[Kurukshetra July Summary] Equitable Water Resources Management – Explained, pointwise

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India houses 18% of the world’s population but only has 4% share in water resources of the earth. Though it has about 1999 Billion Cubic Meters (BCM) (or km3) of annual water availability, its distribution is grossly unequal across the river basins and thus leads to water-stress in many regions in the country.  According to NITI Ayog, a large number of Indians face high to extreme water stress. So, water has become a commodity as precious as gold in summers for people in India. While the Government of India is consistently working towards improving access to water, participation of local people and institutions is also the need of the hour. Equitable water resources management can ensure adequate amount of water availability for all.

Water Resources in India Equitable Water Resources Management UPSC

Aquifers and Rivers Water Resources Management UPSC

What is the current status of water stress?

It is estimated that globally, 2.3 billion people live in water-stressed countries and about 2.0 billion people lack access to safe drinking water’. 

In India, analysis done by the Central Ground Water Board on groundwater availability and utilization reveals that annual extraction is more than the annual recharge quantity in 16% of the total assessed area. It is 90-100% of annual recharge capacity in 4% of the assessed area.

Water Stress in India Equitable Water Resources Management UPSC

Source: World Resources Institute. Many regions of India fall in Extremely High Water Stress Areas (Withdrawal of water > 80% of available water supply in the Area). These include Southern Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Western UP, Rajasthan, Parts of Gujarat, Coastal Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Most parts of East and North-east India fall in low stress zones.

What is the need for equitable water resources management?

Basic Human Right: The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution adopted in July 2010, explicitly recognises the human right to water and sanitation. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a person requires a minimum of 50 litres of water per day to meet the most basic needs. The water source has to be within 1 km of the home with collection time not exceeding 30 minutes.

Further, The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 6.1 aims for universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030.

Unequal Distribution of Water: India receives nearly 4000 billion cubic metres (BCM) of water through rainfall of which about 1999 BCM form available water in rivers, lakes, reservoirs, groundwater and glaciers. However the distribution of this quantity is not uniform across the country. Some river basins are acutely drought prone, some other basins are frequently devastated by floods.

For example, Brahmaputra and Barak basins, the most flood prone basins, which have an annual average water availability of 614 BCM drains its major share into Bay of Bengal. At the same time, basins like Cauvery and East Flowing Rivers (EFR) between Pennar and Kanyakumari are facing water deficiency.

Limited capacity of Alternatives: To address these spatial and temporal disparities, the available water should either be stored in reservoirs or be transferred from surplus basins to deficit ones. However, both these options aren’t easily implementable owing to certain inherent limitations.

Issues with Reservoirs: They often take a long gestation period due to the time required to manage environmental aspects, resettlement and rehabilitation processes. Moreover, a significant quantity of the reservoir storage capacity is lost through siltation which reduces the effective potential of the projects.

Issues with Inter Basin Transfers: They often require consensus building between governments of riparian states, environmentalists and many other stakeholders. The amount of money and time invested in these projects is also huge. The first inter-linking project of Ken-Betwa began 40 years after the National Perspective Plan was presented in 1980.

What are the reasons behind deteriorating water resources?

Overuse in Agriculture: The Green Revolution helped India become self reliant in food grain production but it also triggered the water crisis. For instance, farmers in Punjab switched to water intensive paddy cultivation, and things have gone downhill ever since. Over consumption of water in the agriculture sector is mainly due to the conveyance loss during distribution through canals, flood irrigation of farm fields and cultivation of crops without regard to the agro-climatic conditions. The increased groundwater extraction may even lead to salt water intrusion in coastal aquifers which is a permanent damage to the water quality.

Sectoral Water Use in India Water Resources Management UPSC

Climate Change: It is driving more intense rainfall and flooding in certain areas, whereas certain other areas, generally further away from coasts, are facing intense droughts. IMD rainfall data for the period 1971-2020 shows that the long period average (LPA) of south west monsoon declined by 1 cm.

Lack of Awareness: There is general lack of awareness regarding the invaluable utility of water. Most people often use water more than their need, especially in places getting huge water subsidies by the government. 

Encroachment: There is encroachment of water bodies to meet the infrastructure needs of burgeoning populations. Lakes and small ponds often get destroyed while making townships and industrial complexes.

What are the adverse consequences of water mismanagement?

Health Issues: Heavy chemicals like fluoride, chloride, nitrate are found in water and in some districts there were even traces of uranium. Kids have developed deformities due to water contamination. The hair of children has started greying prematurely and some have problems with their teeth and skin.

