What is out of sight is usually out of mind, but governmental oversight when it comes to groundwater can have catastrophic consequences over the long term. There is a crying need to map the country’s groundwater resources and develop a comprehensive policy for its use and conservation, but it is just not happening. This can lead to rivers like the Ganges and the Indus drying up during summer in the not-too-distant future, and also put the mighty Brahmaputra under stress. It has already begun to happen with the Ganges, north India’s lifeline, as apprehended in a recent study widely carried by media. Co-authored by scientists Abhijit Mukherjee, Soumendra Nath Bhanja and Yoshihide Wada, the study shows that compared to the 1970s, input from groundwater (base flow) into the Ganges has decreased by over 50 percent presently. This is worrisome, because when the monsoon rains are not coming down, a river is fed by glacier inflow and groundwater input. In the next three decades, groundwater input into the Ganges could be reduced to 75 percent of 1970s level, which would be disastrous. The two-way relationship between river and groundwater — the river feeding groundwater when water flows are high during the rains, and groundwater recharging the river during dry season — would stand disrupted. This will be the outcome of indiscriminate pumping out of groundwater for drinking and irrigation by a burgeoning population. It speaks volumes that the researchers had to base their study on satellite, modelling, chemical and isotope data, because “Ganges river level data is not available”. The country has a Central ministry of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation, yet such basic data is lacking! Three years back, a NASA study based on twin GRACE satellites data collected from 2003 to 2013 showed the Indus Basin to be the second-most stressed in the world, while the Ganges-Brahmaputra Basin too was observed to be gradually running dry. The extensive irrigation network across western India and Pakistan was found to be diverting water to the fields, leaving little water in the Indus system to replenish its basin, a situation further aggravated by deficient rainfall. The study had predicted that the more densely populated Ganges-Brahmaputra basin too would come under greater stress, while bemoaning the lack of physical and chemical data on ground to measure groundwater storage. As for Assam, geological experts here have been calling for groundwater studies and replenishment measures to be taken up in earnest by the State government as well as the people, but to no avail. Seasonal rains and waters of the Brahmaputra system recharge groundwater in this region, but rainfall patterns are getting disrupted while river water flows are becoming depleted. It is a problem playing out at various levels with multiple factors, requiring constant monitoring and regular study. Neglecting to do so, and thereby putting off corrective plan and action, means we are living irresponsibly with no thought for the morrow.
The Indian government wants data to be stored within the country, while foreign tech giants like Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon would have none of it. The battle is looming after the Kris Gopalakrishnan-led committee on data privacy prepared a draft law last month to determine the country’s cloud computing policy. As of now, Indian clients store their data on cloud servers located outside the country. Foreign tech companies operating these servers can provide IT services at lower costs, because the data and software need not be stored in their clients’ desktops or data centres. But the new buzzword here is ‘data sovereignty’ in the context of cross-border data flows. This stems from the Centre’s tough stand that all critical personal data of Indian citizens must be available to national security and investigative agencies — which in turn requires that the data must be stored locally, not upon a distant ‘cloud’. On their part, foreign tech companies are warning about creeping ‘government surveillance’, though their unhappiness has more to do with bottomlines. Having never bothered to invest adequately in data storage facilities within India, despite mining lucrative meta data collected from crores of customers here, they are unwilling to spend more on this front. They have reportedly begun a persuasion drive in the country’s political and corporate circles with the plea that ‘data localisation’ would be bad for India’s IT, e-commerce and payment sectors, that it would be a step back from globalisation. Since these companies are headquartered in the US, they are also learnt to be lobbying the Trump administration to push back hard against New Delhi’s ‘protectionist move’. However, considering the ease with which British data crunching firm Cambridge Analytica accessed Facebook data to profile American voters in the 2016 presidential elections, India has all the more reason to put in place a strong data protection regime. There is already much concern in the country over the safety of citizens’ data like Aadhaar, so an overarching law which also seeks to protect social media and commercial data is a must. It is estimated that by 2022, the public cloud services market in India will more than double to 7 billion dollars. While the country needs a robust IT laws framework, the government also has to address infrastructure and connectivity issues to encourage local cloud service providers — as rightly pointed out by the Gopalakrishnan panel.