New Delhi, Sep 18 (UNI) The Planning Commission today suggested a plan to address the problems of farmers' distress by proposing a mechanism to ensure efficient use of underground water by involving Panchayati Raj Institutions and providing cash relief to poor farmers.
The proposals will bail out the power sector which is fast getting deeper into sickness.
The Report of the Expert Group on 'Ground Water Management and Onwership' has also recommended that power subsidy be replaced by cash compensation on the bases of bench-marked land holdings.
Dr Kirit Parikh, Chairman of the Expert Group and Member Planning Commission, told a news conference here that even though water is a State subject, the Centre has a role if the ground water level falls below the replenishable level.
The Central Government needs to get into the picture under the provisions of the Environment Act, by declaring the affected area as 'environmentally threatened.' This should be the basis for invoking public trust doctrine and trigger formulation of an explict strategy in consultation with stakeholders.
The Committee has observed that while the huge electricity subsidy may have contributed to depletion of groundwater, a cut in subsidies could have only marginal positive impact on extraction.
A long term startegy however, that links extent of subsidy with the reliability and duration of power supply, can have positive results on both groundwater management and viability of power sector.
The Report says that groundwater development in the country has expanded significantly in the past few decades. Overexploitation of resources in certain parts of the country has led to rapid decline in the water table.
This has begun to threaten not only food security of the country, but also the environment. Further, depletion of groundwater resources has been hurting the small and marginal farmers the most, threatening their livelihood in many cases. The problem is getting intensified and more widespread over the years.
It says an important way of addressing the issue is by augmenting groundwater supplies in shallow aquifers. Artificial recharge of groundwater has been found to be a useful tool. A recharge scheme implemented by the Union Government in different parts of the country showed that recharging can be made much more effective by the use of scientific inputs and analyses than otherwise.
The Report, however, says that even if the entire potential of recharge is utilised, shortage will still persist, underscoring the need for limiting extraction. Another option is to tap the huge "static' water reserves in deeper aquifers, which have hitherto been untapped.
"This is not an easy option, as it requires detailed scientific studies to examine its long-term viability, impact on other aquifers and abundant caution in extraction. The upshot is that there is no substitute for limiting extraction to sustainable levels" the Report says.