Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

What India’s new water policy seeks to deliver


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- National Water Policy


Over a period of one year, the committee set up to draft the new National Water Policy (NWP) received 124 submissions by state and central governments, academics and practitioners. The NWP is based on the striking consensus that emerged through these wide-ranging deliberations.

Major suggestion in NWP

Demand-side: Diversification of public procurement operations

  • Irrigation consumes 80-90 per cent of India’s water, most of which is used by rice, wheat and sugarcane.
  • Thus, crop diversification is the single most important step in resolving India’s water crisis.
  • The policy suggests diversifying public procurement operations to include nutri-cereals, pulses and oilseeds.
  • This would incentivise farmers to diversify their cropping patterns, resulting in huge savings of water.

2) Reduce-Recycle-Reuse

  • Reduce-Recycle-Reuse has been proposed as the basic mantra of integrated urban water supply and wastewater management, with treatment of sewage and eco-restoration of urban river stretches, as far as possible through decentralised wastewater management.
  • All non-potable use, such as flushing, fire protection, vehicle washing must mandatorily shift to treated wastewater.

3) Supply-side measure: Using technology to utilised stored water in dams

  • Within supply-side options, the NWP points to trillions of litres stored in big dams, which are still not reaching farmers.
  • NWP suggests how the irrigated areas could be greatly expanded at very low cost by deploying pressurised closed conveyance pipelines, combined with Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems and pressurised micro-irrigation.

4) Supply of water through “nature-based solutions”

  • The NWP places major emphasis on supply of water through “nature-based solutions” such as the rejuvenation of catchment areas, to be incentivised through compensation for ecosystem services.
  • Specially curated “blue-green infrastructure” such as rain gardens and bio-swales, restored rivers with wet meadows, wetlands constructed for bio-remediation, urban parks, permeable pavements, green roofs etc are proposed for urban areas.

5) Sustainable and equitable management of groundwater

  • Information on aquifer boundaries, water storage capacities and flows provided in a user-friendly manner to stakeholders, designated as custodians of their aquifers, would enable them to develop protocols for effective management of groundwater.

6) Rights of Rivers

  • The NWP accords river protection and revitalisation prior and primary importance.
  • Steps to restore river flows include: Re-vegetation of catchments, regulation of groundwater extraction, river-bed pumping and mining of sand and boulders.
  • The NWP outlines a process to draft a Rights of Rivers Act, including their right to flow, to meander and to meet the sea.

7) Emphasis on water quality

  • The new NWP considers water quality as the most serious un-addressed issue in India today.
  • It proposes that every water ministry, at the Centre and states, include a water quality department.
  • The policy advocates adoption of state-of-the-art, low-cost, low-energy, eco-sensitive technologies for sewage treatment.
  • Widespread use of reverse osmosis has led to huge water wastage and adverse impact on water quality.
  • The policy wants RO units to be discouraged if the total dissolved solids count in water is less than 500mg/L.
  • It suggests a task force on emerging water contaminants to better understand and tackle the threats they are likely to pose.

8) Reforming governance of water

  • The policy makes radical suggestions for reforming governance of water, which suffers from three kinds issues: That between irrigation and drinking water, surface and groundwater, as also water and wastewater.
  • Government departments, working in silos, have generally dealt with just one side of these binaries.
  • Dealing with drinking water and irrigation in silos has meant that aquifers providing assured sources of drinking water dry up because the same aquifers are used for irrigation, which consumes much more water.
  • And when water and wastewater are separated in planning, the result is a fall in water quality.

9) Creation of National Water Commission

  • The NWP also suggests the creation of a unified multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder National Water Commission (NWC), which would become an exemplar for states to follow.
  • Governments should build enduring partnerships with primary stakeholders of water, who must become an integral part of the NWC and its counterparts in the states.


The new National Water Policy calls for multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder approach to water management.

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