House panel suggests prepaid cards for power to save groundwater

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Source: The post is based on the article “House panel suggests prepaid cards for power to save groundwater” published in The Hindu on 23rd March 2023

What is the News?

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources has tabled the report, titled “Groundwater: A Valuable but Diminishing Resource”.

What are the key observations made by the report?

About 14% of India’s 7,089 groundwater assessment units across states and Union Territories have been categorized as over-exploited, while another 4% fall in the critical category.

In about 11 states including Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat, the percentage share of groundwater extraction for irrigation ranged between 80% and 90%, with some states like Punjab extracting 97% of their groundwater for irrigation. 

The main reason for such over-exploitation of groundwater in agriculture was due to the cultivation of paddy and sugarcane crops which are heavily incentivised by way of highly subsidized water, power and fertilizers.

Challenges: Central Government Ministries have expressed an inability to persuade states to reduce/stop subsidies for power given in agriculture as 1) electricity is a concurrent subject and 2) State Electricity Regulatory Commissions(SERCs) determine the electricity tariff for the retail supply of electricity to end consumers under the extant provisions of Electricity Act, 2003.

What are the recommendations given by the report?

The use of electric pumps needs to be discouraged by introducing measures such as pre-paid cards for power supply and restricting power supply to a few hours a day.

There is a need for a shift in focus from ‘land productivity’ to ‘water productivity’ i.e. production per cubic meter of water should be a major criteria in decisions relating to crop production.

Manual monitoring of groundwater level four times a year and collecting water quality samples once a year to obtain background information of quality change regionally. 

Government should give the National Water Mission (NWM) the financial powers and autonomy needed to fulfil its objectives as it is still not well-equipped with adequate funds and autonomy.

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