After months of speculation about the possibility of a deficient monsoon due to the El Nino effect, the India Meteorological Department’s prediction that the country will have a normal monsoon this year brings a sigh of relief. The El Nino effect is basically about waters in the western Pacific warming up, causing climate changes worldwide. Fingers will be crossed, hoping for the best. India, which has made major advances in space and technology, still lags far behind in simple irrigation facilities or building canals and percolation tanks on a large scale during a good monsoon year. Even rainwater harvesting is not taken seriously, though its advantages are huge. Rainwater is instead allowed to flow into gutters. It’s the same with tapping valuable resources offered by the sun and the winds that India is blessed with. Solar panels, that are getting cheaper, are still seen as a novelty and an experiment, though some governments have set an example by installing them in their state headquarters.
A few NGOs tried to educate people about rainwater harvesting a few years ago, but it ended there. Perhaps the law against squandering natural resources should be used to discourage such waste and make governments and local bodies more accountable. Constant education, beginning in schools, will go a long way in tackling this. One recalls some decades ago when there was a power shortage and heatwave in the UK there were stickers on buildings and educational institutions on the need to save power. The majority of India’s farmers, almost 90 per cent, are dry farmers who depend on the monsoon’s vagaries, not to mention the need for drinking water for the entire population. It is well known, for instance, that sugarcane farming is a water guzzler, and farmers whose fields adjoin sugarcane growing areas suffer from water shortage. Yet efforts to get farmers to switch to crops other than cane haven’t succeeded. India can also benefit from the techniques followed by rice-growing countries that have evolved a method under which rice, which normally requires lots of water, can be grown with minimum water. India needs to adopt this system on a war footing. Many wells are already said to be running almost dry due to the intense heat. Despite talk every year about increasing the area under irrigation, very little is done to make this a reality. The various state governments should, meanwhile, also start water conservation projects to be ready in case there is a monsoon deficit. This is also good news for the manufacturing sector, that is still recovering from the effects of demonetisation. A good monsoon means more money in the hands of rural India and a leg up for the production of consumer goods. Consumers will also benefit as prices are likely to remain under control.