Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

[op-ed snap] Not just pipes and tankers


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Water crisis in India


  • Many metropolis in the country has been in news recently for its water crisis.
  • Scuffles and water realetd crimes have been reported from different parts of the country.
  • Cape Town in South Africa was the first major city in the modern era to face the threat of running out of drinking water, as reported by the BBC.
  • The BBC listed another 11 cities most likely to run out of water. This list included Bengaluru.

Water Crisis: A problem with no solution?

I. Irrigation losses

  • Water scarcity in India has come about not so much from insufficient supply as from the way in which we manage the water we have.
  • Agriculture uses 78 per cent of India’s water, and uses it very inefficiently
  • Notwithstanding the large investments in irrigation networks, about two-thirds of water used for irrigation comes from groundwater.
  • Two factors — the huge electricity subsidies for farmers to pump groundwater and the fact that groundwater is largely unregulated — have led to a steady explosion in groundwater use through tube-wells.
  • About 80 per cent of the rural demand for drinking water is also met by groundwater.
  • Above all, increaed water-use efficiency in agriculture is critical to release water supply from agriculture for other uses.

II. Urban inefficieny in water use

  • Urban India’s inefficiency in water use arises from inadequate, old and dilapidated distribution networks, inefficient operations, inadequate metering, incomplete billing and collection, and a general state of poor governance.
  • Another source of inefficiency comes from not treating wastewater and using the recycled water for specialised uses such as horticulture, and also for flushing toilets.
  • Under-pricing of urban water also contributes to wasteful use. If something is under-priced, users will use more of it.
  • The Niti Aayog has projected that the groundwater of 21 cities will run out by 2020 (that is, next year) and the cities include Bengaluru, Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad.

III. Poors : Yet  deprived of piped Drinking water

  • Most of us living in cities expect to have access to drinking water from taps in our homes.
  • This requires a distribution network of pipes which can bring water from the basic source of bulk supply to our homes.
  • However, access to treated tap water is available to only 62 per cent of urban households (Census 2011).
  • Those who are unconnected to the piped network and include mostly, but not only, the poor, have to rely on buying water from tankers at exorbitant rates.
  • This leads to increasing but unaccounted use of groundwater by extensive digging of borewells to meet the demand deficit.

The usual hinderance: Finance

  • There is clearly a need to expand coverage to the “unconnected” population.
  • This will call for the expansion and renovation of the infrastructure of the distribution network.
  • Financing the expansion in urban water supply will be a problem.
  • Even if the capital cost of the infrastructure is made available either through National Missions or PPP, the operation and maintenance cost will have to be recovered through user charges.
  • Pricing water is important both for demand management and for economic viability of water delivery systems.

What needs to be done?

I. Diversifying resources

  • We also need to mobilise more supply of water from basic natural sources. Only then can greater connectivity result in piped water delivery to all in urban areas.
  • The mobilisation of additional supplies poses a major challenge since the natural recharge zones are increasingly eroded because of unplanned urbanisation.
  • We also need to deal with the supply constraints arisingfrom the neglect of the rivers, lakes, ponds and other waterbodies in and around our cities that feed the reservoirs which are the bulk sources of water.
  • These water bodies need to be protected from encroachment so that our catchment area for water storage and rainwater harvesting is not reduced.

III.Ensuring  quality

  • The quality of water issue is also very significant because of its serious implications for public health. Water is even more important than food for survival.
  • Only about 30 per cent of the municipal waste water or sewage is treated and the rest is released untreated into the rivers and/or the ground.
  • Because of the density and concentration in urban areas, contamination from wastewater happens much faster.
  • Surveys of groundwater in recent years show higher and higher levels of microbiological contamination

Way Forward

  • It is clear that management of water requires a holistic approach, taking account of the multiple aspects that have been spelt out above.
  • In a way, setting up of the Ministry of Jal Shakti is a recognition of this, except that the ministry deals with rural water needs only.
  • We cannot split urban water from rural. Water will flow from rural to urban and vice-versa, and has always done so.
  • Besides, reshaping water governance will require state governments and local governments to take coordinated action in a federal system.
  • What is needed is a political compact between the Centre and states to jointly address the challenges of saving India’s water, while actively involving local governments and engaging with the communities of water users.
  • It is a tall order but there is no alternative but to begin.
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments