Analysis of Water Management in India


Recent incident of severe drinking water crisis in Shimla highlights the need for efficient water management practices in India.

Fast Facts:

Water Resources and Demand

  • Average Annual rainfall: 1160mm. However, wide range between 100 mm in desert areas of Rajasthan to 10000 mm in Cherapunji.
ParameterUnit (Billion Cubic Meter/Year)
Total available water1869
Usable water1123
Surface water690
Ground water433


  • Per capita water availability: 1545 m3/year as of 2011; Expected to reduce to 1140 m3/year in 2050

Note: Per capita water availability varies across river basins

Water Demand: 712 BCM

According to Water in India: Situation and Prospects (UNICEF, 2013) the demand for water in India is expected to rise drastically to about 833 billion cubic metres (BCM) in 2025 and 899 BCM in 2050.

Water Stress and pollution:

  • 54% of India’s total area faces high to extreme water stress
  • More than 100 million people live in poor water quality areas.
  • According to the UN World Water Development Report, 2018, water scarcity in India will intensify by 2050
  • Ground water resources will face greater pressure in north India
  • South and central India will experience high levels of risk from poor water quality in its river basins


Case Study: Bengaluru

  • According to a statement issued by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) Bengaluru is among the 10 cities in the world that might be on the verge of imminent acute water crisis just as the one faced by Cape Town in South Africa
  • The number of water bodies in Bengaluru has reduced by 79 per cent due to unplanned urbanisation and encroachment — while built-up area has increased from eight per cent in 1973 to 77% at present
  • the water table in Bengaluru has shrunk from 10-12 m to 76-91 m in just two decades while the number of extraction wells has gone up from 5,000 to 0.45 million in 30 years

Other cities

  • Currently, Cape Town is facing acute water crisis. It has narrowly avoided Day Zero- The day the city is expected to completely run out of water
  • Other cities facing similar situation include Beijing (China), Mexico City (Mexico), Nairobi (Kenya), Karachi (Pakistan), Kabul (Afghanistan) and Istanbul (Turkey)

Major Issues/ Challenges

  1. Spatial and temporal variation in water availability, recurring droughts and frequent floods. Increased vulnerability due to climate change
  2. Demand and supply: Rising population, increasing water demand and falling per capita availability
  3. Over exploitation and depletion of ground water resources:
  • Water table in India declining every year by 0.4 m
  • Indiscriminate extraction of groundwater; inefficient irrigation practices; rapid urbanization are major causes
  • Faulty cropping pattern has led to water wastage and consequent stress on water resources
  • Salt water intrusion in coastal areas where aquifers are highly depleted
  1. Poor water quality:
  • The major reasons for contamination of water are: sewage and wastewater drainage into water bodies, release of chemicals and effluents into rivers, streams and other surface water bodies.
  1. Unequal Access to water:
  • Access to water resources is governed by power relations in the society with the poor often being differentially excluded
  • Access to safe water in rural areas is a major concern
  1. Poor Storage:
  • Poor storage infrastructure allows India to store only 6 per cent of rainwater, compared to 250 per cent stored by developed nations.
  1. Poor planning and infrastructure:
  • The problem of urban water supply is due to poor and leaky distribution networks leading to large amounts of “unaccounted water.”


  1. Economy:

Adverse effect on agriculture, on energy production, on industries and business

  1. On women:
  • As primary stakeholders in water resource management, women largely affected- women’s health, both mental and physical
  • Across India, it is estimated that women spend 150 million work days every year fetching and carrying water
  1. Health:
  • Shortage of water is a major obstacle to public health and development.
  • The World Bank estimates that 21% of communicable diseases in India are linked to unsafe water and the lack of hygiene practices.
  1. Disputes:
  • Increasing inter-state water disputes/ conflicts. Example: Cauvery Water Dispute primarily between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Mahanadi water dispute between Odhisa and Chhattisgarh
  1. Adverse effect on biodiversity

Committees and Recommendations:

  1. Standing Committee on Water Resources, 2015:

Major recommendations:

  • Assessment of ground water resources to be done on a regular basis
  • Assessment of agricultural land falling under dark blocks (over-exploited assessment units) to determine suitable cropping pattern in these water stressed areas
  • Adoption of on-farm water management techniques and improved irrigation methods
  • Implementation of ‘Master Plan for Artificial Recharge to Ground Water’
  • Agricultural power pricing
  • Bring water under the concurrent list
  1. Mihir Shah Committee,  2016

