Under relentless pressure to reform water policies and institutions to move towards Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), the Central as well as the State governments are making new water laws. But implementing these is proving to be their Achilles heel. New water authorities are created, but are unable to exercise their authority. River basin organizations are hotly debated, but getting users' organizations to oversee and manage water infrastructure on a self sustaining basis is proving a challenge. Clearly there is a problem. What should policies for reforms in water management focus on, to respond to the country's here-and-now priorities?
These and other issues related to the water economy - especially in the Indian context - were discussed at the Fourth IWMI-Tata Annual Partners' Meet in February 2005 at Anand, Gujarat. The IWMI-Tata Water Policy Programme (ITP) was launched in 2000 jointly by International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Colombo and Sir Ratan Tata Trust, Mumbai with additional support from Swiss Development Co-operation (SDC), to promote practical, policy oriented research in water resource management through a coalition of partner institutions. Over a four year period, ITP has produced over 200 pieces of field research working with nearly 80 partners. Says Tushaar Shah, head of ITP, "the main objective of ITP is to promote research for action-oriented programmes so that people who run them can use [the research]. At each annual meet, we set out research agenda for the next year."
Under the theme 'India's Water Economy - Bracing for a Turbulent Future' at this meet, over 90 papers were presented in 12 sessions, as well as a special session on System of Rice Intensification. Developed first in Madagaskar, the System of Rice Intensification claims that it reduces water use in rice cultivation by 25-50 per cent and raises rice yields by 25-100 per cent but according to some scientists 3-4 fold too. ITP partner PRADAN got hundreds of poor farmers in Purulia, West Bengal to experiment with SRI with encouraging results for two successive years. If these claims are true, then SRI can act as a broad spectrum medicine against many ills that bewitch Indian agriculture, including poverty, low productivity and water scarcity. Norman Uphoff SRI's best-known protagonist led the discussion on this magic potion called SRI with several Indian scientists sharing their research results and experiences with SRI.
Water fights everywhere
SRI: Less seed, more harvest
List of research papers.
Rain-warer harvesting - how effective?
Community-based rainwater harvesting and ground water recharge have assumed the character of a mass-movement in many parts of western India. However, good empirical analyses of their impact are hard to come by, and very little is known about the impacts of these activities on local hydrological regimes or on basin water productivity. At the session on "Decentralised Water Harvesting and Groundwater Recharge Blending Hydrologic and Social Perspectives", early results of ITP's slew of new, systematic impact studies that are in progress at four locations in India were presented, focusing on assessing trade offs between harvesting water at the community level and maximizing its efficiency at the basin level.
Water woes of the Himalayas
Despite their wealth of physical and cultural resources, hills in general, and the Himalayan region in particular, remain woefully underdeveloped and understudied. ITP therefore placed special emphasis through a session "Exploring Water Issues in the Himalayan Studies from Kashmir, Uttaranchal and North-East" to pool together knowledge and experiences of people like F A Shaheen (J & K), Sanjoy Hazarika (North East) and Ravi Chopra (Uttaranchal) working on social, economic, cultural and political aspects of water management. Studies were presented on the Bramhaputra, which traverses a course between Tibet and the Bay of Bengal through some of the richest cultural and biological landscapes of India. With 32 per cent of India's water resource potential and 41 per cent of its total hydropower potential, the Brahmaputra river basin in North-East India is perceived as a key to the country's water future.
Water management issues in Jammu and Kashmir, which once was a lively hydraulic society with elaborate irrigation systems now lying in a decrepit conditions, with militancy and war too taking its toll on water infrastructure, are very critical. Irony is that the state itself is well endowed with water resources and has some of the largest freshwater lakes, as also large areas under snow-peaked mountains and glaciers. It is the origin of three mighty rivers - Chenab, Jhelum and Indus - and their tributaries which drive the agrarian economies of north-western India and Pakistan. But the state itself reels under growing water scarcity and ecological degradation, with depleting glaciers and erosion of its vast biological pool.
Only 16 per cent of the geographical area of Uttaranchal supports 75-80 per cent of its population - that live off agriculture. Yet the importance of protecting and maintaining existing cultivable land has somehow become obfuscated, resulting in a decline in cultivated and irrigated areas and productivity, denying local populations their sustenance. Participants in this session discussed questions such as "what is an appropriate irrigation policy", "what institutional, policy and legal frameworks will be needed", and "what can be the role of Panchayat Raj institutions", etc.
