Integrate National Water Policy

India is poised to play a major role in the comity of nations. There are imbalances between availability-demand, population expansion, rapid socio-economic growth and climate change bringing water issues to the fore. Water conflicts can arise because of inter-sectoral/inter-states competition & conflicts because sharing limited and essential resource is difficult. Are we at crossroads today, giving rise to a series of conundrum involving various socio-economic-ecological perspectives? A report

31 March, 2020 Special Reports, Water
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‘Integrated National Water Policy’ that encompasses the rural as well as the urban areas then becomes the need of the hour. There is an even greater need for awareness of holistic water policy and resolving issues of Competition and Conflict through Cooperation-Convergence-Cohesion approach. It is critical to manage the water issue holistically.


Experts argued that the current scenario requires immediate attention towards water management in the country to fix the current deficit and gaps in the system, along with becoming future ready for the increased demand for a resource which is already scarce and irreplaceable. There are many issues regarding water management that need to be deliberated on and come up with a framework which is more human and sustainable.

If Ministry of Jal Shakti is entrusted with water conservation & management, then Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change with conservation & protection of water resources i.e. wetlands, biodiversity, eco-system, but the vision of Jal Shakti is incomplete without significance of MOEFCC’s interventions. Also, some argued Water as ‘Right’ is difficult to guarantee. Even after years of planning, cities still do not have access to quality water, there is abysmal functioning of water boards and non-uniformity. Water connection and waste disposal and its envisaged objectives is still a distant dream given that India is a home to 7.7 lakh wetlands, sources of water has started disappearing. Comparing 2012 policy, which gave a unified national perspective to take cognizance of water-related realms, today, with Jal Shakti Abhiyan focus on water conservation through Jan Andolan and Jal Jeevan Mission provides for 24×7 piped water supply, a vision of 2012 policy must move beyond myopic direction and accommodate contemporary interventions.

According to M Ramachandran, Distinguished Fellow, SKOCH Development Foundation, it is very significant for every stakeholder to closely examine the Water and Sanitation imperatives for India. Even after so many years of planning and huge focus on drinking water, our cities have failed to take note of the water requirement in coming years. Wastage of water is another big issue, which requires an immediate attention. There is a dire need for availability of data and public policy making based on this data. Even for a smooth functioning of the Water Board, the situation is not uniformly clear across the nation. He added, equitable access to water is still a distant dream and hence the quantity and quality of providing water must be speeded up.

Also, local bodies need to be aware of the issues and should have access to the information, which is somehow restricted to the Centre. It is the responsibility of every stakeholder to consider drinking water availability as a primary goal. The mandate of Jal Shakti Abhiyaan’s is to provide tap water to all the households by 2024.

M Ramachandran, Distinguished Fellow, SKOCH Development Foundation

Water should be seen as gold for the country. Even after all the planning, we are still not sure about how many cities have assured hours of water supply? Do our cities and towns take note of the water requirement in the coming year or years? These questions need to be answered to plan the supply and availability of water accordingly. We are clueless regarding the water wastage; we need to understand and monitor wastage. Currently, this data is only available to segments of the department and not communicated across the system.

Private participation was always welcomed in water but it never really took off. The main reason for that was, when private players requested for data it could not be provided to them because of the lack of a robust database that covers all meaningful parameters. So they were not able to deliver as desired. Work needs to be done towards making this public – private partnership a productive mechanism to deliver effective solutions to people across the country. This could contribute towards the effectiveness, especially of the urban water supply system. The national water policy needs to account for the environmental impact of the varied usage and wastage.

We also need to address the question of where we stand regarding the infrastructure to support the water supply requirements. Fair access of water to everyone is still not a priority, while initiatives announced by the Prime Minister are the step in the right direction. Wastage of water is another big issue, which requires an immediate attention. There is a dire need for availability of data and public policy making based on this data. Even for a smooth functioning of the Water Board, the situation is not uniformly clear across the nation.

The current situation reflects that there is something fundamentally wrong in the way planning is being done. We need to make water a priority.

At this juncture of the water scenario, if we have to bridge the gap between demand and supply, different technologies like micro or drip-irrigation, shifting water use efficiency from 3R to 9R principles, strengthening ecosystem services like wetlands, forests etc innovative scientific technologies and information sharing be employed towards water conservation; augmentation along with biodiversity, said Arvind Kumar, President, India Water Foundation. Water availability and quality is a gateway to fulfill SDGs like health and well-being, no poverty and hunger, clean energy, sustainable cities and climate change which largely remains compartmentalized, he added. Policy must encompass ‘From No Poverty to Last mile Delivery’. We have to evolve an integrated approach incorporating ‘Transversal’ shift interlinking vertical linkages between water-food-energy nexus with horizontal indicators like Heath, Education, Agriculture, Entrepreneurship, Gender etc. An Integrated National Water Policy must be weighed against efficiency, effectiveness and equity, if India has to realize its 24×7 water vision and also sustainable development goals 2030, the last ‘Decade for Action’, said Kumar. 

