7 PM | Not many lessons learnt from water planning failures| 14th December 2019

Context: Managing water crisis in India.

Water scarcity:

  • Water scarcity is the lack of sufficient available water resources to meet the demands of water usage within a region.
  • It already affects every continent and around 2.8 billion people around the world at least one month out of every year.
  • Water scarcity involves water stress, water shortage or deficits, and water crisis. While the concept of water stress is relatively new, it is the difficulty of obtaining sources of fresh water for use during a period of time and may result in further depletion and deterioration of available water resources.
  • Water shortages may be caused by climate change, such as altered weather patterns including droughts or floods, increased pollution, and increased human demand and overuse of water.
  • A water crisis is a situation where the available potable, unpolluted water within a region is less than that region’s demand.
  • Water scarcity is being driven by two converging phenomena: growing freshwater use and depletion of usable freshwater resources.
  • Water scarcity can be a result of two mechanisms: physical (absolute) water scarcity and economic water scarcity, where physical water scarcity is a result of inadequate natural water resources to supply a region’s demand, and economic water scarcity is a result of poor management of the sufficient available water resources.
  • According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the latter is found more often to be the cause of countries or regions experiencing water scarcity, as most countries or regions have enough water to meet household, industrial, agricultural, and environmental needs, but lack the means to provide it in an accessible manner.

India’s water resources:

  • India is home to 17% of world’s population and has about 4% of world’s freshwater resources ranking it among the top ten water rich countries.
  • Despite this, according to the Fourth Assessment report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), India is designated as a ‘Water Stressed Region’ with average annual per capita water availability of less than 1700 cubic meters.
Status on Average Annual Water Availability Precipitation received             4000 BCM (100%)Water Resources Potential                  1869 BCM (46.7%)Utilizable Water Resources                 1123 BCM (28.1%)Ground Water                         433 BCM   (10.8%)Surface Water                          690 BCM   (17.2%) *BCM is Billion Cubic Meter.  


  • It receives an average annual precipitation of 4,000 billion cubic metres (BCM) which is the principle source of fresh water in the country. However, there is wide variation in precipitation across different regions of the country.

Water stress in India:

  • According to Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) of NITI Aayog, 21 major cities including Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi, and Hyderabad are racing to zero groundwater levels by 2020, affecting almost 100 million people.
Text Box: Day Zero: The day when a city’s taps dry out and people have to stand in line to collect a daily quota of water.
  • The report also states that by 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual 6% loss of country’s GDP.
  • Accoding to a new report, India is among the 17 countries, which are a home to a quarter of the world’s population, facing “extremely high” water stress, close to “Day Zero” conditions when the taps run dry.
  • The World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas ranked water stress, drought risk, and riverine flood risk across 189 countries and their sub-national regions, like states and provinces. India, ranked 13 on Aqueduct’s list of “extremely highly” water stressed countries, has more than three times the population of the other 16 countries in this category combined, the report said.

The main reasons of water scarcity in India are:

  • Increasing demand: Due to population growth, industrialization, rapid urbanization, increasing needs of irrigation, increase in domestic use, etc. have pushed the demand for water.
  • Over-exploitation of groundwater and surface water.
  • Water pollution: Release of industrial and domestic waste into rivers, lakes, and estuaries has polluted freshwater sources at an alarming rate in India. Those freshwater sources are not fit for drinking or other activities.
  • Delay in monsoon and change in pattern.
  • Shift in cash crops: Water is being diverted from food crops to cash crops that consume an enormous quantity of water.
  • Deforestation and mismanagement of wetlands.

