All political parties must unite to aid the Government’s initiatives to foster efficient water management in the country
Water is the most important resource for sustaining life on Earth. The happiness and development index of any civilised society depends upon access to safe drinking water. India lies in the tropical region with plenty of rainfall, though it is more in the North and the North-East and comparatively less in the West and South. The Himalayan glaciers complement the precipitation and provide year-long supply of water to our rivers, rivulets and recharge aquifers. Forest catchments also play an important role in maintaining the flow in rain-fed rivers, recharging aquifers and subsurface drinking water. India receives around 4,000 billion cubic metres (bcm) of rainfall annually from June to September, which is equivalent to four per cent of the world’s water resources. The renewable water resource in India is 1,897 sq km per annum. The World Health Organisation (WHO) prescribes 25 litres of water for one person a day to meet all basic hygiene and food needs. If rain and river water is managed thoughtfully, there should be sufficient water for agriculture, drinking, industrial and energy use. We have 12 major rivers catering to 253 million ha of catchment with another 47 rivers catering for other catchments. The Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna river system is the largest in India with 43 per cent of the catchment area of all the major river systems.
According to the Central Water Commission, India needs a maximum of 3,000 bcm of water a year while it receives 4,000 bcm of rain. However, due to poor planning, natural causes like climate change and the negligent attitude of the people, India is in the grip of severe water scarcity. As per the Niti Aayog’s composite water management index, 75 per cent of households do not have drinking water on the premises and 84 per cent rural households do not have piped water access. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research says the per capita annual water availability declined to 1,508 cubic metres in 2014 from 5,177 cubic metres in 1951. It is estimated to fall further to 1,465 by 2025 and 1,235 cubic metres by 2050. We will become a water stressed nation if it goes down to 1,000-1,100 cubic metres. Already cities like Delhi, Gurugram, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad are badly affected and facing severe water famine during the summers.
The biggest reasons for water stress are overexploitation of groundwater and over 89 per cent of it is used for agriculture. It is estimated that around 50 per cent of urban water requirement and 85 per cent of rural domestic water needs are fulfilled by groundwater. India captures only eight per cent of its annual rainfall and the local catchment areas like ponds and lakes have been lost due to demands for land. We therefore, need serious introspection and prevent wastage of water and learn from Israel which recycles and manages its water efficiently.
Thankfully, the Government integrated the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation and created the Jal Shakti Ministry, which has already taken several actions like the cleaning of Ganga in Kanpur, Varanasi and Haridwar. Under the Jal Jeevan Mission the Prime Minister on December 25, 2019 launched the Atal Jal Yojana to help improve the groundwater level in 8,300 villages in 78 districts of Maharashtra, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. The farmers of these States and elsewhere, will have to rethink the use of water-intensive crops and irrigation methods. The National Rainfed Area Authority had recommended to the Cabinet Secretary to transfer rice cultivation in eastern States and converge water conservation, forests and rural development schemes in other States.
To provide safe drinking water to rural areas the Union Cabinet had also approved the Jal Jeevan Mission to provide Functional Household Tap Connection to every rural household by 2024. It is going to be one of the best Government decisions if implemented successfully, as out of the 17.87 crore rural households about 14.6 crore (which accounts for 81.67 per cent) are yet to get water tap connections. The scheme aims at providing assured 55 litre of potable water per capita per day. It envisages that each village will prepare an action plan comprising components of water source and its maintenance, water supply and management of water used for washing dishes, clothes and bathing. The total project cost is estimated to be `3.60 lakh crore. The Government had finalised the guidelines of the scheme and kept the provision of a third-party inspection before making payment, which is an innovation in Government functioning, as it will involve organisations and institutions outside the bureaucracy for efficacy. Yet another innovative thinking is changes in drinking water supply services that will have a utility-based approach and concept of service delivery. This will enable them to function as utilities focussing on services and recover water use fee. This initiative will be successful, provided people are made stakeholders, there is proper monitoring and experts are involved. It will help in initiating efficient water management and all political parties must unite for its success, as Earth is the only known planet that has water for sustaining life.
(The author is a former civil servant)