Water is one of the biggest necessities of life without which no one can survive. Water is required for drinking, washing and sanitation. It is also required for agriculture and a number of industrial activities. However, out of these drinking water has attained highest priority. In a UNICEF-WHO report, between the period 1990-2010, India has been able to provide clean drinking water to about 550 million people although about 97 million people are yet to have access to clean drinking water. As per data provided by the World Bank 90% of the people have access to clean drinking water. National Water Policy, 2002 has mentioned water allocation priorities as under:-
- Drinking Water
- Agro-industries and non-agricultural industries
- Navigation and other uses
The policy has also laid guidelines for periodic reassessment of ground water considering the quality and economic viability of extraction; financial and physical sustainability of the existing resources; participatory approach to Water Resources Management by including various government agencies, users and other stake holders; private sector partnerships in planning, development and management of water resource projects; monitoring of water quality of both ground and surface water; conservation of water; flood control and management; land erosion by sea or by river and drought-prone area development.
However, the Government is intending to revise the National Water Policy and accordingly has prepared the Draft National Water Policy, 2012. The draft policy notes that water is required for domestic, agricultural, hydropower, thermal power, navigation etc and utilization in all these diverse uses should be optimized and an awareness of water as a scarce resource should be fostered. It has also been stated that Government must ensure access to a minimum quality of potable water for essential health and hygiene to all its citizens, available within easy reach of the household.
The policy also identifies the areas of concern in management of water resources, some of which are as under:
- Large parts of India have already become water stressed. Rapid growth in demand for water due to population growth, urbanization and changing lifestyle pose serious challenges to water security.
- Issues related to water governance have not been addressed adequately. Mismanagement of water resources has led to a critical situation in many parts of the country.
- There is wide temporal and spatial variation in availability of water, which may increase substantially due to a combination of climate change, causing deepening of water crisis and incidences of water related disasters, i.e., floods, increased erosion and increased frequency of droughts, etc.
- Climate change may also increase the sea levels. This may lead to salinity intrusion in ground water aquifers / surface waters and increased coastal inundation in coastal regions, adversely impacting habitations, agriculture and industry in such regions.
- Access to safe water for drinking and other domestic needs still continues to be a problem in many areas. Skewed availability of water between different regions and different people in the same region and also the intermittent and unreliable water supply system has the potential of causing social unrest.
- Groundwater, though part of hydrological cycle and a community resource, is still perceived as an individual property and is exploited inequitably and without any consideration to its sustainability leading to its over-exploitation in several areas.
- Water resources projects, though multi-disciplinary with multiple stakeholders, are being planned and implemented in a fragmented manner without giving due consideration to optimum utilization, environment sustainability and holistic benefit to the people.
- Inter-regional, inter-State, intra-State, as also inter-sectoral disputes in sharing of water, strain relationships and hamper the optimal utilization of water through scientific planning on basin/sub-basin basis.
- Grossly inadequate maintenance of existing irrigation infrastructure has resulted in wastage and under-utilization of available resources. There is a widening gap between irrigation potential created and utilized.
- Natural water bodies and drainage channels are being encroached upon, and diverted for other purposes. Groundwater recharge zones are often blocked.
- Growing pollution of water sources, especially through industrial effluents, is affecting the availability of safe water besides causing environmental and health hazards. In many parts of the country, large stretches of rivers are both heavily polluted and devoid of flows to support aquatic ecology, cultural needs and aesthetics.
- Access to water for sanitation and hygiene is an even more serious problem. Inadequate sanitation and lack of sewage treatment are polluting the water sources.
- Low public consciousness about the overall scarcity and economic value of water results in its wastage and inefficient use.
- The lack of adequate trained personnel for scientific planning, utilizing modern techniques and analytical capabilities incorporating information technology constrains good water management.
- A holistic and inter-disciplinary approach at water related problems is missing.
- The public agencies in charge of taking water related decisions tend to take these on their own without consultation with stakeholders, often resulting in poor and unreliable service characterized by inequities of various kinds.
- Characteristics of catchment areas of streams, rivers and recharge zones of aquifers are changing as a consequence of land use and land cover changes, affecting water resource availability and quality.
The draft policy also lays guidelines for framing public policies for water management. These guidelines are as under:
- Planning, development and management of water resources need to be governed by common integrated perspective considering local, regional, State and national context, having an environmentally sound basis, keeping in view the human, social and economic needs.
- Principle of equity and social justice must inform use and allocation of water.
- Good governance through transparent informed decision making is crucial to the objectives of equity, social justice and sustainability. Meaningful intensive participation, transparency and accountability should guide decision making and regulation of water resources.
- Water needs to be managed as a common pool community resource held, by the state, under public trust doctrine to achieve food security, support livelihood, and ensure equitable and sustainable development for all.
- Water is essential for sustenance of eco-system, and therefore, minimum ecological needs should be given due consideration.
- Water, after meeting the pre-emptive needs for safe drinking water, sanitation and high priority allocation for other domestic needs (including needs of animals), achieving food security, supporting sustenance agriculture and minimum eco-system needs, may be treated as economic good so as to promote its conservation and efficient use.
- All the elements of the water cycle, i.e., evapo-transpiration, precipitation, runoff, river, lakes, soil moisture, and ground water, sea, etc., are interdependent and the basic hydrological unit is the river basin, which should be considered as the basic hydrological unit for planning.
- Given the limits on enhancing the availability of utilizable water resources and increased variability in supplies due to climate change, meeting the future needs will depend more on demand management, and hence, this needs to be given priority, especially through (a) evolving an agricultural system which economizes on water use and maximizes value from water, and (b) bringing in maximum efficiency in use of water and avoiding wastages.
- Water quality and quantity are interlinked and need to be managed in an integrated manner, consistent with broader environmental management approaches inter-alia including the use of economic incentives and penalties to reduce pollution and wastage.
- The impact of climate change on water resources availability must be factored into water management related decisions. Water using activities need to be regulated keeping in mind the local geo climatic and hydrological situation.
Apart from the above, the policy lays guidelines regarding adaption to climate change; enhancing availability of water available for use; demand management and water use efficiency; water pricing; conservation of river corridors, water bodies and infrastructure; project planning and implementation; management of flood and drought; water supply and sanitation; institutional arrangements; trans-boundary rivers; maintenance of database & information system and research and training needs.