Arvind Kumar, President, India Water Foundation

The magnitude of the water crisis we are facing is huge – the gap is between availability of the water, demand for water, population growth, socio -economic changes, climate change, etc adding to the problem constantly.  We require an Integrated Water Policy which encompasses water security, water equality, disaster management, etc. The water policy of 1987, updated in 2002 and then again in 2012, still treats water like an economic good. That means economic principles are still guiding water pricing, allocation and distribution, compromising on several aspects such as equality, social justice and water for the environment. I believe water is a socio-economic connector, development indicator and key component of sustainable development. As water is a significant component in wetlands, science and technology, agriculture and many other vital areas, inter-linkage of water with other relevant policies such as wetland rules & guidelines; science, innovation and technology policy (2013), agriculture policies are essential. Inter-linkages with relevant policies will enable harmonious interpretations and solutions. We need to think why can’t we have an integrated interpretation with transverse SIPs interlinking vertically for instance with food and interlinking horizontally with industries like health, entrepreneurship, education, etc. These horizontal and vertical interlinking’s can help us not just meet economic targets but also meet aspirational regional needs by turning it into mass movements. States like Meghalaya are the first to put together an effective water policy to achieve sustainable development. We need to have more such initiatives by other states to make real progress.

Practically viable ideas such as water sanitation village council at village level can really give headway in solving the problem. Techniques such as micro and drip irrigation, shifting water deficiencies, information sharing, water resource conservations need to be implemented immediately on a wide base.

Climate volatility needs to be given more importance considering how crucial its impact has become on water volatility, water quality and availability. The water policy needs to be weighed against efficiency, delivery and equality.

Assessment of water resources need not follow the political boundaries of States. Sanjay Bajpai, Head, Technology Mission (Energy, Water & all Other), Department of Science and Technology espoused that water as nexus has to be assessed interlinking water-education-health and vice versa transcending business as usual approach. He said, “Water requirements need to be prioritised regarding relevant areas such as food, sanitation, health, energy and so forth. Even the reverse impact needs to be studied and considered while planning. There has to be a regional customisation in the approach with a focus on local issues. Designing of the solutions especially considering the socio-economic context is significant as it can trigger the market forces to impose the solutions.” 

“Water quality is another big challenge. Our conventional water treatment systems cannot handle the emerging contaminates and hence we need new tools and techniques to ensure safe and quality water for all. Not only Science, Technology and Innovation but convergence across the domains is very critical for the success of Jal Shakti Abhiyaan,” he further added. 

Sunil Kumar, Director, Central Water Commission was vocal about Integrated Water Resource Management, saying it is a must to consider river/sub-basin as a unit at basin level for fair water resources without compromise vital ecosystem.  He said, considering the emerging challenges, government has continuously upgraded and revised the Water Policy. Government is keen to further upgrade it. To address the emerging conflicting needs and demands, we already have Interstate River Water Disputes Act in place. It can resolve any kind of water dispute that would arise in the use, control and distribution of an interstate river or river valley, he added. It should facilitate assessment of water policy against three major criterion – effectiveness, efficiency and appropriateness.

“Unlike other acts and policies, a robust regulatory framework is missing in case of the Integrated National Water Policy. Along with the upgradation of the National Water Policy, we should have an act or regulatory framework backing the policy,” he further said. 

Highlighting Government’s proactive efforts towards nudging farmers towards low water-intensive crops through ‘Sahi Fasal’ campaign, G Asok Kumar, Managing Director, National Water Mission remarked since 86 per cent water is used by agriculture and hardly 8 per cent in urban/industrial sectors, there is a need to manage agriculture side water management. This would be critical to ensure availability of drinking water. 

Kumar said that although the Ministry of Jal Shakti has brought in usage of water under one umbrella, but still there is a requirement for integration. Lack of a uniform database is another big challenge. National water mission is putting efforts to create the right set of databases. Also, there is no single uniform contact point in the country to address water. We have sufficient water but the problem is that in the absence of consciousness and economic value of water; we cannot manage it in the right manner, opined Kumar. 

Cities, especially Tier-1 have forgotten the sources of water, i.e., wetlands. Embankments have turned marshes into encroached zones. Ritesh Kumar, Director-South Asia, Wetlands International said, “We should never forget that water can only be produced by nature. India is blessed with 7.7 lakh wetlands. Drinking water is available to us because these wetlands are cleaning and recharging the groundwater. The irony is that these wetlands are now disappearing. Conserving Ecosystem has to be a part of the water conservation dialogue. The vision of Jal Shakti Abhiyaan is incomplete without preserving our National Ecosystem. Without wetlands, we cannot think of Jal Shakti, stressed Kumar. The policy must address a unified vision of water from the perspective of wetlands and ecosystem. The real Jal Shakti lies in wetlands and hence it should be a priority for all the stakeholders to conserve these.

G Asok Kumar, Managing Director, Central Water Commission

We all talk about water but our focus is only on drinking water. 80 to 85 percent of water is being used in agriculture and drinking water is just 8 percent but still is more visible to us. Unless we manage this 80-85 percent water, we cannot properly manage the 8 percent.

Another challenge we face in our country’s water management is the lack of unified data on water availability and usage. Different departments collect data on their own parameters. One goal Water Mission has is to drive the creation of a uniform database across the country. 

The biggest problem we face in India regarding water management is that we do not have a single unified point of contact or unit that deals with water-related decisions across states. Every state has given the responsibility to a different department, somewhere it is the irrigation department, somewhere it is the water authority that needs to be contacted. 

The Ministry of Jal Shakti has brought in usage of water under one umbrella, but still there is a requirement for integration. For instance, MGNREGA is the main force driving water conservation efforts in the country’s rural pockets. 

Despite what statistics saying otherwise, I believe India has sufficient water available. Water is available if we properly utilise it – if we reuse, reduce and recycle. Reduce the water usage at industries, reuse water at households, etc. What is required is a change in attitude towards water in general. We need to realise the value of water, not the price. Government has taken initiatives towards this.

Water is a state subject, but we have to have a single water policy for equitability, ensuring quality and handling disputes. Water needs to be managed locally but have national concern.

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