The rains have arrived, the dark clouds pushing away darker forebodings of a failed monsoon, drought and crippled growth. Such respite should have a sobering effect on some of the more effervescent superpower aspirations. Agriculture directly accounts for about 14% of GDP but a little over half the population still live off agriculture and related activities.
Since even a minor fall in some farm produce can send food prices soaring, and inflation can both discourage investment and be politically unsettling, India can ill-afford poor rains. Nor is water required only for agriculture. Industrial growth will guzzle and pollute huge amounts of water. Urban expansion is an inevitable corollary to growth of industry and services. The water needs of urban conglomerations will grow faster than most people anticipate.
The way out, clearly, is to harness a whole lot more of the water that showers on India over a crucial fourmonth period, only to be washed down into the Indian Ocean in a tumultuous hurry, leaving flood damage and misery in its wake. The task is complex, true enough.
It calls for coordination across states and even across national boundaries (Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh must actively cooperate and China refrain from disruption, to manage flood waters in eastern India). It also calls for huge outlays, of both the financial and policy kind.
Much rain water can be harvested using small dams and check dams, but some large dams might be unavoidable and that would necessitate policy innovation to relocate people, habitats and livelihoods. Thanks to the Narmada agitation, rehabilitation of project-displaced people is now recognised as a legitimate part of any large project, but imaginative money on it remains scarce.
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