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What Should be a New National Water Policy?

”GS Paper – 2: Centrally Sponsored Schemes, Government Policies & Interventions”

”GS Paper – 3: Conservation”

Context

The Ministry of Jal Shakti, last year, had announced an ambitious plan to provide water connections to every household in India by 2024. In that scenario, an updated or new National Water Policy can play a very crucial role.

Background

In November 2019, the Ministry of Jal Shakti had set up a committee to draft the new National Water Policy (NWP). This was the first time that the government asked a committee of independent experts to draft the policy. Over a period of one year, the committee received 124 submissions from state and central governments, academics and practitioners. The new NWP will be based on the striking consensus that emerged through these wide-ranging deliberations.

The Objective of National Water Policy

The objective of the National Water Policy is to take cognizance of the existing situation, to propose a framework for the creation of a system of laws and institutions and for a plan of action with a unified national perspective.

NITI Aayog’s Composite Water Management Index

  • According to the composite water management index released by the think tank, NITI Aayog in 2019, 21 major cities (including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad) were on the brink of exhausting groundwater resources, affecting about 100 million people.
  • The study also points out that by 2030, the demand for water is projected to be twice the available supply.

Over Dependence on Ground Water:

  • In the rural areas, 80%-90% of the drinking water and 75% of the water used for agriculture is drawn from groundwater sources.
  • In urban areas, 50%-60% of the water supply is drawn from groundwater sources, whereas the remaining is sourced from surface water resources such as rivers, often located afar, in addition to lakes, tanks and reservoirs.

Some Important Points from Draft New National Water Policy

  • Locus Specific Response: To galvanise the complexity and scale of the water crisis in India the policy calls for a locus-specific response.
  • To Understand and Map the sources from which the country draws water to meet its varying needs.
  • Co-ordination: The Ministry of Water Resources must reconfigure its relationship with other Ministries and Departments (Urban Development, Local Self-Government and Environment).
  • Effective land and water zoning regulations: Much needed reform to protect urban water bodies, groundwater sources, wetlands and green cover while simultaneously working to enhance wastewater recycling and water recharge activities targeting aquifers and wells through rainwater harvesting.
  • Crop Diversification: The policy suggests diversifying public procurement operations to include Nutri-cereals, pulses and oilseeds. This would incentivise farmers to diversify their cropping patterns, resulting in huge savings of water.
  • Reduce-Recycle-Reuse should be the basic mantra of integrated urban water supply and wastewater management.
  • Nature-Based Solutions such as rejuvenation of catchment areas should be adopted.
  • Blue-Green Infrastructure such as rain gardens and bio-swales, restored rivers with wet meadows, wetlands constructed for bio-remediation, urban parks, permeable pavements, green roofs etc are proposed for urban areas.
  • Restoring Ground Water: Immediate measures need to be taken to manage and replenish groundwater, especially through participatory groundwater management approaches with its combination of water budgeting, aquifer recharging and community involvement.
  • Syncing Technological Advancements: At the disciplinary level, governance and management should increasingly interact and draw from the expertise of fields such as hydrology (watershed sustainability), hydrogeology (aquifer mapping and recharge) and agriculture sciences (water-sensitive crop choices and soil health).
  • Surface Water Conservation: Importance given to groundwater conservation should not ignore surface water conservation including the many rivers and lakes which are in a critical and dying state due to encroachment, pollution, over-abstraction and obstruction of water flow by dams.
  • Emphasis on Local governing bodies: Panchayats, Municipalities, Corporations, etc., and Water Users Associations, wherever applicable, should be involved in the planning of new projects.
  • The new NWP considers water quality as the most serious unaddressed issue in India today. It proposes that every water ministry, at the Centre and states, include a water quality department.
  • The policy advocates adoption of state-of-the-art, low-cost, low-energy, eco-sensitive technologies for sewage treatment.
  • The policy wants RO units to be discouraged if the total dissolved solids count in water is less than 500mg/L. As the widespread use of reverse osmosis has led to huge water wastage and adverse impacts on water quality.
  • It suggests a task force on emerging water contaminants to better understand and tackle the threats they are likely to pose.
  • The policy makes radical suggestions for reforming the governance of water, which suffers from three kinds of “hydro-schizophrenia”: That between irrigation and drinking water, surface and groundwater, as also water and wastewater.
  • The NWP also suggests the creation of a unified multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder National Water Commission (NWC), which would become an exemplar for states to follow

 Understanding the Root Cause of present Water Crisis in Our Country through Case Studies

Case1:

  • Chennai City has faced a drought-like situation in 2019 as it has been built by incrementally encroaching floodplains and paving over lakes and wetlands that would have otherwise helped the process of recharging groundwater.
  • The lack of space for water to percolate underground prevented rainwater from recharging the aquifers.
  • This was further exacerbated by the loss of green cover (which would have otherwise helped water retention) to make way for infrastructure projects.
  • Such a situation, on the one hand, leads to flooding during normal rainfall due to stagnation, and on the other hand, leads to drought-like conditions due to the prevention of underground water storage.

 Case2:

  • The draft report of the Central Ground Water Board concluded that Punjab would be reduced to a desert in 25 years if the extraction of its groundwater resources continues unabated
  • 82% of Punjab’s land area has seen a huge decline in groundwater levels, wherein 109 out of 138 administrative blocks have been placed in the ‘over exploited’ category.
  • Groundwater extraction which was at 35% in the 1960s and 1970s, rose to 70% post the Green Revolution — a period which saw governments subsidising power for irrigation that left tube wells running for hours.
  • Cultivation of water-intensive crops such as paddy has further aggravated water depletion, even turning water saline.

ConclusionWhat Should be a New National Water Policy?_40.1

Since wisdom on the water is not the exclusive preserve of any one section of society, governments should build enduring partnerships with primary stakeholders of water, who must become an integral part of the NWC and its counterparts in the states. The indigenous knowledge of our people, with a long history of water management, is an invaluable intellectual resource that must be fully leveraged.

 

 

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