Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday addressed the nation in his radio programme “Mann Ki Baat” during which he pitched for a national movement, like Swachh Bharat, for conserving and preserving water. “Water crisis hits many parts of the nation every year,” he said. “You will be surprised that only 8% of the rain water in the whole year is harvested in our country.”

Modi said his government has set up a new ministry to tackle the water crisis. “This [Jal Shakti Ministry] will allow quicker decision-making on all water issues,” he said. “Water crisis hits many parts of the nation every year. You will be surprised that only 8% of the rain water in the whole year is harvested in our country.”

The prime minister said he has three requests for everyone. “Create awareness on water conservation,” he said while listing his requests. “Share info of traditional methods of water conservation. If you know about any individuals or NGOs working on water, do share about them.”

A report by the Union government’s think tank NITI Ayog said that 21 Indian cities will run out of groundwater by 2020. By 2030, 40% of Indians will have no access to drinking water. Tamil Nadu capital Chennai has experienced a severe water crisis this summer, which the state government has attempted to play down. Water levels in the lakes around Mumbai were dipping, and the civic body was using its reserve stock. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation said many more days of rainfall were required to come out of the water crisis in the city.

This was the first “Mann Ki Baat” programme after Modi became the prime minister for the second time. The radio programme was last aired in February. “There came a moment when I felt the need to reach out to you immediately after elections concluded,” he said. “Then I thought no, the established Sunday sequence should be maintained. But this Sunday has made one wait endlessly!”

Bharatiya Janata Party cadres at all levels have been asked to ensure better facilities such as better radio sets to attract more and more people to the programme, reported Hindustan Times. Union Home Minister Amit Shah tuned into the radio programme with other party workers at the Kakrola stadium in Dwarka, Delhi.

Modi said some people politicised his Kedarnath trip. He went to the pilgrimage destination just days before the Lok Sabha election results were declared. “[I] Will not reveal other things today, but I want to tell you that perhaps in that solitary cave, I got an opportunity to fill the vacuum caused due to the long gap of Mann Ki Baat,” he said. “I undertook Kedarnath journey to meet my inner self.”

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury had said in a tweet that the photos of Modi’s visit violated the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct. Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien had complained to the Election Commission about it.

Modi once again spoke about the time when Congress leader and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had imposed Emergency. “Resistance against it was not just in political circles or politicians,” said Modi. “The movement was not limited to the jails. There was anger in the conscience of everyone.” Modi had criticised the Emergency, and called it the “dark days” during his speech in the Lok Sabha on June 26.

The prime minister then went on to praise the how the recently-concluded Lok Sabha elections were held. “In the 2019 General elections, India witnessed 61 crore voters exercising their franchise,” he said. “It was the largest democratic election ever held in the world. In a remote area of Arunachal Pradesh, just for one voter, a booth was set up. The scale of our electoral process makes every Indian proud.”

The prime minister praised a book by Premchand, and asked people to initiate discussions on the Narendra Modi mobile app about good books. “Sometime back, someone presented me a collection of short stories of the great Premchand,” he said. “I once again got an opportunity to revisit those stories. The human element and compassion stands out in his words. It is my request to you all - please devote some time to reading.”

Also read: Special Report: How the Modi government dismantled India’s main defence against drought