I often wonder why the Indian press does not take up this issue – nor does the Indian government. The huge calamity looming over India right now, that will potentially make economic growth grind to a halt is not the US subprime crisis, but the shortage of ground water that is gradually eating away at agriculture. This is not about a bad monsoon or drought. It is about accelarating erosion of ground water levels in India. 60 % of Indian agriculture depends upon ground water. I remember as a kid in Delhi playing in the small vegetable patch kept by my grandfather in Nizamuddin. There was a hand pump that would bring water up at the first stroke – and then in a few years the hand pump went completely dry. As did the vegetable garden.
As part of the sustaining an ‘agriculture revotion’ in India, the ‘tube well’ as it came to be known was encouraged and promoted as the mantra for the agricultural revolution. It was successful at that time – but we are now getting to grips with the ecological consequences of that ground water becoming more and more scarce. It needs to be managed, and better ways must be found to replenish it through management techniques like water harvesting. With our glaciers retreating and rivers becoming more unreliable, its our only hope.
However it does not help that companies like Coca Cola are allowed to freely suck up ground water in areas that are already water stressed. First in Kerala – where the Coca Cola factory sucked up so much of the ground water that paddy fields in surrounding areas went dry ruining the farmers, and now the same in Rajasthan. It is not an equitable competition for a scarce resource between the farmers and Coca Cola, who has the capital to build deeper and more powerful bore wells. And get electricity (through the government as they are classed industrial or by their own generators) 24 hours a day – while the farmers are only able to operate their bore wells based on a very interrupted and non reliable power supply. Lets not blame Coca Cola – they are a multinational committed to a return on shareholders value. Lets blame ourselves and our government policies. Here is a link to PBS interview with farmers and Coca Cola – click on the streaming video link within the site.
Actually if we put an ‘environmental’ cost to a can of coke, or branded bottled water – both should cost at least 4 times what they are available at now. So we consumers also carry a large part of the blame for what has become an effective privatization of water resources in India. We consume carelessly….
…and the government must know that if the individual farmer is water starved, the social consequences are enormous. Communities and families break up as farms are unable to support them. Most then travel to the cities looking for jobs and feed into the burgeoning infrastructure of our cities. While the dried up rural areas are open to strife and social unrest. Agriculture is still the bedrock of the Indian social and economic fabric. And as being assumed in most ‘high’ places, privatizing the management and distribution of water will make it worse. For corporations have a prime responsibility to shareholders that have no investment in the water stressed areas,nor do they suffer the consequences of extreme water shortages. Water has traditionally been a free resource that belongs equally to all living beings on this earth, and the social consequence of putting a price on it will be the beginings of social unrest that we have not witnessed in this century. For the next resource will be air – how do u get people to pay for the air they breathe while industries pollute it for profit with no consequence to their shareholder ?