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Saturday May 27 2000
Updated 0401 hrs IST 1731 EST
Think local


THE YEAR India has its 13th consecutive good monsoon, large parts of the country experience a drought. Yes, the drought was not severe enough to lead to famine and deaths from starvation. But the water shortage wiped out entire populations of livestock and poultry, representing a huge loss of savings, cut into the health and survival chances of an already poor population and caused plenty of distress.
The summer of 2000 therefore has a very important message for India’s policymakers, who tend to turn over and go to sleep in relief when they hear news of good monsoons. One, monsoon data is highly aggregated and the average hides enormous fluctuations in rainfall in different parts of India. Two, even where it rains, people have lost the skills and technology to collect rainwater and store it for future consumption. The government has to take the blame, because its policies of centralised hydraulic planning have robbed communities of this initiative.
Three, India’s irrigation system, which could be an effective insurance against poor rainfall, is in a shambles. Again the government is to blame: state-run projects which do not involve people in operations and maintenance are likely to fail. What’s more, governments’ reluctance to price farm water was bound to lead to the abuse of the irrigation system. Finally, the government has to take the Oscar for maladministration when it comes to water resources. Today, five ministries and departments deal with water-related issues in New Delhi. Each state has different administrations to handle water. This is administrative logjam of a stupendous degree. To clear it, even at the Central level, the government should scrap all the departments dealing with irrigation related issues, and set up dedicated funds for allocations. Thereafter, funds should go straight to local bodies for operations and maintenance. Drinking water can be funded the same way. Yes, some large projects are necessary, but a lot of wastage could be cut and water availability and use made more efficient by thinking local.
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