Water, water nowhere...

With India’s per capita availability of water having reached what are called ‘stress’ levels, India’s new national water policy calls for strategies aimed at managing demand and improving storage efficiency, particularly in agriculture, that accounts for over 80 per cent of water use.

The National Water Policy, for the first time, also speaks of the challenge of climate change to water security and suggests augmenting water storage in various forms as a mitigation strategy. ‘The new water policy has been prepared with a broad vision. It has been prepared so that we can tackle the impending challenges in the water sector over the next three-four decades,’ Water Resources Minister Harish Rawat told IANS. The National Water Policy 2012 was adopted by the National Water Resources Council last week.

Rawat said the per capita availability of water had substantially gone down from 5,177 cubic metres in 1951 to 1,545 cubic metres in 2011 and was projected to go further down to 1,341 cubic metres in 2025 and 1,140 cubic metres in 2050. The minister said that boosting ‘live storage’ was one of the ways to ensure water security. Hydropower projects should be planned as multi-purpose projects with provision of storage. He said present storage capacity in the country was 253 billion cubic metres (bcm) and will go up to 408 bcm in 2050 ‘only if all the projects under construction and under consideration are completed’.

He said studies have indicated that India would need around 450 bcm of storage capacity by 2050 to meet the requirements of various sectors.

Ministry officials said the per capita water storage capacity in India was about 209 cubic metres against that of the US at 2,192 cubic metres and Brazil, 2,632 cubic metres. The corresponding figure for China is 416 cubic metres.

They said it was difficult to increase the per capita availability due to the growing population, urbanisation, rapid industrialisation and economic development. ‘The per capita demand has to be reduced so we do not go to scarcity levels from stress levels,’ a ministry official told IANS.

He said India was ‘a water stressed’ country. Global benchmarks indicated this if the availability fell below 1,700 cubic metres per year. He said efficiency in the use of water, specially for irrigation, will help in huge savings.

‘Irrigation uses more than 80 per cent of the usable water. Saving water in irrigation is of paramount importance. Methods like aligning cropping patterns with resource endowment and micro-irrigation need to be encouraged. There is a lot of thrust in the 12th (Five-Year) Plan on micro irrigation practices such as drip and sprinkler irrigation,’ the official said. He said that the new water policy talks of developing benchmarks of efficiency in terms of water footprints and water auditing.

The new policy also suggests allocation and pricing on economic principles after ensuring a minimum quantity of potable water for essential health and hygiene of citizens and suggests creation of a Water Regulatory Authority in each state to lay down tariffs. The new policy says heavy underpricing of electricity leads to wasteful use of both power and water.

It calls for a broad overarching national legal framework of general principles for water and suggests creating a permanent Water Disputes Tribunal at the centre to expeditiously resolve disputes in an equitable manner. It calls for mapping of acquifers and taking the river basin and sub-basin as a unit for planning, developing and managing water resources. The official said the new water policy recommends giving statutory powers to water user associations to collect and retain a portion of water charges, manage the volumetric quantum of water allotted to them and maintain the distribution system.

He said the policy also recommends managing water quality and quantity in an integrated manner.

Unlike the last policy of 2002 that made no mention of the rural-urban disparity in water supply, the new policy attempts to bring equality on the issue.
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