India will be highly water-stressed

India will be highly water-stressed

India will be highly water-stressed, With a burgeoning population and a high growth rate, India’s demand for water has been growing whether in industry or agriculture. What is not increasing is the natural supply of water.

The government observed the Water Week (from January 13 to 17) to launch a Central initiative called Hamara Jal-Hamara Jeevan (our water, our life) to make people aware of the need for water conservation in view of the increasing demand for this vital natural resource. Since the sources of water in the country are limited to cope with increasing demands in the agricultural and industrial sectors, with the result that per capita consumption has been dwindling over the years, future demand can only be met through judicious use of the available resources.

With a burgeoning population and a high growth rate, India’s demand for water has been growing whether in industry or agriculture. What is not increasing is the natural supply of water.

In fact, the availability of water per person has come down from 6500 cubic metres to 2500 cubic metres, according to Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI) survey. Even the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute has predicted that India will be a highly ‘water stressed’ country from 2020 onwards. It may be pointed out here that water stress means less than 1000 cubic metres of water will be available per person per annum.

Already many of the States have been facing acute scarcity of water, specially of safe and treated drinking water.

A Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) survey showed 50 lakh households in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Kanpur and Madurai are water deficient. WHO specifies that minimum water requirement should be 100-200 litres per person per day. That is way above the average Indian figure, 90 litres.

In another recent study, it was revealed that in 300 districts water levels have declined by over four metres in 20 years. The biggest problems are in States like Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat though the situation in Tamil Nadu is also deteriorating. A common reason for urban water shortage is falling water tables. Due to supply shortages from centralized water distribution systems, groundwater extraction is increasing. Nearly 40 per cent of water demand in urban India is met by groundwater, though water tables are falling at an annual rate of 5-10 feet.

Herein comes the relevance of reusing waste water, especially in urban areas. However, planners haven’t been able to set up treatment plants where they were needed and with the right technology. In the case of Delhi they were built where plots were vacant, implying huge transportation costs. Moreover, investments in treatment plants didn’t go along with adequate spending on drains. A report by the Central Pollution Control Board found in 2004 that 73 per cent of Delhi’s treatment plants were functioning below design capacity whereas 7 per cent were simply defunct. As regards the other cities, there have been very little efforts to set up treatment plants to restrict the use of water.

Apart from reuse of water, watershed management has gained some momentum and this effort needs to be intensified further. The Centre and States should come up with time-bound plans to protect watersheds, rivers and wetlands and work with local bodies to establish distribution systems. Several thousand wetlands that constitute the water security of vast areas do not enjoy legal recognition and are being filled or severely polluted. A statutory right of water being a basic/fundamental right will compel local governments to take better care of their water utilities and become more transparent and accountable.

While there has been talk of public-private partnerships, it has to be ensured that the poorer sections are not deprived of water. A total rejection of private sector in the area of water supply management may not be possible at this point of time. The cost of providing such water has been increasing steadily and most municipalities and water boards are struggling to meet such expenditure. Water is priced abysmally low in the country compared to global standards. Residential users are charged Rs 1.5 ($ 0.05) per cubic metre. The tariffs are so low or virtually non-existent that they don’t meet that operation and maintenance costs. In the mega cities namely Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad the operating ratio varies from 0.66 to 1.89.

The recycling of grey water would help in fulfilling two objectives: it will not pollute the canals and water sources in the rural areas while after cleaning, it can be gainfully used for non-potable purposes.

The report titled Water Vision 2025 prepared by India Water Partnership (IWP 2000), which considered the emerging challenges out of growing urbanization and industrialization, concluded that the scenario by 2025 would involve serious threat to health and ecological security. A holistic and judicious approach relying not on Western models but on local solutions in an integrated manner for effective management must replace the current confused policies in managing water.

By: Dhurjati Mukherjee

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