Measures Taken by government to combat water stress:

  • National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) was launched in 2009.  It aims to provide safe and adequate water for drinking, cooking and other domestic needs to every rural person on a sustainable basis. However CAG key findings shows:
  • Underperformance of the scheme: By 2017, NRDWP aimed to achieve certain objectives.  However, by December 2017, these objectives were not completely attained.  It aimed to provide all rural habitations, government schools, and anganwadis access to safe drinking water.  Of this, only 44% of rural households and 85% of government schools and anganwadis were provided access
  • Planning and delivery mechanism: The CAG noted deviations from the programme guidelines in the planning and delivery framework established at the centre and states.  21 states had not framed water security plans.
  • There was inadequate focus on surface water based schemes and 98% of the schemes, including piped water schemes continued to be based on ground water resources. 
  • National Water Mission: In April 2011, the Government of India (GOI) approved the National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC) which includes 8 National missions including a specific one for water. The main objective of the National Water Mission (NWM) is “conservation of water, minimizing wastage and ensuring its more equitable distribution both across and within States through integrated water resources development and management.” This is to be achieved through completion of 5 specific goals including:
  • comprehensive water database in public domain and assessment of the impact of climate change on water resources;
  • focused attention to over-exploited areas;
  • promotion of citizen and state actions for water conservation, augmentation and preservation;
  • increasing water use efficiency by at least 20% and;
  • promotion of basin level integrated water resources management.
  • Jal Kranti Abhiyan: The Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation initiated Jal Kranti Abhiyan during 2015-16 for creating awareness on aspects of water security and water conservation. Under Jal Kranti Abhiyan two villages, preferably facing acute water scarcity are being selected as “Jal Grams”. An integrated water security plan, water conservation, water management and allied activities are being planned for these villages by Panchayat level committee to ensure optimum and sustainable utilization of water. 
  • Prime Minister Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (2015): PMKSY has been formulated with the vision of extending the coverage of irrigation ‘Har Khet ko pani’ and improving water use efficiency ‘More crop per drop’ in a focused manner with end to end solution on source creation, distribution, management, field application and extension activities. PMKSY has been formulated amalgamating ongoing schemes viz. Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP) of the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation (MoWR,RD&GR), Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) of Department of Land Resources (DoLR) and the On Farm Water Management (OFWM) of Department of Agriculture and Cooperation (DAC).
  • Inter-linking of rivers: Interlinking of River (ILR) programme is of national importance and has been taken up on high Priority. The mission of this programme is to ensure greater equity in the distribution of water by enhancing the availability of water in drought prone and rain-fed area. However, this project has many ecological and environmental cost associated with it.
  • Government recently launched the Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA) for Water Conservation under recently formed Jal Shakti Ministry (by merger of Ministries of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation along with Drinking Water and Sanitation) which is a time-bound, mission-mode water conservation campaign.
  • The JSA will run in two Phases: Phase 1 from 1st July to 15th September 2019 for all States and Union Territories; and Phase 2 from 1st October to 30th November for States and UTs receiving the retreating monsoon (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu).
  • During the campaign, officers, groundwater experts and scientists from the Government of India will work together with State and district officials in India’s most water-stressed districts for water conservation and water resource management by focusing on accelerated implementation of five target intervention.
  • The JSA aims at making water conservation a jan andolan through asset creation and communication campaign.
  • ‘Nal Se Jal’ Scheme: In recent years, the increasing threat to groundwater quality due to human activities has become a matter of great concern. A vast majority of groundwater quality problems present today are caused by contamination and by overexploitation. ‘Nal se Jal’ is component of the government’s Jal Jivan Mission. The nodal agency will be Jal Shakti Ministry, aimed to provide piped drinking water to every rural home by 2024.

Way Forward:

  • Water planning should be based on hydrological units, namely river basins rather than administrative boundaries of district as planned in the current Jal Shakti Abhiyaan.
  • Scientifically planning on basin-wise rainfall. There was no data on basin-wise rainfall, no analysis of run-off and groundwater maps were rarely used. As a result, one never came to know whether water harvested in a pond in a district was at the cost of water in adjoining districts.
  • There are issues like lack of proper engineering supervision of these structures, involvement of multiple departments with less or no coordination, and limited funding under MGNERGA and other schemes. There is need for such engineering supervision.

Source: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/not-many-lessons-learnt-from-water-planning-failures/article30289651.ece

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