Towards water sustainability: Incorporating principles of circulation economy in JalYukt Shivar

Water, an indispensable source of life; now is struggling for its own life. India has about only 4% of world’s fresh water resources to cater to the needs of 1.37 billion people. To meet the rising demands of such huge population, supply needs to be increased but unfortunately declining levels of utilisable fresh water is worsening the water crisis in India. The average annual per capita water availability in the year 2001 was 1820 m3 which fell to 1545 m3 in 2011 and it might further reduce to 1341 m3 and 1140 m3 in the years 2025 and 2050 respectively, compared to international standard of 1700 m3. If it declines below 1000 m3 then India would face acute water scarcity.

600 million people in India are facing water shortages and over  21% of the country’s epidemics are water-related. With increasing population, more than 20 cities in India will use up their entire aquifers and run them dry within the next two years. In rural areas, extensive extraction of groundwater for irrigation purposes has led to drop of 61% in  groundwater levels from 2007-2017. There is no doubt that the crisis needs to be handled before it’s too late.

One way this can be done is by using the principles of circulation economy in water management practices. A circulation economy ensures optimum utilization of resources through closing loopholes which limit the use of the resource. Principles of circulation economy in water management are based on three themes viz., reducing the wastage, inefficiencies and leakages in water use, recycling used and contaminated water and reusing the recycled water resources. Incorporating these principles in water management would help in saving more than 376 BCM of water just in Northern India every year.

Socio-economic conditions of India’s agrarian economy have been affected by water shortages. Heavy dependence on monsoons, inefficient water management practices, depletion of groundwater levels and recurring droughts have resulted in falling production in the agriculture sector, triggering farmers’ distress and suicides. Maharashtra leads with the highest proportion (nearly 27%) of farmers’ suicides in the country. 83% of the state’s cropped area is dry-land and monsoon-dependent. 40% of the state is drought-prone and 12% of the states’ population lives in drought-prone areas. To curtail farmers suicides and make Maharashtra drought-free, the Government of Maharashtra (GoM) launched the ‘JalYukt Shivar’ scheme in December 2014, with the objective of freeing 5000 villages of water scarcity every year, through rainwater harvesting and enhancing groundwater levels.

Under this scheme are 49 sub-schemes, which, between 2015 and 2017-18 have led to the creation of a water storage capacity of 0.67 BCM or 24 TMC and brought 34 lakh hectares under irrigation across 16,521 villages. 100% work has been completed in 11,712 villages and 80% in 1,421 villages out of 16,521 villages in 34 districts of the state.

On one hand, the official data released by GoM and work of Paani Foundation of reaching 5462 villages from 40 districts shows that the project has been successful in reducing water shortages in Maharashtra. On the other hand, there are studies which show that the project is unsustainable due to unscientific implementation, undue reliance on machinery, lack of transparency and public participation, and inappropriate selection of geographical locations.

In order to make this scheme sustainable, there is a dire need of incorporating principles of circulation economy in the basic structure of the scheme. Through the principles of reducing the wastage, recycling and reusing water resources GoM’s JalYukt Shivar scheme can be an example of sustainable water management practices.

Reduce the wastage- With increasing supply of water, it is also necessary to reduce the wastage or loss of water. It can be done through two ways; prevent flow run off through watershed management and ensure optimum utilization of water. Hiware Bazar, a village from Maharashtra is an apt example of reducing the water loss and attaining maximum benefits from watershed management. Drip irrigation can be another way to reduce the wastage of water. It not only helps in saving water and ensures timely supply, but also improves agricultural productivity.

Recycle the resource- To ensure the quality of supplied water, measures should be taken to control water pollution. In India, 70% of surface water resources and many of its groundwater reserves are contaminated by biological, toxic, organic and inorganic pollutants. Maharashtra ranks first across states in terms of consumption of pesticides i.e. 13496 MT in the year 2016-17. Groundwater pollution due to excessive use of nitrogenous fertilizers in agriculture is reported in Maharashtra above the permissible levels (10 mg NO3-N/L of water as safe limit in drinking waters). Maharashtra’s average use of chemical fertilizer in 2014-15 92.07 kg/ha and it contributes to 5.19% of India’s chemical fertilizer consumption. This excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is leading to increasing amount of water pollution and deteriorating the quality of water in Maharashtra. Therefore, measures should be undertaken to recycle the water polluted under JalYukt Shivar.

Reuse the resource- Further, to complete the circle and extract maximum value, water should be reused. Maharashtra has adopted a policy to reuse treated wastewater to cool thermal power plants, serve industrial estates, and other non-potable purposes; but this is applicable only at urban and semi-urban levels. The policy should be extended to rural areas where recycled and treated water can be released in canals and reused for irrigation purposes.

Incorporating these principles will help in reducing both waste and costs, tackling scarcity and paving the way for optimal utilisation of water resources.

JalYukt Shivar is a promising and inspiring initiative by Government of Maharashtra for building infrastructure and developing water resources. It also has the potential to develop water sector economies such as fisheries, tourism and inland waterways for trade, to name a few, which it can achieve by ensuring minimum flow of water in the rivers throughout the year. The principles of circulation economy, i.e. reducing wastage, treating and recycling wastewater, and reusing the treated water, are ideal for achieving all-round success of JalYukt Shivar, as well as developing a water/river-based economy for the sustainable and balanced economic growth of Maharashtra.

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