International Symposium on
Drylands Ecology and Human Security

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Paradigm Shift in Water Resource Management in Drylands of India:
A Critical Appraisal

Tapeshwar Singh

M.M.H. College (C.C.S. University) Ghaziabad, India


The contemporary civilization is confronted with many challenges. The degradation of water resources is one of the challenges. In recent years, rational use and conservation of water resources has become one of the crucial issues of the millennium not only for the international scientific community but for the Indian scientists, geo-hydrologists, geographers, managers and policy makers. Water is vital to all forms of life on earth and is a trigger for a host of life supporting processes. Thus, the management of water resources is vital for both sustainable development and environmental security. That is why, the issue of water resource management in drylands that are climatically and agriculturally fragile and water is essential for survival of population, has been chosen for this study.
Delimitation of drylands in India is still vague. Sometimes, drought prone areas are considered as drylands, and sometimes, they are considered a synonym to rainfed or dry farming areas. Climate variability affects the climatic conditions and water resource potential of a region. The socio-economic conditions of drylands are particularly vulnerable to rainfall anomalies. These areas include arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions of the country where inadequate and uncertain rainfall dictates the agricultural productivity, demography and availability of water resources for different uses. Drought and dry farming areas constitute a major part of the country. Drought areas singly constitute 19 per cent of the total area and about 12 per cent of the country’s population. Whereas dry farming and drought areas combined constitute over 60 per cent of the geographical area of the country. The day of frontier economy, when abundant natural resources were available to propel economic growth and raise living standard is over. Declining per capita availability of water and increasing demand by burgeoning human and livestock population trends is putting enormous strain on already meager and over exploited water resources in drylands. Decreasing trend of rainfall tied with the climate change is adding stress to the prevailing water deficiency. We also examined, therefore, the relationships of climate change- rainwater harvesting in the region.
Various schemes undertaken by the governments to ameliorate the hardships of the people were designed as Drought Prone Areas Program (DPAP) and Desert Development Program in 1973. The restoration of ecological balance, afforestation irrigation management, soil and moisture conservation, changes in agronomic practices and restructuring of cropping patterns, livestock development, development of rural communication, small and marginal farmers including agricultural labors were defined as main objective of these programs. There were no major changes in policies till 1987 when country experienced the worst drought of the century.
In course of time a paradigm shift in the policies was necessited with the emphasis on watershed planning and ecologically integrated development. The shift in policies paid rich dividends. The management of rainwater, watershed and underground water through various processes was increasingly incorporated in it to cope with the water resources crisis in the water systems of the drylands. These management policies are inherently sound and ecologically friendly for this ecosystem.
Since root cause of all socio-economic problems lies in the inadequacy of water resources in drylands ecosystems to some extent feasible option is to exploit the potential of groundwater resources though scope for it is limited on account of inadequate recharge due to low and erratic rainfall. Moreover, overexploitation is already resulting in progressive lowering of the water table in many parts of the country – especially the drylands. Hence, the best option is to save and use every drop of water that falls on the ground through various water harvesting and conservation techniques available in the country in abundance. From time immemorial Indian farming community is very rich in traditional wisdom of water harvesting.
In the present paper, therefore, an attempt is made to comprehensively study the water resource management policies in drylands of the country with emphasis on changes in priority over the periods.