The capitalist system and the Indian state are responsible for this
Severe drought conditions have been reported from states of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan as well as other states. In India, rainfed agriculture occupies roughly 67 percent net sown area, contributing about 44 percent of food grains and supporting almost 40 percent of the population. The irregularities of the monsoon have a big impact on our people.
People are reported to have migrated wholesale from hundreds of villages, abandoning their homes and cattle, in search of water. With 80% of districts in Karnataka and 72% in Maharashtra hit by drought and crop failure, the nearly 8 million farmers in these two states are struggling to survive. Crops have withered and died, livestock are starving and with no water to drink. There are many heartrending reports about the plight of the people in different regions, and the callous response of governments. (See Box 1: Case of Maharashtra)
The sowing of paddy, for which June rain is crucial, has been delayed by nearly a month. Decrease in sowing area has been reported for almost all major crops, including maize, soya, cotton, sweet lime, pulses and groundnuts. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, there was a shortfall of 71% in sowing area for pulses, 46% for oilseeds, 34% for rice and 27% for coarse cereals as compared to the average of the past four years till July 5, 2019. The shortfall for sowing of pulses was most severe in the major pulse producing states of Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.
Drought conditions and scarcity of water for irrigation are not new problems in our country. They have been recurrent phenomena, each time bringing untold misery to the farmers and many other sections of our people.
The increasingly frequent and recurrent drought conditions in various parts of the country are a stark pointer to the criminal neglect of our water resources, by the Indian state.
India is endowed with bountiful water resources apart from the monsoons. These include perennial rivers emanating from the snow-covered Himalayas, other rivers, aquifers, our rich and varied traditional water management systems, etc. For centuries, before the British colonialists established their rule, it was considered the duty of rulers in our country to ensure irrigation and drinking water for the people. The rulers in different parts of the country realized the importance of maintaining, nurturing and developing our water resources and the water storage and supply systems in the villages and towns. This can be seen in the widespread system of canals, tanks, wells and ground water conservation systems existing from ancient times, still to be seen in many parts of the country. These have all been important water resources for our people, in the event of failure of monsoons. Forests also play a very important role in preserving and replenishing ground water.
However, today most of these water resources have been completely destroyed. Ground water levels have dropped to dangerously low levels. There are several factors responsible for this.
With increasing penetration of capitalism in agriculture, farmers have been forced to grow more and more water intensive crops, in order to safeguard their livelihood. Such crops require large quantities of water and would have traditionally been considered unsuitable for the given agro-climatic conditions. Traditional crops have been replaced with sugar-cane, cotton (Maharashtra), wheat and rice (Haryana and Punjab). This has led to increasing use of tube wells, causing the ground water to get rapidly depleted.
Massive industrial and construction projects have been allowed to spring up in a most anarchic manner, to fulfill the demands of the Indian and foreign capitalists to make huge profits, with utter disregard to the water needs of the people. These projects have been allowed to indiscriminately draw out the ground water, leading to its severe depletion. Industrial and construction waste has polluted the existing water bodies. Large-scale deforestation, in order to build these projects, has aggravated the problem of falling ground water tables.
Contributing to the rapid depletion of the ground water are the numerous private water supply companies, which have dug very deep bore wells and have been drawing huge amounts of water. This water is then sold for a price.
The falling ground water levels are affecting water supply in big cities as well. (See box 2. Rapidly falling ground water levels) Many cities are facing acute water shortage. In Beed in Maharashtra, clean drinking water has run out and households do not have enough water to wash clothes, clean vessels or flush their toilets. Private water tankers charge more than Rs. 200 for 1000 litres of water.
Today, cities such as Chennai are facing acute water shortage, with people having to line up at public taps for several hours each day to get just a couple of buckets of water. In and around Chennai, people are forced to buy water for Rs 4,000 a month. This does not include drinking water. The state administration has completely abdicated its responsibility of providing clean drinking water and adequate water supply to the people.
