Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Economics and Politics of Water

I am with a delegation of businessmen invited by the RSS to witness the drought relief work done by them. We're heading out to see the drought relief work done by them in Patharadi Tehsil of Ahmednanagr district. 

It must be about 46-47 degrees Celsius in the sun. Not a blade of green grass for miles and miles. Not a drop of water to be seen anywhere. The rivers here used to be perennial till a few years ago, now dry. The wells all around are dry as well. Water tankers bring drinking water once in a day to these villages. Life here is tough. 

Nimba Daitya Nandur (Pathardi), our first stop is a village were work is going on on 4 “Patticha Bandhare”  (check dams) to help increase water level in the region. This village, with approximately a population of 2800, was no 1 in district in past for onion production but due to water crisis since last 4-5 years production has fallen drastically. 

The heat is unbearable as we step out from our AC cars to to have a closer look at the work being done.

A Longer-term Perspective to Drought Relief Work

RSS's Jankalyan Samiti is working on 5 drought relief work in Patharadi Tehsil of Ahmednanagr district, to help increase Water level/resources in the region. 

Everywhere we go, the villagers are excited to tell us their story. They’ve been waiting for us for hours despite the heat.  Work has been going on through the day and night to remove the silt clogging the natural drainage system, the river is being deepened and widened to collect more rain water. The longer term plan is to make these rivers perennial again with a series of check dams. For the moment, the plan is to collect enough rain water and let it seep into the ground to recharge the wells nearby. The expected seepage into the ground would be about 10 times the water collected overground, recharging the nearby well for a year round supply of water.

In Village-Mohajdewale (Population of 3100) e.g. the check dam being build will collect around 15 crore liters of water with about 10 times that amount seeping into the ground, recharging all the nearby wells for a year round supply of water.

The work goes beyond providing immediate relief with the objective to ensure long term water security, which in turn would make these villages self-reliant once again.

Economic Impact of Water

The water resource development work done by the Jankalyan Samiti has been transformational for these villages in Ahmadnagar district. A study conducted by the Praj foundation (which provides support for this work) for similar projects elsewhere, showed an 8 fold growth in farmers income within a year from a sharp growth in agricultural produce and life stock population. 

The study also showed a doubling of the area under irrigation, multiplying the number of farmers benefiting from it by as much as 3 times in some villages.

The sarpanch of the village we’re visiting tells me that if they have water, there is little else that the farmers need.  

The program is run with a contribution of at least 25% of the cost from the farmers themselves. Wider participation is expected as stories of the benefits spread. The idea is to teach them responsibility & self-reliance and move them away from dependency on political masters. It’s a new kind of cooperative movement with only a situational coming together for collective long term benefit. No rigid and permanent structures. 
Each project covers approximately 250 acres or more, deep into the hinter land, rejuvenating the natural drainage systems and traditional water resources.  It’d be difficult for any canal system to reach here. The initiative ensures water security without the need for big projects that cause ecological damage & people displacement.

Similar work is going on all around, on hundreds of such projects lead by Art of Living foundation, Maharashtra Government’s Jalyukta Shivar, & through the Central Government’s MNREGA program. The rains will not just bring immediate relief but also start their journey towards more self-sufficient and prosperous villages.

Impact on Politics

Agriculture now accounts for less than 14% of India’s GDP,  but still is a source of livelihood for about 50% of our people, with water as the core need. 

Most of India’s land and rivers are rain fed. Especially so in peninsular India. Rains are uneven & erratic across time and geographies (as most natural systems are). Water management is an absolute necessity. But age old traditions of water conservation have been forgotten with detrimental consequences.

In the light of this, the water resource development work being done by voluntary groups and under government programs is commendable and much needed.

Investment in water resources and farm sector has already given great benefit to Madhya Pradesh with an agricultural growth averaging over 20% over multiple years 

Water resource development, taken together with other initiatives by the government, like Water efficient irrigation systems, Soil Health Card, Organic Farming, Farm Insurance, Rural Roads, Rural Electrification, DTS, etc., can bring about a great transformation in our village economy. It would spur the growth of the agricultural economy, kicking-up the overall economic growth. It would revive the local economies, making the overall economy more complex and therefore more resilient. The second order of growth would come from food derived products, creating millions of new jobs.

Multiplication of the farm and village income should bring about a qualitative shift in village life. It should hold back people wanting to escape the miseries of village life. 
It should free people from the dependence on dole. And with that will come a deep impact on the direction and quality of politics. 

How then will the politics of reservations, doles, favours and inter-state river water disputes, village versus city - play out then?