The power-water nexus
The nature and livelihood implications of groundwater markets as also political economy of power subsidy to agriculture and the viability of alternatives to metering, were discussed in the session on "Groundwater, Energy and Livelihood". In 2000, India's 81 million land-owning families had over 20 million tube wells and pump sets i.e. on average, every fourth landowning family has a pump set and a well, while a large proportion of non-owners depend on pump set owners for buying their irrigation water supplied through local fragmented groundwater markets. Water markets are most prolific in eastern India, and more than two thirds of the irrigators in Bihar, UP and West Bengal rely on purchased irrigation.
Besides, state electricity boards are in a bind over the country's energy-irrigation nexus. Experts have long averred that flat, subsidized electricity to agriculture is enemy number one for financial sustainability of India's electricity industry and environmental sustainability of its groundwater economy. So strident was experts' and donors' opposition to power subsidies that it seemed only a matter of time before tube wells were metered and farmers would begin to pay for electricity at a full-cost tariff. On the contrary, the last two years have witnessed further regress on this front. Instead of metering tube wells, newly elected state governments have announced free power, and in other states flat tariffs and subsidies have come to stay.
Culture fishery: prosperity but with a social divide
During recent decades, India has witnessed a veritable revolution in culture fishery in small and large common property tanks. This has powerful livelihood, food security and nutritional impacts in rural areas. It also has strengthened complementarities as well as competition between irrigation and fishery in inland water bodies. However, the massive socio-economic change this can bring about has been overlooked. The papers presented at the session "Understanding Culture Fisheries Revolution in India" dig into this phenomenon to explore if it yields generalizable lessons about institutional drivers of productivity growth and social equity & equitability.
Tanks everywhere but with different approaches
ITP researchers have been recording strange things happening to tanks and their relationships with their users. In eastern India millions of tanks dot the landscape, but their condition and socio-economic role have been neglected. Meanwhile, in Haryana, some farmers are converting otherwise productive fields into tanks for culture fisheries. In Gujarat where tanks were never known to be a major part of the irrigation process, tank-like structures have come up in the thousands over the past decade to recharge aquifers. In eastern Rajasthan, Rajendra Singh's johad movement has pitch-forked small tanks to the centre-stage of semi-arid livelihood systems. And in South India, users of irrigation tanks are converting them into percolation tanks by sealing their sluices.
Against this changing dynamic, large donor- and government-supported tank rehabilitation programmes are designed to restore decrepit tanks to their centuries-old role of flow-irrigating paddy fields. Examples from South India appear to offer better hope for a robust rehabilitation protocol.
Scaling up Watershed Development
The Common Minimum Programme of the Central government has placed renewed emphasis on the importance of watershed development for livelihoods generation as well as for regenerating the nation's land and water resources. The science for doing this is largely in place but the challenge is institutional. Thus there are small islands of excellence amidst an ocean of mediocrity in watershed development. In giving a new lease of life to the programme, institutional models of scaling up without losing quality and impact are needed. The session "Watershed Development: Strategies for Sustainable Scaling Up" was led by B N Yugandhar, pioneer of the Integrated Watershed Development Programme, and harnessed lessons generated by some of India's outstanding watershed management projects through presentation of field studies and macro assessments and experience sharing by architects of some of best known watershed projects in India.
Water in 2025-2050
India has hotly debated a US $120 billion mega river-linking project that will help make the country water-secure in 2050. Just what will India look like in 2050? How much water will it use, where and for what? In a three-year research programme beginning 2005, IWMI aims to promote a balanced, analytical national discourse on India's water future in 2050 and approaches to shaping it, including through the proposed mega project. As a precursor, ITP presented a clutch of studies towards a refined, textured and nuanced understanding of India's water challenges in the session "India's Water Future 2025/2050".
Which water counts?
For decades, MP, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra - the four reparian states sharing the Narmada basin - have engaged in a legal battle for the sharing of the basin's water. Since the Narmada Tribunal's 1979 award allocating the basin's surface water to the four feuding states, numerous changes throughout the basin, such as increases in the area cropped, expansion of groundwater draft, and surface water diversions for irrigation - have raised awkward questions about the sanctity of the Tribunal's formula. Run-off production in catchment areas has declined; so have surface water flows downstream. In the session Which Water Counts? Hydrology, Water Use and Water Economy in Narmada River Basin, ITP studies assessed the challenge of managing the basin water economy by analyzing the productivity of water use in agriculture, water use hydrology, and water accounts.
Drinking water supply - Urban vs. Rural
Economic growth has increased pressures towards urbanization and created tensions between towns and hinterland areas for various natural resources. Water is often at the centre of the emerging town-hinterland conflicts. Planned investment in water infrastructure is often the best way of diffusing these tensions. Water supply systems - rural and urban - in many parts of India are falling apart. What are the reasons? And what is the way out? In the session Issues in improving Water Supply: Rural, Peri-Urban and Urban, studies on a broad range of water supply issues from Gujarat, Karnataka and elsewhere were presented.
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