For New Jal Shakti Ministry, Old Questions Remain.

With the new water ministry taking form as 'Jal Shakti' Ministry, is the centralized approach answer to the decades-old problem related to water. We take a look...

Giving the adage ‘Old wine in a New bottle’ ironically an old meaning, the incumbent government yesterday formed a new ‘Jal Shakti’ Ministry by merging the ministries of Water Resources and Drinking Water and Sanitation. The helmsman for this new avatar is Mr. Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.

Modi government’s renewed entry in the parliament has a new slogan “Nal se Jal” which ubiquitously wants to provide piped drinking water to every household; and is a component of the government’s Jal Jivan Mission. This was among the primary promises made in the BJP’s vision document released in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

With the new Jal Shakti ministry, which sounds like a ‘mission’, has brought under issues ranging from international and inter-states water disputes, the byzantine Namami Gange project, the flagship initiative to clean the Ganges, its tributaries and sub-tributaries and provide clean drinking water.

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The new ministry can be a response to the continuous mismanagement of river water, flouting pollution rules, NGT’s rally of punishments & fines and yet the perseverance of water scarcity is gripping almost half of the nation at the peak of summers. With monsoon disarray, the government has clearly understood the dreams of development remain hollow if people are not fed with food and water. There have been glaring discrepancies in the way our water has been managed and so far been wasted. With Uttarakhand facing an epidemic of forest fires and the entire south, west and major food baskets of east India uncertain about rains and groundwater, the need of the hour is to unanimously sit and decide what to do and quickly. Perhaps this is why all the water-related issues have been put under the same banner of Jal Shakti which literally means the Power of Water. Everyone, high or low on the power rank knows what water can do. It can wash away the entire government with floods like in Kerala or convert the bitterest of foes into friends.

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What we fear is even if the whole issue is under one banner, will this stop the haywire or ad-hoc changing of forest laws to help industries? Will forest dwellers get their fair share in administrative decisions pertaining to their homes in the forest? Will the silent animals and birds make it to the agenda of political circles even if they cannot vote? Will you and I enjoy clean drinking water without the fear of it running out soon for our future generations?

With all these questions I personally hope that the Jal ‘Shakti’ will be heard and heeded. Because we like it or not, water and food will make political circles nauseous for the upcoming decades as once the ‘demographic dividend’ starts to age, much like what is happening in Japan, we would need a sound and affordable infrastructure, food sources, sound economy and healthcare facilities to take care of the retired heroes of our times. All of which will depend directly or indirectly on water. So in the end, the ministry has a herculean task, nay, a Sisyphean task of solving one of the most important and notorious crises of our times, which will be to save and serve water to everyone.

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