In The News
23 Jun 2014

India Water Challenges need Innovation and Bold Decisions

File photo of people cleaning Yamuna river. (Photo by AP)

File photo of people cleaning Yamuna river. (Photo by AP)

Water resource management issues could be key to Narendra Modi-led Governement’s mega plans for reviving the nation. Individual households, industry, and agriculture, every sphere has a growing demand for every drop of water that can be saved. According to the WHO estimates, over 97 million Indians lack access to safe water, second only to China. As a result, the World Bank estimates that 21 per cent of communicable diseases in India are related to unsafe water. And if not addressed immediately, then the problem might get worse as India is projected to grow significantly in the coming decades and overtake China by 2028 to become the world’s most populous country.

Will Government be innovative enough to face the water challenge?


To tackle this ongoing problem, the Narendra Modi Government has asked States to follow the Gujarat water management model to address the issue across the country. The Central Government has in fact, forwarded a CD received from Gujarat Government’s Water and Sanitation Management Organisation on the subject, the  “State-wide water supply grid” to the States to study how Gujarat successfully addressed water scarcity issue.

A PTI report quotes Gujarat Water Supply Department Principal Secretary Rajiv Kumar Gupta who says, “Almost 70 per cent of Gujarat’s fresh water resources are located only in 30 per cent of its geographical area restricted to the State’s southern parts. Frequent droughts accentuate this scarcity of water Gujarat. The State thus undertook a sustainable measure to combat this problem by developing a State-wide Water Supply Grid.”

The report also states that water supply grid comprises schemes based in Narmada and other regional water supply schemes. With this grid, the State Government is able to supply water to far-off places through an inter-basin bulk water transfer.  This is an enormous project, spread over some 1,20,769 km. The aim of the project is to serve 75 per cent of Gujarat’s population. According to a State official, the grid has become the lifeline for potable water supply to the regions of Kutch and Saurashtra, as the grid remained the only source of drinking water supply in the region.

The Ahmedabad Muncipal Corporation initiated a new water policy to meter connections for over 13 lakh properties in the city. However, in case of residential societies, it will now be compulsory for every house in a society to install a meter to check wastage and usage of water. To check the over-usage, the civic body limits usage to 20,000 litres per month with a fixed rate that ranges between Rs 240 to Rs 2,880 depending on the carpet area of the property.

The water rates per 1,000 litres of supply have been fixed at Re 1 for properties with a carpet area of 15 square metres, and at Rs 12 for properties with a carpet area over 1,000 square metres. These rates will be applicable for any extra water above 20,000 litres per month. This helps the State Government to make water consumption an accountable affair.

Seconding Gupta’s views, scientist with Water Conservation Studies, Dr Anurag Agarwal said, “The main reason behind the water scarcity is the explosion in the population growth as the resources haven’t increased but the demand has shot up. Also, the consumption pattern has increased manifolds.To ensure water conservation and stop misuse of water, the supply of water and its quantity to residents and industry sectors must be segregated and optimised so that wastage is controlled with an ensured scrutiny of water usage.”

In fact, the first cause for poor potable water management is insufficient water supply per person because of the boom in Indian population. The total amount of usable water has been estimated to be between 700 to 1,200 billion cubic meters (bcm), thus with a population of about 1.2 billion, India has only 1,000 cubic meters of water per person. Even the international standards considers any country water-stressed if it has less than 1,700 cubic meters per person per year. India had between 3,000 and 4,000 cubic meters per person in 1951, whereas the United States has nearly 8,000 cubic meters per person even today.

Second reason for water crisis is due to insufficient investment in urban water-treatment facilities. According to various reports, water in most Indian rivers is not fit for drinking, and at many stretches not even fit for bathing. The Ganga Action Plan, which was launched in 1984 to clean the river seems to be a distant dream because of the UPA Government’s non-implementation of schemes because of which the river remains polluted with a high coliform (primary among them is the high presence of bacteria Escherichia Coli) count at many places. Even the facilities created are poorly maintained because inadequate fees is levied upon the service making things more difficult for the Government. The industrial effluent standards are not enforced correctly since the State Pollution Control Boards do not have proper technical and human resources.

The third problem is fast depleting groundwater supplies because of the over-extraction by farmers. This happens because groundwater is an open-access resource and anyone can pump water from under his or her own land. Another element which adds upto the crisis is highly fragmented land ownership policies in India, with several farmers and an average farm size of less than two hectares. The country has extracted about 251 bcm of groundwater in 2010, whereas the United States extracted only 112 bcm. Even if one compares the storage capacity in India, then statistics show that in 1997, it was 258 cubic meters per person in comparison to US, which stood at 2,043 cubic meters per person in 2002. Ever-growing urban India’s thirst has become another major cause behind leaders pressing for building more and more dams or are planning to raise the height of existing dams, by cutting widespread displacement and destruction of forests. This, when there are other cost-friendly options available to the Government of India. Mumbai is one of the best examples of this sort of mismanagement. The city and its nearby places are left high and dry because the Government is planning to increase the height of dams instead of de-silting reservoirs to increase water supply without realising the the fact that it will lead to more displacement.

The current Narendra Modi Government is emphasising on watershed development by levelling land and tapping rainwater in small ponds created by building small dams in the streams also known as check dams. This way, the soil will enriched moisture level which in turn will feed the groundwater levels thus permitting multiple crops.

The 12th Five-Year Plan (2012–2017) has emphasised on water mapping, watershed development, and has involved NGOs, and tracked loop-holes where irrigation capacity can be increased. Since water is a State subject in the Federal Constitution, State Governments are expected to play a large role in these efforts. Now with the implementation of Right to Information Act, the communities and NGOs can spread awareness on water issues which will help the Central Government.