 states fare in their efforts under nine major themes—performance is measured against multiple indicators—should help each state identify problem areas and work out potential solutions. While Gujarat is at the top of the list, scoring 76 out of 100, an important caveat is that only 10 of the 24 states score 50 or more, and just three score more than 60. This means that there is huge scope for improvement in most states.

The NITI report projects water stress shaving 6% off the potential GDP of the country by 2030. In a ‘high use’ scenario, the Union ministry of water resources says, India’s water requirement in 2050 will reach 1,180 billion cubic metres (bcm) against the current availability of 695 bcm. This, of course, is a partial picture. It is not that India is water-deficient—a 2016 Kotak Institutional Equities report points out, the country receives nearly 2,600 bcm of rain and snow-melt even in a bad year. But, it can store a mere 253 bcm. So, India’s water problem is two-fold—of grossly inadequate storage capacity and of poor management of usage.

 

The same day that the NITI report was released, Nabard released a study by Icrier researchers Ashok Gulati and Gayatri Mohan, on farm usage of water. While per capita water availability has fallen from 5,177 cubic metres in 1951 to 1,544 cubic metres in 2011, today, 80% of India’s available water goes for farm use. Gulati-Mohan point out, of the irrigation water, 60% is used for just rice and sugarcane that account for just 24% of the gross cropped area in the country. India, thus, must move from land-productivity to water-productivity for sowing decisions. Punjab has a land-productivity of 3,921 kg/ha for rice versus Bengal’s 2,802 kg, but when it comes to water productivity, Bengal delivers `9.34 per cubic metre of water versus Punjab’s `3.81. Similarly, while Bihar needs just 799 litres to produce 1 kg of sugar, Maharashtra, a major cane-growing state, needs 2.7 times as much water. The NITI report, nevertheless, ranks water-wasting Maharashtra and Punjab 5th and 6th, respectively, among the non-Himalayan states in the index. This is, of course, because of the nine parameters that NITI considers. Amazingly, Maharashtra is ranked third on sustainable on-farm water-use practices. In fact, given the state uses two-thirds of its water for sugarcane grown on just 4% of its land, it is perplexing to see it ranked second amongst non-Himalayan states for “area cultivated by adopting standard cropping pattern as per agro-climatic zoning, to total area under cultivation.” Despite Punjab’s unsustainable rice-cultivation, it is ranked 10th amongst non-Himalayan states for sustainable on-farm water-use. To be sure, NITI uses other indicators to judge states on this parameter, but it will still need to address such methodological issues in future updates.

There is no doubt that states and the Centre must fix policy gaps that encourage unsustainable use of water. While that will mean that Punjab/Maharashtra must start charging for farm-use of water, at the central level, the pricing policy must get more rational. The Centre must give higher MSPs to less resource-intensive crops and fix its procurement policy. It must tell states that it will procure from their farmers if they keep water-productivity in mind; central procurement in Punjab should shift from paddy to, say, maize, while more paddy is procured from Bengal.

 

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