WITHIN DAYS AFTER Jodhpur MP Gajendra Singh Shekhawat was given responsibility as Cabinet Minister of the newly-formed Jal Shakti Ministry, amidst a heat wave sweeping the country, Skymet forecast a further delay in the monsoon’s onset over Kerala.
For 51-year-old Shekhawat, the challenge has just begun. The ambit of the new Ministry, bringing under it all water-related matters, will stretch beyond the ministries of water resources, Ganga rejuvenation and drinking water and sanitation. The two-time BJP MP from Jodhpur, where water scarcity ravages villages, would understand the gravity of the issue.
Having landed his new assignment in the peak of the water crisis, Shekhawat has already drowned himself in the work, absorbing its various aspects, attending review meetings on issues concerning related departments. “I will talk about it only after I have studied it properly,” he says. The Jal Shakti Ministry was BJP’s 2019 Sankalp Patra promise, in a bid to approach water management holistically by bringing all related departments under one umbrella. Giving the slogan ‘Nal se Jal (water from tap)’ under the Jal Jeevan Mission, the Modi Government has set an ambitious target of providing piped water connections to every household by 2024. Shekhawat faces daunting tasks on various fronts— the dipping ground water level, increasing demand, river-linking, water conflicts, such as the one between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over Cauvery, water being a state subject and the Ganga rejuvenation. According to a June, 2018 NITI Aayog report, 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress, about 200,000 people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water and 75 per cent of India’s households do not have drinking water on their premises.
Shekhawat faces daunting tasks on various fronts—the dipping ground water level, increasing demand, river-linking, water conflicts, the Ganga rejuvenation, among others
A Union Minister of State for Agriculture in the previous Modi regime, Shekhawat, who defeated Congress’ Vaibhav Gehlot, the 39-year-old son of Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, by a margin of 274,000 votes, has been promoted to Cabinet rank. Ashok Gehlot had held the seat five times since 1980. In the run-up to the election this time, Shekhawat had alleged that the state government machinery in the Congress-ruled state was being used against him.
Shekhawat’s association with politics began in his student days in ABVP in 1992. Later, he was co-convenor in RSS’ economic wing Swadeshi Jagran Manch. Living in a city around 250 kms from the border with Pakistan, he became instrumental in setting up 40 schools and four hostels along the border as general secretary of Seema Jan Kalyan Samiti. A businessperson by profession, he is now a man with a mission, one that impacts the life of every person in the country. He is tasked with fulfilling the Government’s promise and proving that Jal Shakti is more than just change in nomenclature.