Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

[oped of the day] Rethinking water management issues


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : NITI strateg reforms on water - analysus

Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. This will cover a key issue that came in the news and for which students must pay attention. This will also take care of certain key issues students have to cover in respective GS papers.


In NITI Aayog’s ‘Strategy for New India @75’, the strategy for ‘water resources’ is insipid and unrealistic as the successive National Water Policies (NWP). 


  • Effective strategic planning must satisfy three essential requirements
    • acknowledge and analyse past failures
    • suggest realistic and implementable goals
    • stipulate who will do what, and within what time frame
  • The ‘strategy’ for water fails on all three counts.

No new vision – the creation of bodies

  • The document reiterates two failed ideas: 
    • adopting an integrated river basin management approach
    • setting up of river basin organisations (RBOs) for major basins
  • The integrated management concept has been around for 70 years, but not even one moderate size basin has been managed anywhere in the world.
  • 32 years after the NWP of 1987 recommended RBOs, not a single one has been established for any major basin.
  • The water resources regulatory authority is another failed idea. Maharashtra established a water resources regulatory authority in 2005. Water management in Maharashtra has gone from bad to worse. Without analysing why the WRA already established has failed, the recommendation to establish water resources regulatory authorities is inexcusable.

Irrigation gap

  • The strategy document notes that there is a huge gap between irrigation potential created and utilised.
  • It recommends that the Water Ministry draw up an action plan to complete command area development (CAD) works to reduce the gap. 
  • This recommendation is made without analysing why CAD works remain incomplete.

Other goals

  • They include:
    • providing adequate and safe piped water supply to all citizens and livestock
    • providing irrigation to all farms
    • providing water to industries
    • ensuring continuous and clean flow in the “Ganga and other rivers along with their tributaries”, i.e. in all Indian rivers
    • assuring long-term sustainability of groundwater
    • safeguarding proper operation and maintenance of water infrastructure
    • utilising surface water resources to the full potential of 690 billion cubic meters
    • improving on-farm water-use efficiency
    • ensuring zero discharge of untreated effluents from industrial units. 
  • These goals are not just over-ambitious, but absurdly unrealistic for a five-year window. 
  • Not even one of these goals has been achieved in any State in the past 72 years.

Lack of accountability

  • The strategy document did not specify who will be responsible and accountable for achieving the specific goals, and in what time-frame. 
  • Take one goal: “Encourage industries to utilise recycled/treated water”. Merely encouraging someone to do something, is not a “goal”. NITI Aayog does not say who will do this encouraging, and how? 

Issues identified by NITI

  • Of the issues listed under ‘constraints’, only one, the Easement Act, 1882, which grants groundwater ownership rights to landowners, and has resulted in uncontrolled extractions of groundwater, is actually a constraint. 
  • The remaining such as irrigation potential created but not being used; poor efficiency of irrigation systems; indiscriminate use of water in agriculture; poor implementation and maintenance of projects; cropping patterns not aligned to agroclimatic zones; subsidised pricing of water; citizens not getting piped water supply; and contamination of groundwater are not constraints; they are problems, caused by  misgovernance in the water sector.
  • There is no recommendation to amend the Easement Act or to stop subsidised/free electricity to farmers
  • It recommends promoting solar pumps. These are environmentally correct and ease the financial burden on electricity supply agencies. However, the free electricity provided by solar units will further encourage unrestricted pumping of groundwater, and will further aggravate the problem of a steady decline of groundwater levels.

Reforms overlooked

  • The document fails to identify real constraints. It notes that the Ken-Betwa River inter-linking project, the India-Nepal Pancheshwar project, and the Siang project in Northeast India need to be completed. 
  • A major roadblock in the completion of these projects is public interest litigations filed in the National Green Tribunal, the Supreme Court, or in various High Courts. 
  • The government should have a plan to arrest the blatant misuse of PIL for environmental posturing.

Way ahead

  • National Water Framework law
  • Amendments to the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act
  • Dam Safety Bill
  • India’s water problems can be solved with existing knowledge, technology, and available funds.
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