Will Raje's ambitious self-reliance water scheme succeed?

Will Raje's ambitious self-reliance water scheme succeed?

Dateline

The BJP government in Rajasthan is determined to make the desert state self reliant in water. Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje in January 2016 launched the Mukhyamantri Jal Swavlamban Yojna (MJSA) to promote the use of rainwater accumulated through traditional methods.

This rural centric self-reliance water scheme  will take three years to complete around the same time when the BJP government will complete its five year in Rajasthan. If the programme succeeds, it is quite possible that Raje may project it as a major pro-people scheme of her government in the 2019 Assembly elections.

While Raje has pulled all plugs to make this scheme a hit, political analysts find it
a counter to the previous Congress government's popular free medicine scheme. But considering it to be restricted to rural populace, they doubt its popularity in
comparison to the free medicine scheme model which was praised and adopted
by other states as well.

The MJSA aims to strengthen the existing traditional ways of conserving water because communities of this desert state have developed and nurtured a very indigenous tradition of water conservation, which, though weakened with time, has not been entirely swept away by modern techniques.

Headed by Sriram Vedire, Chairperson, Rajasthan River Basin and Water Resources Planning Authority, the MJSA, in the first phase, has selected 3529 villages (full and partial) of 295 Gram Panchayats and almost 90% work is done as the deadline for first phase is on June 30. Works proposed under major departments include: watershed-57,722, rural development and panchayati Raj – 19,614, agriculture and horticulture – 13,652, forest – 6,766 etc. The idea is to conserve water of all forms – rainfall, runoff, ground water and soil moisture.

Surprisingly, this is for the first time in Rajasthan that water conservation structures  like bunds, mini percolation tanks, contour trenches and anicuts are built on watershed systems based on a scientific analysis of the natural flow of water.  Rainwater thus flows slowly into the ground.

The scope attached with this ambitious pilot project can be inferred by the fact that Vedire who holds the rank of a minister of state, reports directly to Raje. He says that this largest state of the country has an estimated 30% wasteland, is the driest and most water scarce state (having per capita water availability below 1000 m3/year) since 1991.
According to the Irrigation Department in Rajasthan, the number of blocks facing water crisis has gone up seven times. Presently, extraction of water from the soil in the state is 150% more than what is poured back every year. Statistics become alarming as it suggests that the state has only 1.1% surface water and 91% of the demand is being met through groundwater. The worst marked districts which are seeing decreasing underground water and have high rate of saline water are Sikar, Alwar Nagaur, Karauli, Ajmer and Jaipur.

Taking this scheme more like a social responsibility and free of corruption, the department has kept a tab on the ongoing work. Also, the details of the donors are being displayed at the Gram Panchayat and Panchayat Samitis. More than 15,000 photographs showing the progress of 3,075 works have been uploaded on the MJSA website. Ramnath, an 88 year old farmer of village Sriramnagar near Jaipur says, "the people of all castes unite to conserve water unlike other events."

Community participation

With community participation, it has gathered voluntary labour support in most of the districts from all social, religious and other groups. Philanthropists have donated money and citations have been awarded to donors and the people’s contribution counts at over Rs 45 crore. Volunteers can be seen cleaning the ancient step wells and digging the village ponds. The target is to recharge their wells, lakes, ponds, step wells and dams and make 20,000 villages out of 44,000 in the state water sufficient in next three years.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his recent radio talk ‘Mann ki Baat’ appealed for a mass movement to save forests and conserve “every drop” of water during the upcoming monsoon season. He said a number of states have taken some good initiatives towards water conservation and others should follow this mass movement to save water.

The Rajasthan government plans to plant 25 lakh saplings between July 1 and August 15 that add up to a total of one crore saplings to be planted in 2016. Rajasthan has dozens of traditional water harvesting systems and none is obsolete, namely paar system, talab/bandhis, sajha kuan, johad, pat, naada/bandha, baoris/bers and jhalaras.

Water experts like Anupam Mishra and Rajendra Singh, recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay award and famously called Water Man of India, find this scheme of government hardly innovative and term it as “sleepy administration waking up after decades.”

Citing an example how the Gopalpura village  turned lush green after villagers built 375 johads (a crescent shaped rainwater storage tank to collect and store water throughout the year), the river started flowing after decades of being dry. Mentioning Jodhpur city which has 200 step wells, they stress that these should have been restored instead of keeping them as archaic structures deleted from modern town planning.

Since the chief minister is looking for the grants and contribution from people, she has now asked all MLAs to contribute 25% of their MLA fund for MJSA. Interestingly, MLAs other than the BJP are raising their eyebrows that if they spend so much on it, what will be left for other developments. The Opposition is also considering it as a money making move because through PPP model, many private companies have already been involved in the cleaning of many rivers and streams in the state.

Despite the political acumen of 'Madam' (as Raje is often addressed), even if all the political, economical and logical hurdles are overcome, the success of her most ambitious project still depends almost entirely on a rather ethereal aspect – the monsoon! 

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