Cities at Crossroads: A looming crisis (The Indian Express; 27/7/2016)
The article focus on the inefficient water use in India and its growing crisis along with some suggestions to overcome it.
- India’s water crisis is even more serious than its energy crisis though this is not generally realised.
- For energy, alternative sources such as solar and wind energy are becoming more cost-effective. For water, the only major alternative available is desalination and it is far too expensive.
- Until about a decade ago, water was seen as a key requirement for the agricultural sector, and the focus was on the need to invest in infrastructure for irrigation, which would reduce the dependence of our farmers on rains and also meet the rural drinking needs.
- The Green Revolution accentuated the need to secure water for the high- yielding varieties of foodgrains.
- However, inadequate investments and poor planning and maintenance of the irrigation infrastructure meant that canal irrigation was much less effective than planned.
- Farmers turned to groundwater with zeal and they could do this because groundwater extraction was unregulated.
- Free or cheap electricity also meant that farmers turned to tubewells and electric pumps as preferred instruments for lifting water from underground.
- Since water is not economically priced, it is used inefficiently through flood irrigation. For the same reason, water-intensive crops are grown in areas where water is highly scarce; for example, rice in Punjab and sugarcane in Maharashtra, thereby contributing further to the decline in water tables.
- Over the past decade or so, unplanned urbanisation has highlighted the water problems facing urban India: Declining water tables and a serious challenge of water pollution.
- Urbanisation has been gathering momentum with India’s rapid growth. Increasing urban water demand can be met by releasing water from agriculture by improving efficiency in water use and recycling of wastewater.
- This requires that drinking water, sewerage and wastewater treatment, stormwater drains, and also solid waste management be planned and managed in an integrated manner.
- These services are actually being managed in silos, in some cases by the urban local governments themselves though they are not sufficiently empowered and in other cases by parastatal institutions (metro boards) of state governments.
- Even the national missions are encouraging a fragmented approach by separating solid waste management under Swacch Bharat from the rest under Amrut, and even worse, dispensing with the requirement of a city development plan in which all projects must be anchored.
- The result is that the state of water delivery in Indian cities is visibly highly Wastewater treatment has been a neglected area in India’s urban water planning, even though it is crucial to keep our rivers and groundwater clean and also to augment supplies by generating “used water” for gardening, flushing, etc.
- The capacity to treat sewage or wastewater is only 37 per cent of the total need in the country, and the actual treatment is even less, only 30 per cent.
- The sewage treatment capacity is also sometimes redundantly utilised. Surveys of groundwater also show high levels of microbiological contamination, clearly suggesting contamination from municipal sewage.
- The implications of polluted and unsafe water and poor sanitation are extremely serious for public health.
- India is the largest user of groundwater in the world with groundwater abstraction at 251 cubic km per year, which is more than double that of China’s. India’s use of groundwater is much in excess of the actual recharge being carried out.
- The 12th Five Year Plan had called for a paradigm shift and proposed a comprehensive programme for the mapping of India’s aquifers as a prerequisite and a precursor to a National Ground Water Management Programme, and some pilot projects have been initiated.
- Groundwater use in India is currently governed by the framework of British common law sanctified by the Indian Easement Act of 1882.
- This provides that a landowner has the absolute right to draw any amount of groundwater from under the land owned by him.
- The attempt at legislative reform in the past focused mostly on allocation and setting up a public regulatory authority for groundwater regulation and management such that the state government will take the final decision.
- The government of India is currently working on a national water framework bill and also a model groundwater bill which addresses the challenges of equitable access and aquifer protection, moving away from the focus on the link between land ownership and control over groundwater and treating groundwater as a common pool resource to be exploited only for public good.
- State governments could adapt the bill to their specific context. This is a bold step which is long overdue.
- How easy it would be to enforce such a system given the weak capacity for governance at the local government level remains to be seen, though it is clear that this is the only way to go.
Over the past decade or so, unplanned urbanisation has highlighted the water problems facing urban India: Declining water tables and a serious challenge of water pollution. Elucidate.
1. How unplanned urbanisation is is creating water problems.
2. Examples of different states.
3. Suggested measures.