Role of policy reforms in promoting groundwater conservation in India..

A superb paper by Sheetal Sekhri on what is going to be serious problem going ahead in India and even rest of the World.  It was presented at the India Policy Forum 2012.

In this paper she looks at two policy interventions to promote ground water conservation in Punjab and Gujarat. Both were not as effective.

Groundwater depletion has become an increasingly important policy concern in many countries around the world
especially so in India, which is the largest user of groundwater for irrigation. Groundwater is contended to have ushered green revolution in the country. However, a downside to this pattern of development is that it is not sustainable. As in other countries, the stocks of groundwater are rapidly depleting in India. Against this backdrop, it is important to understand what policies can help conserve this vital resource. This study uses data from observation and monitoring wells of the country to identify depletion hot-spots and evaluate the impact of two policies rainwater harvesting mandates and delaying of paddy transplanting time- on water tables. Rain water harvesting mandates did not have salutary effects on water tables in the short run and delayed transplanting of paddy resulted in increased use of groundwater.

Apart from policy bit, she also discusses the overall trends on groundwater in India. Nice graphs and data..

In Gujarat the idea was for rain water harvesting:

I also examine the impact of a policy pursued by the Gujarat government that promoted decentralized rain water harvesting. Concentrated efforts to recharge groundwater began in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat after the drought of 1987 (Mehta, 2006). Initial efforts to divert runoff to groundwater wells led to widespread adoption of the practice by farmers throughout Saurashtra without government intervention. Over time, farmers experimented with new technologies and farmers began constructing check dams in streams and rivers to reduce water speed and to allow the river water to seep into the ground and replenish the groundwater supply (Mehta, 2006). Farmers continued constructing check dams through the 1990s with assistance from NGOs who bore some of the costs.

In January, 2000, the Gujarat government introduced the Sardar Patel Participatory Water Conservation Project in response to the work of farmers and NGOs in the Saurashtra, Kachchh, Ahdamabad, and Sabar Kantha regions(Government of Gujarat, 2012b). 

In Punjab rainwater harvesting was not mandatory. They instead introduced something called delaying paddy crop transplanting and gave incentives to farmers to delay the paddy crop. This was started earlier in Punjab and later in Haryana. The author works on this natural experiment to figure whether policy worked or not:

As discussed above, Punjab and Haryana are experiencing very rapid decline in water tables. This can threaten future food security in the country. Punjab did not mandate rain water harvesting. One of the key initiatives undertaken in Punjab to decelerate water table decline is mandated delay of paddy transplanting. In 2006, the state government influenced the date of paddy transplanting by changing the date on which free electricity is diverted to the farm sector for operating mechanized tube wells for groundwater extraction. The date was pushed to June 10, thereby reducing the amount of intensive watering that the crop can receive during its production cycle (Tribune News service, 2006). The delayed date was mandated in 2008 via an ordinance. This was later turned into a law -The Punjab Preservation of Sub Soil Water Act, 2009. The main purpose of the law is to preserve groundwater by prohibiting sowing paddy before May 10 and transplanting paddy before June 10.

In addition, the law creates the authority to destroy, at the farmer’s expense, paddy sowed or transplanted early, and the law assesses a penalty of 10,000 rupees per month, per hectare of land in violation of the law (Government of Punjab, 2009). Haryana followed suit and mandated delay in paddy transplanting in 2009. Haryana passed its Preservation of Sub-Soil Water Act in March 2009, and it is very similar to the Punjab act. Its main provisions prohibit sowing paddy before May 15 and transplanting paddy before June 15.

The law also contains punitive provisions similar to Punjab. These include destruction of paddy sowed or transplanted early and a penalty of 10,000 rupees per month, per hectare of land in violation of the law (Government of Haryana, 2009). The law took immediate effect for  the 2009 paddy season.3 In this paper, I make use of the timing of the introduction of this policy in Punjab and Haryana to isolate the causal effect of the policy on water tables. Because of the defacto prohibition of  transplanting paddy before June 10 in Punjab, I treat 2006 as the effective year for Punjab’s policy rather than 2008. 

Both the interventions did not work on expected lines. So what will work? She lists certain areas for research:

What kind of policies- direct or indirect- can or cannot work? In Sekhri (2011b), I show that public wells provision can reduce the rate of depletion. If an optimal price is charged it can also reverse depletion. But this can work only where cost of groundwater extraction is high, or in other words in areas where water tables are deep. In Sekhri and Foster (2008), we find evidence that bilateral trade arrangements between farmers who sell and buy groundwater also decelerate depletion rates. The benefit of promoting these is that these arrangements do not require top down monitoring. But these are clearly pricing mechanisms. Reducing electricity subsidies can  also potentially affect groundwater extraction rates (Badiani and Jessoe, 2011).

West Bengal and Uttarakhand have recently adopted metering of electricity for tube wells. Gujarat, under the flagship Jyotirgram Yojana, has separated agricultural feeders from non-agricultural feeders, improved the quality of the power supply and rationed the number of hours of electricity to agriculture to 8 hours a day. Important policy lessons can be learnt from the experience of these states.12 Other possibilities include promoting water saving infrastructure and agricultural practices. More research is required to understand the effect of policies that promote such practices, and is a very promising area of future research. 

Superb stuff..

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