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Editorial Today – Water scarcity in Urban India

editorial-88Introduction

Water is a basic resource for humanity, no country or individual can economically or socially survive without availability of water and India is not a misnomer in this category.

Present water crisis of India is even graver than energy crisis. There are alternatives available to deal with energy crisis in the form of renewable sources but only few options like Desalinization, are available to deal with water crisis, which have not yet become financially viable option.

India is the largest user of groundwater in the world with groundwater abstraction at 251 cubic km per year, which is more than double that of China’s. India’s use of groundwater is much in excess of the actual recharge being carried out.

Water demand

water demand

How green revolution led us to water scarcity:-

  • As water is key requirement for the agricultural sector, during green revolution focus was to invest in infrastructure for irrigation to reduce the dependence of farmers on rains and also meet the rural drinking needs.
  • There was need to secure more water for the high- yielding varieties of food grains.
  • But inadequate investments and poor planning and maintenance of the irrigation infrastructure led to more wastage of water and failed to meet the requirements of agriculture
  • Hence farmers preferred groundwater extraction because of absence of regulation and Free or cheap electricity.
  • About 80 per cent of the addition to the net irrigated area in India since 1970 has come from groundwater.
  • Since water is not economically priced, water-intensive crops are grown in areas where water is highly scarce. For example, rice in Punjab and sugarcane in Maharashtra, thereby contributing further to the decline in water tables.
  • Agriculture accounts for 80 per cent of the total use of water in the country.

Growth of urbanisation in India

  • With high and strong economic performance and industrialization, Urbanisation has been gathering momentum.
  • With almost 3rd of the India’s population, Urban India constitutes two-third of GDP.
  • India’s urban population is projected to increase to 600 million and urban share of GDP to 75 per cent by 2031.

How Urban India is contributing in making itself water deficient?

  • Only 62 per cent of urban households have access to treated tap water and only a little over 50 per cent are directly connected to a piped network.
  • Storm water drains are inadequate and ill-maintained, and even natural drains which provide safe exit to storm water including flood water are either encroached upon or are carrying sewage.
  • Natural recharge zones are typically not taken into account in planning for urban expansion.
  • Wastewater treatment has been a neglected area in India’s urban water planning, even though it is crucial to keep our rivers and groundwater clean.
  • The capacity to treat sewage or wastewater is only 37 per cent of the total need in the country, and the actual treatment is even less, only 30 per cent.
  • Wastewater treatment has been a neglected area in India’s urban water planning, even though it is crucial to keep our rivers and groundwater clean.
  • According to Central Pollution Control Board 75 per cent of the measurable pollution in our rivers is from municipal sewage and 25 per cent from industrial effluents.
  • Surveys of groundwater also show high levels of microbiological contamination, clearly suggesting contamination from municipal sewage.
  • WHO data shows that half of India’s morbidity is water related, and there is ample evidence to show that water-borne diseases have been on the rise in the country.

Needed reforms

Fast tracking Bills

Government of India is currently working on a national water framework bill and also a model groundwater bill.

These bills will address the challenges of:-

  • Equitable access and aquifer protection,
  • Moving away from the focus on the link between land ownership and control over groundwater and treating groundwater as a common pool resource to be exploited only for public good.

Mapping

12th Five Year Plan had called for a paradigm shift and proposed a comprehensive programme for the mapping of India’s aquifers.

Public-Private partnership

The Eleventh Five Year Plan document of the Planning Commission of India emphasized, private sector investments improving infrastructure and public utility systems through various Public Private Partnerships (PPPs).

Independent regulatory authority

The advent of the Independent Regulatory Authorities or IRAs at the state level are new mechanisms which are expected to usher in sweeping fundamental and comprehensive changes in governance in this sector. Process should be speed up.

Water Pricing and Tariff Structures:

Water regulatory authorities should be empowered towards establishing a tariff-based system, which in turn works on the ‘cost recovery’ principle to determine and regulate water tariffs.

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