List of Contents
Synopsis: Suggestion and reforms mandated by the draft New National Water Policy.
Since Independence, water policy in India has focused primarily on construction of large dams and extraction of groundwater.
However, the new National Water Policy (NWP), drafted for the first time by a committee of independent experts, points out the limits in further adopting this strategy in different parts of India. To the contrary, the new NWP urges a shift in focus towards management and distribution of water.
What are the suggestions/recommendations given in the new National Water Policy?
First, there is a desperate need to bridge the Irrigation Potential Created (IPC) and the Irrigation Potential Utilised (IPU). A growing IPC-IPU gap has meant that trillions of litres of water, stored at huge cost to the national exchequer and the environment, has not been reaching the farmers for whom it is meant.
Bridging the IPC-IPU gap can add millions of hectares of irrigated area at very low cost, even without building a single new dam. To make this happen, the management of the command areas has to be handed over to the farmers themselves.
All successful command area projects in several states show that once farmers themselves feel a sense of ownership, the process of operating and managing irrigation systems undergoes a profound transformation. Farmers willingly pay Irrigation Service Fees to their Water Users Associations (WUAs). This enables WUAs to repair and maintain distribution systems and ensure that water reaches each farm.
Second, the NWP places major emphasis on supply of water through rejuvenation of catchment areas. Neglect and destruction of these areas has meant annual soil loss of about 15.35 tonnes per hectare, which causes siltation of reservoirs and reduces their capacity by 1-2 per cent per annum.
The NWP recommends that rejuvenation of river catchment areas be incentivised through compensation for ecosystem services, especially to vulnerable communities in the upstream, mountainous regions.
Third, the NWP proposes a comprehensive review of safety and siltation of all dams and diversion weirs older than 50 years. Moreover, it suggests that those deemed unsafe or silted up to more than 80 per cent of their storage capacity could be decommissioned in a phased manner.
Fourth, renewed thrust on protection and revival of traditional local water bodies in both rural and urban areas. This would form part of urban blue-green infrastructure for improved water levels and quality, as also flood mitigation, through specifically curated infrastructure. Such as rain gardens and bioswales, restored rivers with wet meadows (where they can meander), urban parks, permeable pavements, green roofs and green walls etc.,
Fifth, it recommends, all government buildings, would be built in accordance with sustainable building codes, adopting water management with recycling, reuse and closed-circuit technologies.
Sixth, the NWP suggests alternatives to ground water governance and management. Drilling to greater depths and pumping at higher rates have caused a precipitous fall in both the water table and water quality in a very large number of districts. Further, the vital ecosystem services provided by groundwater have also been endangered.
In this context, the NWP suggests that effective management of groundwater cannot be based on a centralised, licence-based bureaucratic approach. Rather, Participatory Groundwater Management (PGWM), being pioneered through the Atal Bhujal Yojana, must form the backbone of groundwater programmes in both rural and urban areas.
Finally, the NWP also proposes that the National Aquifer Management Programme (NAQUIM) adopt a bottom-up approach and provide maps at a scale of 1:10,000. Only by going down to this scale will the information provided by NAQUIM be in a form that is usable for the main stakeholders.
Source: This post is based on the article “Nature-based, people-centred solutions for water” published in Business Standard on 29th Sep 2021.