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Significance: India’s drinking water crisis has become severe over the past decade. Increasing demands on available water resources for intensive agricultural practices and industrial use, together with deteriorating water quality, constrain drinking water availability despite massive outlays for drinking water. The usage of the water has drastically changed throughout the country. Most of the farmers, industries, cities are relying on groundwater resources. The exponential exploitation of groundwater has brought India at a stage where the entire country is experiencing depletion in groundwater. To ensure India does not experience severe water crisis, it is necessary to have a robust water management system.

Reasons for water crisis in India: 

  • Indiscriminate Use: Overuse of water is an unsolved matter.It is normally overused on people, animals, land etc. It may also be used for recreational activities without any care. India has only 4% of the world’s water resources and 16% of the global population. Geographically, India is carved up into 5,723 groundwater blocks. Nearly 1,500 are overused, making it impossible for rains to replenish them.
  • Pollution of Water: Water pollution makes water unfit for drinking . It is mainly caused because of disposal of industrial wastes, because of inadequate sewerage treatment plants etc. Eighty percent of sewage in India is untreated and flows directly into the nation’s rivers, polluting the main sources of drinking water.Indian cities produce nearly 40,000 million liters of sewage every day and barely 20 percent of it is treated.
  • Drought: A drought is formed an area which is not getting enough rainfall to be able to sustain the life that is residing there. Some areas are in perpetual drought whereas other areas may be dealing with a drought on occasion. It leads to severe water crisis.
  • Distance: There are a number of areas throughout the country that deal with water scarcity because they just aren’t close to anywhere that has water. These areas are considered to be desert or areas that are secluded which can get water effectively.
  • Demography: The rapid increase in human population combined by massive growth in industry sector have have transformed water ecosystems and resulted in loss of biodiversity.
  • Agriculture: Agriculture uses majority of available freshwater. The sad thing is that about 60% of this water gets wasted due to inefficient agriculture methods and leaky irrigation systems. In addition to this, pesticides and fertilizers are washed away in rivers and lakes that further affect human and animal population.

Major water management issues:

  • River Pollution: All of India’s fourteen major river systems are heavily polluted, mostly from the 50 million cubic meters of untreated sewage discharged into them each year.
  • Water Conflicts: Severe water shortages have already led to a growing number of conflicts across the country. Nearly 90% of India’s territory is drained by interstate rivers. The lack of clear allocation rules and uncertainty about water sharing has led to major disputes between states.
  • Ground Water Pollution: The primary reasons are industrial pollution and extensive farming leading to agrochemical pollution of the groundwater. In case of industries, it is due to lack of treatment of effluents that are pumped into rivers and streams leading to groundwater pollution.
  • Poor management: The water resources are mismanaged and it lead to crumbling infrastructure and depleting resources.By 2020, India’s demand for water will exceed all sources of supply.
  • Corruption: About one in 10 households paid bribes to regularize their water connection in India. This denotes there is a vacuum in governance which has to be filled.

Mihir Shah Committee recommendations on water management: Expert Committee chaired by Dr. Mihir Shah submitted its report on restructuring the Central Water Commission and the Central Ground Water Board in July 2016. The CWC is responsible for coordinating with states for the implementation of schemes for the conservation and utilisation of water resources. The CGWB is responsible for assessment of ground water resources and implementation of policies for its sustainable management.

Major recommendations of the committee include:

  • National Water Commission: It recommended that the CWC and CGWB should be restructured and unified to form a new National Water Commission (NWC). It reasoned that a unified body will help in the collective management of ground and surface water. The NWC will be responsible for water policy, data and governance in the country.
  • Irrigation Management Transfer (IMT): States should only be involved in the development of irrigation structures, such as main systems up to secondary canals. Irrigation structures from the level of tertiary canals and below should be the responsibility of Water Users Association of farmers. IMT will improve equitable access to water by all farmers and result in 20% savings in water use.
  • Participatory ground water management: Ground water needs to be recognised as a common pool resource and its continuous, unchecked extraction needs to be stopped. Corrective measures such as establishing required drilling depth, distance between wells, cropping pattern that does not require over-withdrawal of the resource should be adopted.
  • Rejuvenation of rivers: River basins in the country are under represented by the offices of the CWC and CGWB. The proposed NWC should have offices at regional levels to cover all river basins in the country. These offices should ensure surface and ground water interdisciplinary expertise for river basin management.

Functions of NWC: 

  • Incentivise state governments to implement irrigation projects in reform mode.
  • Lead the national aquifer mapping and ground water management program
  • Develop a location-specific program for rejuvenation of rivers, etc.

Conclusion: Access to safe water and sanitation and sound management of freshwater ecosystems are essential to human health and to environmental sustainability and economic prosperity. Effective water and sanitation management relies on the participation of a range of stakeholders, including local communities. Mihir Shah committee recommendations have to be adopted progressively to ensure water security and sustainability.