National Water Policy 2012 and the Aam Aadmi (A World Water Day Exclusive)

Posted on March 19, 2012 in Specials

By Dr. Amrit Patel:

The water scenario is now fast-changing as a result of increasing population, rising demand for irrigation to raise high-yielding varieties of crops, rapid urbanization and industrialization, electricity generation, impact of global warming and erratic rainfall. The Water for Life Decade (2005-15) and the World Water Day, being held on March 22 every year, has significance to create awareness among all stakeholders that water is finite, scarce, costly and precious and, therefore, should be efficiently managed for the country’s sustainable development. Since the National Water Policy 2012 is under consideration of the Government, this article attempts to highlight the current scenario on drinking water and sanitation in rural areas and irrigation status and focus attention on issues of serious concern to Aam Aadmi.

Rising Demand for Water

Water water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink?
  • Asian Development Bank in its draft report on “Water Operational Framework 2011-2020”, explicitly cautioned that by 2030, water shortages are likely to aggregate 40% in developing Asia and that in India demand will exceed supply by 50%.
  • Water usage has been predicted to undergo significant change, by 89% in agriculture, 6% in industry and 5% in domestic use in 2000 to 81%, 11, & 8% respectively in 2025 and 71%, 18% & 11% respectively in 2050. The NCIWRD (National Commission on Integrated Water Resources Development) has estimated that the irrigation sector would consume about 79% of the available water resources in 2050. However, with focused attention to promote improved water management practices in irrigation projects suffering from operational deficiencies, even a 10% improvement in the water use efficiency in agriculture is likely to increase its availability by 40%.
  • The document of Government of India on “National Water Mission under the National Action Plan for Climate Changes” acknowledges the plethora of problems and risks associated with increasing water scarcity. Based on worldwide experiences, it aims at improving the water use efficiency through innovative management approaches, water conservation and watershed management initiatives. Since our agriculture has been severely dependent on availability of water, particularly monsoon rains, increased climate variability is expected to impact agricultural productivity.
  • Approach predicted on realizing the costs that go into supply of water can only distort access and prices in the long run, affecting less affluent citizens. For example, the State should exit the service provider role and become a regulator is only a step away from abandoning the equity objectives. Evidently, private partnership imposes the burden of extra costs.
  • In 2005, a World Bank document recommended that ‘If India is to have sustainable economic growth, the role of the Indian water state must change from that of a builder and controller to creator of an enabling environment and facilitator of the actions of water users large and small’.  The document, inter alia, suggested ‘stimulating competition in and for the market for irrigation and water and sanitation services’.

Draft Water Policy 2012

The Draft on Water Policy, among others, suggests that, i) the Government may withdraw from its role as a service provider in the water sector, ii) communities and the private sector should be encouraged to play the role of service provider, iii) Government should abolish  all forms of water subsidies to the agricultural and domestic sectors, iv) subsidies and incentives should be provided to private industry for recycling and reusing treated effluents, v) people displaced by large water projects should be made partners and given a share in the benefits comparable to the project-benefited families. The policy suggests that the cost of rehabilitation and compensation to the project affected families be partly borne by the project-benefited families through adequate pricing of water.

Shree Rajendra Singh of the Tarun Bharat Sangh, a voluntary organization aptly argues that Water is an endowment of nature to mankind and is not a property of the State or any individual and is never a private asset. Similarly, the European Union’s vision in its 2000 Water Framework Directive with the goal of achieving sustainable management of water states in the preamble, ‘Water is not a commercial product like any other but, rather, a heritage which must be protected, defended and treated as such’. Water, therefore, in the Indian context should be acknowledged as a nature’s endowment to mankind and not a property of any one, Government or an individual. The role of the Union and State Governments should be in public-private- partnership mode as under:

i) To invest in research and development that can identify and develop new sources of water and augment water availability

ii) To facilitate all households and livestock access to safe drinking water as the basic constitutional right.