Just a little over three years ago, Chennai and some other towns of Tamilnadu faced unprecedented floods. . Now Chennai city and surrounding areas are facing severe water scarcity. Both have their causes in the destruction of the natural environment. In and around Chennai, the huge housing and industrial projects were deliberately built in what were earlier lake and river beds. Rain water which would have otherwise flowed into lakes, or into the earth, recharging ground water, now causes floods. The wells and tanks are empty and ground water levels have completely depleted. People who in earlier times extracted some ground water from their wells and through their pumps are completely without water. On the other hand, the big capitalists have sunk deep bore wells in and around the city to extract water for their projects.
The experience of Chennai shows the utter callousness of the Indian state, which claims to have achieved much scientific and technological development, but is utterly incapable of storing and harvesting water in times of excess rainfall, and recharging the ground water, to be used in times of drought and scarcity.
All over the country, traditional water resources have been destroyed due to utter neglect by the state. As a consequence, in most places the wells, canals and tanks have run dry. (see box 3: traditional water resources destroyed due to utter neglect by the state). Over the years, various dams, big and small, have been built over the major rivers as well as smaller rivers. Today the water level in these dams is very low. The rivers and lakes of our country are being destroyed by the authorities, who have deliberately allowed big capitalists to pollute them with industrial waste as well as carry out construction on their banks.
River inter-linking projects that have received much publicity in the media, have been conceived with total disregard to the need for preserving the ground water. For example, the Ken-Betwa river interlinking project, a top-priority project of the government, involves cutting down 46 lakh trees in drought-prone Bundelkhand, to export water to other areas. These 46 lakh trees would have the potential of conserving a massive amount of ground water.
The Indian state, which boasts of rapid strides in development, cannot even provide clean drinking water to people or piped water supply to every household. According to the fourth National Family and Health Survey conducted in 2015-16, potable water is still a luxury for most Indians. Only 30% of the country’s population had drinking water piped into their dwellings. Even where piped water is available, it is usually not considered safe for drinking. Consequently, private companies manufacturing water purifiers make huge profits through the sale of the water purification systems, which also waste a lot of water
In the name of fulfilling this unfulfilled dream of piped water for the majority of our people, one of the first acts of the Modi government after it has returned to power has been to announce the launching of the Nal se Jal program. While this project involves establishing a network of pipes across the country, with the promise of providing piped water supply to every home, several scientists and engineers have pointed out that with water reservoirs getting depleted at such a rapid rate, this kind of project is a mere pipe-dream. “What is the use of constructing pipes when there is no water to be supplied through them?” is the question they are raising.
The bitter experience of Mission Bhagiratha in Telengana which promised to supply piped water to villagers shows that in the present system, such projects actually have other aims than the stated aim of providing drinking water to the villagers. They serve as a way for the capitalists, officials, and ministers who are involved in implementing these projects, to enrich themselves by looting the state exchequer. (See Box 4 — Mission Bhagiratha)
While piped water remains a dream for most of our people, a water mafia, closely connected with the state governments and officials, is flourishing. (See box 5 — Water mafia)
All this shows that the recurrent drought and water scarcity conditions in India today are entirely a result of the criminal neglect and destruction of our natural water resources by the Indian state.
The rapacious greed of the Indian and foreign biggest monopoly capitalists, as well as the policies and practice of the state which is committed to serving their interests, have led to the utter destruction of our water resources. They have led to unchecked exploitation of ground water, dumping of industrial wastes in rivers and water bodies and rapid deforestation on a massive scale. This is what is ultimately responsible for the all-sided water crisis all over the country.
The Indian state is brutally indifferent to the terrible plight of the people in the villages and cities, facing the crisis of water shortage. It does not accept and fulfill its responsibility of providing clean drinking water to all the people, adequate water supply to the cities and villages and enough water for agriculture in the rural areas. As in all such crises, people have been left to fend for themselves. Drought and water scarcity are occasions when various capitalists and agencies of the state make windfall profits out of the misery and desperation of the people. Water is made available to those who can afford to buy it, by exploiting the ground water and natural water resources. The masses who cannot afford to buy water at a high cost are left to perish.
