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Saturday May 27 2000
Updated 0401 hrs IST 1731 EST
`The main problem is coordination’

AFTER the drought in India, the water resources ministry is trying to put in place mechanisms that will solve the problem of water shortages. Union water resources minister C P Thakur spoke to Shubham Mukherjee on his priorities.
What are the steps the government is taking to tackle drought?
We have analysed the situation prevailing in the various drought prone areas of the country. While steps taken in certain areas in the past have been held up due to lack of resources, some have not progressed due to lack of effective monitoring. There are about Rs 80,000 crore worth of water projects in various stages of completion, held up for lack of funds and on account of legal problems.
We shall go the Planning Commission with a plea to release an additional Rs 2,000 crore to take these projects into their final shape. The ministry is also emboldened by the President’s recent address to the nation, saying that the government would try to complete pending projects fast.
The drought in Bundelkhand in UP and Rajasthan can be taken care of when the Rajghat Pariyojna is completed, where work has been held up for a paltry Rs 25 crore. Kalahandi in Orissa faces drought every year, but has sufficient ground water which can be recharged.

What about the Sardar Sarovar Project?
In Gujarat, we have to expedite the Sardar Sarovar Project, which would bring water to a large part of the population in the state. We hope to place a rehabilitation plan before the Supreme Court by July, which has held up work on the project.
Rajasthan’s problems can be solved by extending the Indira Gandhi Canal. The project would cost about Rs 500 crore and we plan to go to the Planning Commission for clearance. The benefits would come in the medium term: the project would take three to four years to complete. For western Rajasthan we plan to link the Yamuna and Sharda rivers to increase water supply in the region.

Are there plans and projects for other dry areas of India?
Besides Rajasthan, where we see a long term solution, the problems in other parts of India should be taken care of fast. These areas have also been getting grants from various non-government bodies since the drought became a full blown problem.
We have also reactivated the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), which would look at water management through rain water harvesting and recharge. A Rs 45 crore plan has been earmarked for rain water harvesting and recharge in the ninth plan. The ministry has already sanctioned a Rs 25 crore scheme for the programme for CGWB by involving states and user agencies in far flung rural and difficult areas.
The central ground water authority is also issuing directives to the states and municipal bodies to undertake facilities for roof-top-rain-water harvesting and its recharge to ground water mandatory for every dwelling unit by amending city bye-laws. A web site has also been set up on the different aspects of rain water harvesting.

Why did the ministry take so much time to react to the problem even though the signs of drought have been visible for a while?
We have followed the situation since the beginning of the year through satellite imaging and apprised other arms of the government during mid-February. The problems lie in coordination between government departments, which are responsible for various elements of the problem. While drinking water in rural areas is handled by the rural development ministry, the drinking water of urban areas are handled by the urban development ministry. The agriculture department also plays an active role during a drought.

What are your priorities now for the ministry?
Making drinking water available, tackling floods and erosion in various parts of the country, linking rivers, command area development, giving accelerated irrigation benefit programmes, a holistic solution for drought and completion and effective monitoring of the ongoing projects are the ministry’s immediate priorities.
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