Civil Service essay –India’s water crisis
India’s looming water crisis needs urgent remedy
That the water crisis is worsening inexorably impairing the health of the entire populace can’t be denied. An alarming 70% of the water sources in the country have already been polluted, reveals a Niti Aayog survey. The agency has developed the Composite Water Management Index to quantify the severity of the problem in different regions. The input data for computation of this Index is provided by the States.
Consuming polluted water imperils the health and well-being of millions of people. Battling with water scarcity is a lesser pain for the people than consuming polluted water which brings far greater misery. The Niti Aayog’s has laid down certain parameters for calculation of the Composite Water Management Index of the States. These ar
a. their performance in augmenting water resources and watersheds
b. their investment in infrastructure
c. extent of their success in providing rural and urban drinking water, and
d. encouraging efficient agricultural use.
It is expected that the Index would coax the under-performing States to do better with regard to finding long term solutions to the water problem, leading to mutual consultation, and adoption of one another’s best practices in water management.
A cursory look at the Indices shows Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab and Telangana to have adopted measures towards judicious water use. On the contrary, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have done precious little in this regard. Tamil Nadu, though not a high scorer in this scale, has done well in augmentation of its water sources. However, with regard to sustainable use of water in farming, Tamil Nadu’s record is poor. The fact that emerges loud and clear from such a study is that the specter of acute water scarcity now threatens the lives of some 600 million Indians. A determined and urgent push to stave off the crisis is needed.
We need to develop enough storage capacity to hold rain water. Development of watersheds in sufficient number will alleviate the problem of water wastefully flowing into the sea. Water, thus, stored will be much less polluted, provided strict anti-pollution laws are enforced. The farmers, who would use water thus stored, should be given the responsibility of managing the watersheds themselves on a collective basis. This idea has been mooted by Mihir Shah, Chairman of the Committee formed to restructure the Central Water Commission and the Central Ground Water Board.
Additionally, the Committee wants the management of irrigation facilities to be decentralized. Well-performing management entities can be financially rewarded through a National Irrigation Management Fund.
Having the system of Index to judge over-all performance will prove to be handy if such schemes of financial reward are to be implemented. States might begin to healthily compete with one another if awards are given to top performers.
Sharing of water of rivers flowing through more than one states still remains the ‘elephant in the room’. Inter-state squabbles over river water sharing have plagued India for decades. State level leaderships driven by narrow parochial considerations have traditionally blocked any consensus through discussions. The festering Cauvery dispute is a case in point. Recalcitrant state governments have sought remedy to the problem through the judicial route.
Groundwater utilization is another facet of the water resource management problem. Water extraction data is seldom collected meticulously, making any policy initiative in this field difficult. There are some 12 million wells in the country. Data of just 5% of such wells are available for any study.
India’s rural areas are becoming urbanized at a steady rate. Demand for ground water in these areas is soaring. Obviously, extraction of ground water in such high-density population areas must be regulated to avoid water table levels falling dangerously. People must have access to sufficient quantity of good quality drinking water, and used water has to be recycled to conserve it. Adoption of latest water treatment technologies should be a matter for policy formulation. Polluters must be made to pay the cost of undoing the nuisance they cause. Levy of hefty fines on the polluters might work as a deterrent.
To inject a new sense of purpose to the country’s drive to ensure water resource safety, fresh blood will have to be infused to the existing institutions. New laws will have to be framed to strengthen their hands.