Poor Quality of Water Equitable Water Resources Management UPSC

Source: World Resources Institute. The India Watertool (IWT) measures water quality (surface and groundwater) according to the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) limits. Among the IWT’s 632 groundwater quality districts, only 59 (or 9%) are above BIS limits. Whenever a particular pollutant concentration exceeds BIS limits, drinking water is considered unsafe. The map indicate places where chlorine, fluoride, iron, arsenic, nitrate, and/or electrical conductivity exceed national standards. More than 130 million people live in districts where at least one pollutant exceeded national safety standards in 2011.

Economic Loss: Water is a critical component that is used in almost every economic activity directly or indirectly. Water scarcity, aggravated by climate change, could cost some regions up to 6% of their GDP, according to a World Bank report. 

Greater Hardships of women: The household work is mainly managed by women. A shortage of water means they have to stand in long queues of water tankers or travel long distances to get clean water for their families. A rural woman in Rajasthan walks over 2.5 kilometers to reach a water source, according to a report by the National Commission for Women. Since men in rural India have completely made women responsible for water management, this has led to polygamy in one drought-prone village of Maharashtra. This involves having more than one spouse to collect water. The arrangement is termed as ‘water wives’.

Biodiversity Loss: A reduction in the number of lakes or excessive discharge of pollutants in them are causing loss of pristine flora and fauna. Many plants and animals are now on the verge of extinction due to rising Biological Oxygen demand of water bodies.

Food Security: Polluted groundwater and erratic monsoon means greater hardships for carrying out agricultural activities. Lower the agri output, greater would be the threat to India’s Food security.   

Inter State Conflicts: Inter State river conflicts are going on Kaveri, Krishna, Godavari etc.. rivers. This would get amplified and new conflicts may emerge in future. 

What steps have been taken by the government towards water resources management?

Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM): It aims to ensure Functional Household Tap Connections (FHTC) to all rural households by 2024. It has at present achieved about 51 percent coverage.

Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY): Its ‘Per Drop More Crop’ component focuses on improving water use efficiency at farm level through micro-irrigation and better on-farm water management practices to optimize the use of available water resources.

National Water Awards: Best practices for water conservation and enhancing water use efficiency are rewarded through the institution of `National Water Awards’.

State Level interventions: Ban on early sowing of paddy by Haryana and Punjab; ‘Jai Hi Jeevan Hai‘ Scheme by Haryana to incentivise growing of less water intensive crops; and mandatory use of drip irrigation for sugarcane cultivation by Maharashtra Government are steps towards ensuring sustainable water use in agriculture.

Read More: Water Crisis in India – Explained, pointwise
What more steps can be taken going ahead?

First, there is a need to adopt and promote efficient irrigation methods like micro-irrigation. It can reduce water and energy demand as well as enhance productivity of crops. Currently only 14.5 million hectares are covered under micro-irrigation of which 6.7 million hectares were added in the last 7 years as a result of the huge push offered under the PMKSY-Per Drop More Crop scheme.

Second, India needs a paradigm shift from its cultivation from rice and sugarcane to millets which are nutritious and water-efficient. The UN General Assembly has adopted the idea proposed by the Government of India to declare 2023 as the international Year of Millets. 

Third, there is a need for technology infusion in water resources management. This could be in the form of automation of canal operation, real-time assessment of irrigation requirement with the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI), automated leak detection in drinking water pipelines, cost-effective wastewater treatment and zero-liquid discharge power plants.

Fourth, as recommended by the 15th finance commission, States must create their long term drought mitigation plans. Further, the Union Government must link State grants with their performance in water conservation and management.

Fifth, there should be a proactive introspection from farmers and civil society organizations on how the subsidized power and less priced water leads to inefficient use of the precious and scarce natural resource. The price recovery should be such that it makes the system self-sufficient to meet its regular operation and maintenance expenses. Civic sense should prevail among citizens. The more the water is wasted, misused or overused; lesser is the availability for the under-privileged sections.

Sixth, developed countries should be willing to share funds and technology with developing countries in the spirit of UNGA resolution 2010. It calls upon international co-operation to help countries, particularly developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible, and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.


Water Resources Management is essential to address the acute water crisis, which is expected to get worse with climate change. The water use principles should uphold the spirit of inclusiveness and ensure that “No one is left behind” as envisaged in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Efforts must be made on a war footing keeping in mind that ‘Jal hi Jeevan hai’ i.e Water is Life.

Source: Kurukshetra July 2022, World Resources Institute

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