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Big dams encourage inefficient use of water in India, claims top Modi aide Babubhai Navlawala

By Our Representative
Taking a stance similar to one of Centre's staunchest opponents, Medha Patkar-led Narmada Bachao Andolan, the Narendra Modi government's water resources adviser BN Navalawala has taken strong exception to excessive dependence on big dams for solving India's water problems. Instead, he has called for adopting a mix of "efficient methods" in the use of water and laws to ensure that this becomes a reality.
Delivering lecture at the UN World Water Day Celebration seminar organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Delhi last week, Navalawala said, "Much water is lost as it is conveyed from reservoirs to fields, distributed among farmers, and applied to fields. Irrigation efficiency is estimated to average less than 40 percent."
Navalawala said, "Drawbacks of low productivity of land and water use are required to be leveraged upon in the future strategies of achieving food security", adding, "Making irrigation more efficient" could be achieved by "moving toward more sustainable water use", especially by "reducing irrigation needs just by a tenth".
While agreeing that "a wide variety of measures exist to boost agriculture’s water productivity", including "new and improved irrigation technologies, better management practices by farmers and water officials, and changes in the institutions that govern the distribution and use of irrigation water", Navalawala said, this is not enough.
A water reservoir
"The vast water saving potential of these measures will not be realized until the economic policies, laws, and regulations that shape decisions about water use begin to foster efficiency rather than discourage it", he underlined. This could be done, he added, by strictly promoting "rainwater harvesting and micro-watershed development throughout the country."
Strongly favouving the need to "establish a constructive working relationship between civil society" at a time when the Modi government is sharply moving away from it, he suggested, NGOs working on water related issues alone can help "formulate a series of area-specific answers for the needs of arid, drought-prone or water-scarce areas."
Stressing on "on local solutions" and avoiding "‘development’ of the water-intensive kind", Navalawala said, there is a need to "arrest and reverse as quickly as possible the present disastrous overexploitation of groundwater as well as the loss of good water to pollution and contamination".
Currently chief advisor, Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India, as also water resources adviser of the Government of Gujarat for the last one decade, Navalawala had been India's water resources secretary under Prime Minister AB Vajpayee in early 2000s.
He said, "Linkages between water, economic growth and human development are proving no less than increasing threats to water security in various parts of the world", he said, adding, the result has been that India ranks one of the worst in Sustainable Water Use Index (SWUI).

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