It is possible to ensure that everyone in the cities and villages has access to adequate supply of clean drinking water as well as water for other needs. It is possible to ensure that farmers have access to assured irrigation for their crops. It is possible to ensure the water requirements of industry, without sacrificing these. What this requires is that the orientation of the economy is changed from its present one of fulfilling capitalist greed into fulfilling the needs of the whole of society. Putting an end to the capitalist system and bringing the means of production, including water resources and all other natural resources, into the hands of the working class, peasantry and all the working people – this is the only way to end the recurrent cycle of drought and water scarcity. For this, the working class has to take political power in its hands, in alliance with the peasantry and all the exploited and oppressed. With political power in its hands, the working class will prevent the unbridled exploitation of our water resources for private capitalist profit. Only then can we ensure conservation of water and management of water resources, as well as agricultural practices that help to conserve the ground water and soil fertility, so that such drought and water shortage can be prevented even in the event of failure of monsoons. n
Case of Maharashtra
While Mumbai reels under floods, vast regions of Maharashtra are suffering from acute water shortage. Marathwada is one of the regions most affected by increasingly frequent droughts that have led to more than 4,700 farmer suicides in the last five years, including 947 last year. The situation in this region is reported to be critical. Eight districts in this region are facing two consecutive years of drought. These districts had also faced drought for two consecutive years in 2014 and 2015.
In November 2018, the Maharashtra government declared 25 districts in the state comprising 20,000 villages as drought hit. There is no water left in 35 major dams. In 1,000 smaller dams, water levels are below 8%. The rivers that feed the dams have been transformed into barren, cracked earth. The water dredged from the exhausted dams and lakes is filthy and not fit for drinking. Lack of clean drinking water has led to a sharp rise in diarrhea, gastroenteritis and other water borne diseases.
The only source of water of the people of these villages is by tankers. People have to wait endlessly, day and night, for tankers to come so they can get a few buckets of water.
Rapidly falling ground water levels
According to a 2018 Niti Aayog report, groundwater, the source of 40% of India’s water needs, is depleting at a rapid rate. Twenty-one Indian cities – including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad – are expected to run out of groundwater by 2020, and 40% of India’s population will have no access to drinking water by 2030, the report said.
Water conservation scientists have pointed out that India is presently the largest extractor of ground water in the world. But with ground water levels plummeting, there are apprehensions that large regions of the country could turn into deserts.
Yet, the government’s Central Water Commission does not even acknowledge this destruction of ground water, the country’s water lifeline.
Traditional water resources destroyed due to utter neglect by the state
In Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur districts, adjacent to Chennai, the Central Ground Water Board under the Ministry of Water Resources has identified more than 3000 tanks. These districts are traditionally known for their extensive tank system for water conservation. However, many of these tanks have now been turned into dump yards for municipal waste. Many have been turned into construction sites. Others have not been properly maintained. Successive governments and the state administration have criminally neglected these water resources and destroyed them.
PM Modi inaugurated Telangana’s Rs 53,000 crore Mission Bhagiratha initiative to provide piped water to the 23,000 villages of the state in August 2016. The people of the state were promised water supply from 26 reservoirs linked to the Krishna and Godavari rivers, to be delivered in 2 years. Today, 3 years later, the distribution network has been laid in only about 50% of the state, water supply being still a far cry. Villagers in areas which are receiving water from Mission Bhagiratha have complained that the water is polluted and undrinkable.
This is the project that the PM has promised to replicate all over the country!
A mainstream TV channel carried out an exposure of water tankers commissioned by the Maharashtra government, to supply water to drought hit Marathwada villages, which were being diverted for Rs. 2000 a day, to give water to various big capitalists.
Over the years, the water tanker mafia has grown exponentially, with the patronage of various political leaders and state officials. The water mafia loves droughts because they can flourish in such crises. In the Bundelkhand region straddling UP and MP, influential local politicians are known to regularly outsource water delivery to agents, who inflate the price of the water they supply to the parched regions. The water mafia has been give a free hand to dig deep bore wells and extract massive amounts of water in water-rich areas, rendering those areas dry in a few years.