If you wake up in the morning and take a stroll to some of the marginalised colonies of your area, you will see a serpentine queue, to fill water cans, from the water being supplied by the municipality. Or talk of Bundelkhand, and the phrase ‘water crisis’ comes to mind. All over India, we see numerous cases of losses to farmers as they could not get water for their crop, due to low rainfall, or no rainfall at all. The indication is that the water crisis is not restricted to one area, but is spread across urban and rural regions.
In urban areas, we have separate water for cooking and drinking, and the water from overhead tanks is only used for washing and doing household chores. For drinking, a lot of the urban population is dependent on bottled water, which is supplied by various brands or the local water supplier, who has RO plants installed at one place, to meet the drinking water demands. Access to drinking water remains one of the biggest challenges in the country these days. The issue gets highlighted after looking at the growing population, and growing demand for water from agriculture, energy, and industry.
The situation looks grimmer when we listen to what UNICEF is saying. According to the organisation, one-fourth of India’s population has drinking water on their premises, and nearly three-quarters of all diseases in India are caused by contaminants in the water supply. Access to drinking water is clearly a question of public and domestic health.
The scarcity is man-made because of population growth and mismanagement of water resources. Also, we have inefficient use of water for agriculture -a sector that requires the highest consumption of water, as India is among the top growers of agricultural produce in the world. The consumption is high, mainly because most of the farming is done through traditional methods that result in maximum water loss due to evaporation, drainage, etc. The solution to the problem lies in turning towards the use of micro-irrigation techniques, like drip farming or using sprinklers.
The second reason behind water scarcity, is the reduction in traditional water recharging areas, due to rapid construction for urbanisation, which is harming the traditional water bodies. The situation demands that steps should be taken to revive traditional aquifers and also develop new ones.
Thirdly, all the wastewater and sewage flows into the water bodies, making them unfit for use. Here, the government has to take steps at the source, to make sure the contamination is contained. Take for example, in Delhi; we can see industrious foam in river Yamuna – a sign that chemicals and effluents are released into the rivers. In Osmansagar, and Himayatsagar, lakes were providing drinking water for centuries, but excessive urbanisation and unplanned construction blocked the traditional aquifers. Then there are thousands of borewells operating in the state, that have been drawing groundwater, resulting in falling water levels. The story is the same all over India – the demand for water is increasing, putting stress on the collection, storage, regeneration and distribution of water. Strict monitoring by law enforcing agencies is the need of the hour, with fruitful intervention by the NGOs and social activists.
Fourth, inefficient water management and distribution between urban consumers, the farmers and the industries are also responsible for the crisis. The government must invest in technology and consult the stakeholders to optimise existing resources.
Steps have to be taken by the common people; it is not just the responsibility of the government. We can start by having ‘water-free’ urinals that can save thousands of litres of water, per home, per year. The collective impact of using ‘water-free’ urinals will significantly reduce the wastage of water. The government, on its part, can make it mandatory to have such urinals in homes, and at other public places, or hotels or schools. In the kitchen, we leave the water running while we are in the midst of dishwashing – this needs to stop. It may look like a small step, but litres of water go to waste, while we are busy applying washing liquid on the utensils.
A law should be passed to have water harvesting facilities in every independent home and group housing societies. Recycling of water, for non-drinking purposes, should be encouraged and advertised. All leaks from the taps should be stopped immediately, as even a small, steady water leak can cause a loss of thousands of litres of water every year.
Unless we are conscious of water wastage, we might face situations like the Cape Town water crisis. This was contained, when the City of Cape Town implemented water restrictions and reduced its daily water usage by more than half per day, in March 2018. The challenge is to implement innovative and sustainable solutions that meet everyone’s needs, and this can be met, only when municipalities and all the stakeholders, work hand-in-hand.
The author is a Supreme Court Lawyer