The agricultural sector’s contribution to the inclusive growth of the Indian economy is unique and encompassing. It is the largest unregulated sector feeding 1.3 billion population. This poses a major challenge to food security to meet the skyrocketing demand. The pioneering work in the latter part of the 1960s had helped to achieve a breakthrough in the agriculture sector, popularly known as the Green Revolution; with its prime focus on the agricultural inputs to improve the yield levels. Of all the inputs, water and energy hit the top of the priority list due to its scarcity and unreliability in supply.
India’s irrigated area has expanded at a steady rate during the last few decades. But incidentally, groundwater in India took the front seat pushing all the other players behind due to the intensive installation of tube wells since the 1970s. Although groundwater development brought considerable economic growth and diversification in rural areas, the consequences of negative groundwater draft due to overuse posed a greater concern for socio-economic equity threatening rural livelihood. Yet another dimension adding to the problem of groundwater development has been the highly skewed access to electricity and inefficient pumps. This has resulted in wastage of up to half of the country’s freshwater and energy.
Most of the inefficiencies have their roots in the mispricing of electricity. This is very much evident from the historical moves in the mid-1970s and 1980s, as many state governments had shifted away from the metering of electricity sales to agricultural consumers and introduced giving power in flats rates in the beginning and eventually ended with free power, primarily to seize a powerful vote-bank. Thus leads to energy and water wastage, over-pumping and inefficient selection of crops. This resulted in a chain reaction and vicious cycle of events that have ended in illegal connections; thefts and more importantly steady deterioration of electricity infrastructure. This neglect gave rise to mounting debts in farming communities leading to suicides.
Mitigating the Crisis
After having acquainted with the problems related to the two important inputs used in agriculture, it is pertinent to cull out solutions from various sources and methods. Management of groundwater resources in the Indian context is an extremely complex proposition as it deals with the nexus between human societies’ livelihood and the physical environment. Today’s competing demands on water and energy urge for rational management in an integrated and holistic fashion. India needs a radical shift from water resources development to water resources management by restructuring and strengthening its institutions for better service delivery and resource sustainability.
Scientists are of the view that Indian agriculture has about 36 percent of energy-saving potential. By a mere technological augmentation and innovation can put many systems in place. These innovations can be termed as Demand Side Measures (DSM) involving the judicious application of few simple strategies namely delayed crop transplantation, sprinkler irrigation, drip irrigation, conjunctive development and use of surface and groundwater, efficient pumps, etc. these simple are very easy to administer and monitor. DSM is a beneficial manipulation in the use of resources for achieving desirable demands by deploying simple techniques for conservation. The purpose of DSM is not only the reallocation of water and energy from irrigation; but, also set a long term objective to gain efficiency and productivity in Indian agriculture.
But for an impulsive success of DSM, it is required to be complemented with an efficient pricing strategy to achieve the financial and efficiency goals in the agricultural sector. It has to be noted that here pricing of energy has to be done simultaneously for better results. If water is made available free of cost, then the utilities do not recover for its services, which subsequently affect the quality of its services and finally, the burden will be on the poor farmers. Herewith some of the changes in the water sector by strict enforcement by regulations as well as the proper governing mechanism locally enforced and managed can create wonders.
While addressing the issue of cost recovery one must not forget the plight of the farmer. There is a sound inter-linkage between the prices that the farmers gain on the goods and pricing on energy and water. The right price for the produce would certainly induce the farmers to pay for the inputs used and an incentive to conserve water and energy. Therefore, it is up to the governments, in co-operation with major stakeholders, to choose the proper mechanism to provide the funds necessary for sustaining the system and meeting the needs of the poor by various methods like targeted subsidy and by providing minimum support price to the produce. This is two-way circular criteria; if this system is efficiently implemented then most of our problems can be effectively solved.
The management of water is not just building a physical edifice; but, it is about building the relationship of society with its resources. This resource has to be used most considerably. As Gandhiji puts it, God has provided for everyone’s basic needs and not for his/her greed. One can understand that the present impending crisis is man-made and born out of the seed, called greed. The triangular issue of economic imbalance- unlimited wants, limited means and maximizing the satisfaction- can be solved only if the ceiling on desires is adhered to. Gandhiji’s principle of Trusteeship works here as a handy tool. To be precise, one has to look beyond the materialistic gains in solving problems of this kind. In other words, each human being is expected to behave responsibly with a self-commitment to be a trustee of other fellow beings and the natural resources bestowed with. This approach will certainly put an end to the present-day crisis of water, energy and food production and lead the people and economy to sustainable development.