iii) Water should be responsibly delivered to all without discrimination, prioritizing vulnerable groups, such as weaker sections and low income groups. Affordable price, delivery with dignity, convenience, reliability, flexibility and continuity determine the quality of services. After 64 years since independence, access to safe drinking water sources in urban and rural areas improved to about 96% and 73% respectively by the year 2008. As per the reports of the Joint Monitoring Program of World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, the use of improved sanitation coverage in rural areas of India has increased to about 21% in 2008. Besides, 65000 villages are still “no source” villages and estimated 20 crore people access unhygienic water. Number of villages are not only deprived of having a dependable source of drinking water but many others have, also, been experiencing impact of hazardous chemicals in the aquifers of groundwater. A high proportion of the rural population in agricultural areas in India obtain their drinking water supplies from shallow and private bore holes, which suffer to a much greater extent from the impact of chemical fertilizers and pesticides as well as other elements injurious to health viz. fluoride, nitrate, chloride, arsenic, sulphide, iron, zinc, chromium and salinity.

Already, 185 locations/districts throughout the country where theses pollutants cause harmful effects have been identified by the Government and other agencies. The gravity of the problem can best be understood from the fact that fluoride is present in 37 districts of nine States; salinity (inland) in 12 districts of five States; salinity (coastal) in 11 districts of four States; nitrate in 68 districts of 12 States; chloride in 17 districts of five States; arsenic in four districts of one State; sulphide in three districts of one State; iron in 26 districts of seven States; zinc in six districts of three States and Chromium in one district.

iv) To bring additional area of about 80 million hectares under irrigation, to guarantee food security of 1.21 billion people. Currently, only about 62 million hectares (44%) of the cropped area is irrigated as against net sown area of about 140 million hectares out of total cultivable area of 182 million hectares.

v) Over the years, there has been a manifested lack of attention to water legislation, water conservation, water use efficiency, water harvesting and recycling. Some studies reveal that i) the country at the aggregate level receives fairly a good rainfall at about 1170 mm (46.8 inches) per annum, ii) almost 50% of it is received in a span of 15 days and 90% of the rainwater is lost due to run-off in just four months iii) only about 15% of the annual rain water is used for irrigation iv) if this water through adoption of scientific techniques is properly stored and efficiently used for sustained surface irrigation, it can enhance agricultural productivity at low cost and reduce excessive pressure on groundwater.   

vi) To improve significantly the efficiency of irrigation system of the Government and private irrigation projects which is 40% and 65% respectively. With focused attention to promote improved water management practices in irrigation projects suffering from operational deficiencies, even a 10% improvement in the water use efficiency in agriculture is likely to increase its availability by 40%.

vii) To enhance significantly the return on the irrigation projects undertaken by the Government which is around 30 % of their maintenance costs to meet full maintenance cost and maintain properly the irrigation system.

viii) To regulate exploitation of groundwater in the light of the National Ground Water document “Dynamics of Ground Water Resources of India” brought out by the Central Ground Water Board in 2005 which revealed extremely alarming & deteriorating condition of ground water in country’s 1,645 blocks as compared to 4,078 safe blocks. There are 839 blocks over exploited, 226 blocks critical, 550 blocks semi-critical & 30 blocks saline.

ix) Pricing of water delivery should be based on the principle of social-equity since a) according to NSS round (2004-05), 41.8% rural population had monthly per capita expenditure of Rs.447 ($ 9.31) and 25.7% urban population having monthly per capita expenditure of Rs.578 ($ 12.04) and b) The percentage of small farmers owning farm-size between one and two hectares and marginal farmers together constituted 85.9% in 2002-03. The National Sample Survey (2003) estimated that the area under informal tenancy in India varied between 15% and 35% of the total farm area and 36% of the total households leasing land were landless laborers and 47.5% had land below 0.5 hectare. These households below poverty line and small farmers should have affordable services.

It is time that India in her concern for the environment, ecology and social and human rights relating to water shifts the subject of water to the Concurrent list of the Constitution and frames policies that aim at transforming the country into a Sujalam (richly watered), Suphalam (richly fruited) and Sasya Shyamalam (richly harvested) nation.