The Big Story: Precious water

Amidst the political storm created by the new cattle trade rules notified by the Centre last week, India received some welcome news on Tuesday. As the Indian Meteorological Department had predicted earlier this month, the south-west monsoon hit Kerala coast two days ahead of its regular date. The system has also advanced into North East India. The meteorological department expects the monsoon to be near-normal this year. If this forecast is borne out, it will come as a relief to the vast majority of the country, which is suffering from the severe water crisis created by three years of below-average monsoons.

Eighty percent of all India’s agriculture depends on the south-west monsoon. These rains are a crucial factor in sustaining the economy, given that agriculture remains India’s primary occupation. The summer monsoon is also the single-most important source of drinking water, especially in South India, where non-perennial rivers depend on the system to recharge their flow.

Though the monsoon may not have been adequate over the last three years, it isn’t so much the monsoon that has failed India – it is India that has failed the monsoon. Even in years when there has been above-normal rainfall, the absence of efforts to conserve water have resulted in the precious resource running off into the sea. Take the case of Tamil Nadu, which is facing its worst drought in 140 years. In December 2015, unprecedented rains lashed its northern districts, leading to widespread flooding in Chennai and neighbouring areas. However, thanks to poor management of the catchment areas, an estimated 60% of the waterflow had to be released into the sea. In just over a year, Chennai began facing a severe drinking water crisis.

In 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointed to environmental degradation as the single-most important reason for the failure of the monsoon. However, the Centre has embarked on policies such as redrawing coastal maps in favour of the industry, putting more water bodies under severe stress. Hardly any progress has been made in making India’s agriculture more water-efficient, with estimates suggesting that India uses twice as much water per crop as China and Brazil. Unless conservation is taken seriously, even a bountiful monsoon may not be enough to quench the country’s thirst.

The Big Scroll

  • Vinita Govindarajan reports on how redrawing the coastal maps could legitimise encroachment along the coast and riverbanks. 
  • Reservoir levels across South India remain precarious, making this year’s monsoon even more crucial. 


  1. Lawyer Arvind Datar in the Indian Express argues that the new cattle trade restrictions notified by the Centre is unconstitutional. 
  2. In this interview to The Hindu, Kerala Chief Minister Pinayari Vijayan talks about the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party and how attacks on constitutional values could be resisted. 
  3. In the Mint, Harsh V Pant writes on how the Modi government has unabashedly changed India’s foreign policy trajectory in the last three years. 


Don’t miss

Arefa Johari reports on how a cattle smuggling problem on the Nepal border has transformed into nation-wide curbs on cattle trade.

“This committee, comprising the chief secretaries of various state governments, the Animal Welfare Board of India and other respondents, held its first meetings in March and April 2015. ‘That is when we realised that the matter was a lot more complicated,’ said Jayasimha Nuggehalli, a lawyer representing Maulekhi who was, at the time, a member of the Animal Welfare Board of India. According to Nuggehalli, the cross-border cattle smuggling was just the tip of an iceberg that involved a wide network of cattle trading and auctioning in India, during which a range of animal cruelty laws were being violated.”