Highlights of Jal Shakti Minister’s interview – we are late, but not too late!

The original transcript of this Interview with the Jal Shakti minister – Gajendra Singh Shekhawat – was published by Indian Express titled – Work should have begun 20 years ago. We’re late, but not too late: Jal Shakti Minister

The interview touches on many aspects which will are critical in understanding the multi-front battle that water crisis in India is/may-soon-become.

Highlights of the interview:

Key Focus Areas of Jal Shakti Ministry:

  • Providing Access to Drinking water
  • Source Sustainability – sources of water must be sustainable by point recharge mechanism or groundwater recharging
  • Treatment and re-use of discharged water

India has very high dependence on underground water

  • Annual precipitation: 4,000 BCM (Billion Cubic Meters) ,Usable annual precipitation: 1,198 BCM . (why this delta?)
  • No of Reservoirs: 5400 with total holding Capacity less than 300 BCM (whats the cost and time needed to add reservoirs? What challenges?)
  • Total replenishable water ( all the sources, incl underground sources): 400 BCM. (break-up of replenshiable water sources)
  • Hence, we can use only 600 BCM of water.
  • 65 per cent dependence on underground water.
  • Impact of population increase:
    • water availability per person per year (1950): 5,100 cubic metres
    • water availability per person per year (12019):1400 cubic metres
    • will go down to a 1,000 cubic metres in coming years
Gajendra Singh Shekawat
Source: Indian Express

Four Steps to tackle water scarcity

  1. Rain water harvesting
  2. Judicious use of water
  3. Re-use of water (across domestic and industrial setups)
  4. Afforestation

Workstreams underway at Jal Shakti ministry

  • Identify traditional water bodies in EACH district. The ministry has already written to the states and expects to close this within next 90 days (Nov’19). Bundelkhand case-study
  • Identified 250 districts that are water-stressed, over-exploited or critical (along lines of Gram Swaraj Abhiyan of 2017). Teams are on the ground till Sep and will prepare a plan including mobilizing citizen support. (how can Project Blue Planet help here)

Updates on Ganga Cleanup Project

  • Challenge: Most towns and villages along the river were pumping sewage into Ganga. Sewage treatment plants were old and non-functional.
  • First two years – studying Ganga river comprehensively
  • Last three years – capacity building (installing more sewage treatment plants). “What I can say with confidence is that, by this November, no homes in Uttarakhand will dump their raw sewage into the Ganga….. By December, Varanasi will have no drains releasing sewage into the Ganga”

Other interesting initiatives/observations

  • Black vs grey water – the water coming out of the homes is not of one but two different kinds. The black water coming from toilets needs significant treatment, whereas the grey water coming from kitchens can be made re-usable at probably 10% of the cost.
  • Hybrid annuity – PPP Model for Sewage Treatment plants. Already implemented in the Ganga basin states as the plants were operating at very low capacity.
  • 70% of Singapore drinks treated sewage water !
  • 90% of the water used in agriculture in India is fresh water, whereas in countries such as China and Brazil, the figure stands at 64 % and 60 % respectively.
  • No immediate plans to price water – state issue.“We can make drinking water a revenue source, but along with that if we also make treated sewage water into a revenue model, then everything will be okay”

Why Project Blue Planet

It all began in mid 2019, post the India General Assembly (Lok Sabha) election results.

The Modi govt 2.0 announced the formation of a new ministry – Jal Shakti – with a singular objective of driving efforts towards water conservation. Needless to say, it motivated a lot of us – citizens, who have been talking about sustainability, maybe doing a few things here and there, but still feeling the urge to contribute in a more meaningful way.

Over the next few weeks and months, we observed formation of multiple WhatsApp groups, Facebook pages, passageway conversations – all focusing on Water Conservation.

And what an experience it was !

There was just an amazing amount of positive energy and pure intent. Intent to give back, intent to leave a better planet for our grandchildren. We witnessed busy corporate leaders willing to put in dedicated hours over the weekends. School and college children volunteering in plantation drives.

But we also observed that many of these citizen groups were starting from scratch. There was very little collaboration across these multiple groups (and we had access to just a handful, imagine the efforts being put in by all such groups!). For example:

  • They were researching how to do water harvesting (in homes, in condos).
  • What faucet design can help save water?
  • What policy interventions (e.g. discourage high water consuming crops like sugarcane) may be needed?
  • Who can I approach to volunteer? What is the support needed and by who?
  • Which local department(s) work directly with Jal Shakti?
  • And it goes on…….

We felt that in this digitally connected world, there should be more efficiency. A lot of these questions have been well researched. A lot of “experiments” are already underway – how can others learn early from those results? How do we track the true collective impact of these seemingly disparate initiatives? Can a digital platform bring it all together? And if it does, will we see a significant multiplier effect?

  • How can be build a common-repository of all research on water conservation
  • Build a platform that tracks all the good work being done and motivates others to join in
  • A community that takes up campaigns and magnifies its impact by tech-powered-collaboration

And so it was – Project Blue Planet was born !