Friday, January 4, 2013

The need for a National Water Policy

According to the 7th Schedule of the Indian Constitution, "water" is a state subject, meaning that each state has been given autonomy to frame its own laws regarding water supply, management and governance. This is because different states have vastly different water availability, rainfall, population and economy structure and hence, the water usage and the pattern thereof varies. However, we are today in an era when water resources can no longer be treated in geographical isolation, and for the reasons mentioned below, a pan-India policy for water management becomes essential:

1. Water is required for virtually every single activity. From human development, to ensuring energy security and food security, water is a must.

2. Climate change has started showing real, tangible results and will affect water availability in several ways like: variability in rainfall, increase in incidences of floods/droughts, rise in sea level and hence salinity ingress in coastal aquifers, etc. In such a scenario, a national vision to deal with such problems becomes necessary.

3. Inter-state and international water disputes highlight the importance of having an integrated holistic goal towards water governance. A national level policy on such issues would show a roadmap in future conflicts.

4. Water is hugely underpriced, resulting in wastage. But we are in an era where water demand is continuously increasing, whereas supply is constant or in fact, declining in both quantity and quality. Thus adequate water pricing is necessary, for which no states have taken adequate steps.

5. The consequences of water scarcity are far beyond a specific local area and have nation-wide ramifications. For example, one reason behind the August 2012 New Delhi power outage was overdrawing of electricity by farmers to extract groundwater because of failed monsoons.

6. Barring a few exceptions, there has not been enough emphasis on non-conventional water sources. In the light of the looming water scarcity, this becomes essential, and hence, requires a national recognition.

7. Water resources transcend state or local boundaries be they rivers or aquifers. There is a need of superior vision to deal with inter-state water conflicts arising because of this, and treating water as a shared resource for management.

8. Groundwater is depleting at an alarming level in some states, requiring the Union Government to take cognizance of the issue of water security in these states. In fact, water availability will determine, to a large extent, our food security and agricultural exports.

9. It has been recognized that water management requires participatory governance. Information dissemination and social awareness is a must for participatory governance to be truly successful. In this, the Union government, with its abundant resources, can do a much better job than state governments.

10. For conservation of ecosystems, a basic minimum water supply is essential. This becomes even more relevant when we consider the ecosystem services, the number of people dependent upon natural ecosystems for livelihood and the effect of ecosystems and environment on economy.

11. Water is a basic necessity for human development, and its availability must be ensured for proper development of our demographic dividend.

Thus it is increasingly seen that water is a local resource the management of which has national repercussions. This means that water has, in today's era, become a strategically important national resource, and should be treated as such. This necessitates the need for a pan-India vision for water governance, and the need for a National Water Policy.

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