Major recommendations:

  • Urgent revamp of the current water management system. Change in both surface water as well as ground water management policies; view groundwater and surface water in an integrated, holistic manner
  • Restructure of Central Water Commission and Central Ground Water Board and Constitute National Water Commission (NWC) to deal water policy, data and governance
  • Adopt the participatory approach to water management
  1. In 2017, Rajiv Kumar Committee was constituted for Water Management in North East
  • The Committee will facilitate in evolving a strategy for water management in the form of hydropower, farming, water transport, eco tourism, mitigating flood damage and biodiversity conservation

Policy/ Initiatives:

National Water Policy

  • First National Water Policy adopted in 1987
  • Draft National Water Policy introduced in 2012
  • Aim: to govern the planning and development of waterresources and their optimum utilization

National Water Mission (under National Action Plan on Climate Change)


  • Conservation of water,
  • Minimize wastage of water
  • Ensure more equitable distribution of water (inter-state and intra-state)
  • Increase water use efficiency by 20%
  • Promotion of basin level integrated water resources management

National Project on Aquifer Management:

  • Aim : to map and manage all aquifer systems in India

Atal Bhujal Yojna:

  • Aim: to recharge ground water sources and ensure efficient use of water by involving people at local level.

National River Linking Project:

  • Interlinking project aims to address the issue of uneven distribution water but has proved to be contentious between the government and civil society groups
  • Ecological sustainability and affordability of diverting water to deficit regions from surplus regions put constraints on its implementation.

Draft National Water Framework Bill, 2016

Key Proposals:

  • Recognizing right to water for life
  • Graded pricing system for domestic water supply
  • Proposes comprehensive governance structure
  • National water quality and footprint standards
  • Rejuvenation of river systems: by ensuring Aviral Dhara (continuous flow) and Nirmal Dhara (unpolluted flow) and Swachh Kinara (clean river banks). Proposes basin Level development of rivers
  • Establishment of River Basin Authority for each Inter-state river basin.

Model Bill for Conservation, Protection and Regulation of Groundwater, 2016

Key proposals:

  • Move groundwater from Easements Act as a private property resource to a Common Pool Resource.
  • demarcation of ‘groundwater protection zones’
  • development of a groundwater security plan

Best Practice: Israel

  • Holistic water management system, innovative water technologies
  • Key features: drilling deep wells, massive desalination, reusing treated sewage for farming, detecting and fixing leaks early, engineering crops to thrive in challenging conditions, discouraging gardening, making efficient toilets mandatory, and pricing water to discourage waste.
  • In 2017, India and Israel had signed MoU for water conservation and management

Way Forward:

  1. Use of efficient irrigation practices: micro-irrigation practices like drip and sprinklers. Micro irrigation processes help in achieving high efficiency and reduces water use as in the conventional methods
  2. Use of traditional water management practices-


  • Johads of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan: Community water harvesting structures; store excess rainwater from the monsoon months and allow it to slowly percolate into the groundwater during the dry season
  • Ahar Pyne of Bihar:  floodwater harvesting system; the technique comprises of a channel (locally named as pyne) which diverts water from rivers to a tank (ahar) from where it is distributed to the fields.
  • Zabo system of Nagaland: Means “impounding runoff water” in Chakhesang dialect. Involves catching and channelizing rainwater running off the mountains.
  1. Increasing water storage capacity, rainwater Harvesting in both urban and rural areas, farm ponds, percolation tanks etc; Decentralised water storage
  2. Sustained measures to prevent pollution of water bodies, contamination of groundwater and ensure proper treatment of domestic and industrial waste water: regulating industrial clusters, bioremediation
  3. Reducing water consumption for agriculture, industry and households by securing water efficiency and reuse of water (efficient waste water treatment).
  4. Robust groundwater management :Comprehensive mapping of aquifers and monitoring groundwater quality
  5. Adopting technology based solutions to reduce leakages during water supply
  6. The UN World Water Development Report 2018 stresses nature-based solutions (NBS) to sustainably and economically manage water resources. Examples: Restoring forests, grasslands and natural wetlands, reconnecting rivers to floodplains, creating buffers of vegetation along water courses
  7. Water management reforms; Effective water governance
  8. Desalination to cope with fresh water shortage
  9. Community participation in water conservation efforts
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