New Delhi: The Government of India has issued a note warning against the severe water crisis the country will face in the next few years because of over exploitation of rivers and ground water sources. At least 253 blocks in the country have already reached the critical stage, and more than 680 fall in the semi-critical category.
The government note that Firstpost reviewed says that by 2025, water availability per person will decline significantly and lead to a water-stressed condition across the country. Since water is a state subject, the Central government’s main task is to provide technical and financial assistance so states can take necessary steps to preserve and improve availability of water in the country.
While India has 4 percent of the world’s renewable water resources, it constitutes 2.45 percent of the world’s land area and more than 17 percent of the population. The priority, the government note suggested, is to work in the 1,034 blocks that falls in the over-exploited category, whose number has significantly risen from 802 blocks in 2009.
“Areas in the over-exploited, critical and semi-critical stage of ground water will be adversely affected in future. Since per capita water availability is constantly decreasing, prompt corrective action to address the issue is the need of the hour,” the note said.
According to the water ministry, so far, 11 states have enacted legislation related to regulation and control of ground water exploitation. Furthermore, comprehensive guidelines to regulate and control ground water extraction will come into effect from 1 June, under which those who already draw ground water or seek to will have to obtain a ‘No Objection Certificate’ (NOC) to get the extraction sanctioned.
The Central ground water authority has framed guidelines under which these NOCs can be granted. These guidelines have been revised from time to time. The last revision was done in 2015 to bring all existing industries and infrastructure and mining projects under the purview of the NOC rule, as per an order of the National Green Tribunal.
However, the government has exempted the armed forces and individual households drawing water from a single borewell from the rules.
Once the new rules come into force in June 2019, all industries and infrastructure projects — be it existing or new ones — drawing or proposing to draw ground water will need to obtain an NOC from the Central ground water authority. The authority, which functions under the water ministry, has already notified 162 over-exploited areas in various states for registration of ground water abstraction structures that showed a very steep decline in water levels and merited regulation.
The ministry said ground water levels in certain parts of the country have been declining because of continuous withdrawal due to increased demand for fresh water for various uses, vagaries of rainfall, population explosion, industrialisation and urbanisation. The note flagged a report prepared by NITI Aayog, which said that 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress, and about two lakh people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water.
“The crisis is only going to get worse. By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual 6 percent loss in the country’s GDP. There is an imminent need to deepen our understanding of water resources and usage and put in place interventions that make our water use efficient and sustainable,” the report said.
Another area of concern for the government is water quality and high concentration of fluoride and arsenic in it. Since 85 percent of the rural population is dependent on ground water for drinking, and 184 districts spread across 19 states are affected by contaminated water, the government is working on a proposal to create a centralised research centre to examine water quality and prevent the spread of fluoride and arsenic contamination in ground water. In addition to these, nodal centres will be set up to monitor the ground water quality across the country.
However, the measures taken by the government seem inadequate. Recently, a parliamentary panel had criticised the government for not paying attention to the National Water Mission, which aims to conserve water, minimise wastage and ensure more equitable distribution both across and within states through integrated water resources development and management.
A review of the Budget allocation and actual expenditure reveals that the National Water Mission, which handles critical components of water conservation, has failed to deliver. The mission’s focus areas are assessment of climate change on water resources, promotion of state action for water conservation, augmentation and preservation, focused attention to over-exploited areas, increasing water use efficiency by 20 percent and promotion of basin-level integrated water resources management.
The Budget this year clubbed the National Water Mission with River Basin Management primarily due to its dismal utilisation of the money in previous years. The Budget allocation was slashed from more than Rs 100 crore in 2013-2014 to merely Rs 15 crore in 2017-18. In the 2018-2019 Budget, River Basin Management, which also includes flood forecasting and interlinking of rivers, received Rs 225 crore.
The government, in 2019-2020 Budget, has allocated Rs 1,220 crore for the national river conservation programme, a significant reduction from 2018-19 when Rs 1,620 crore was set aside for the scheme. The government cannot afford to put in lacklustre effort to tackle this impending crisis as it would put millions of lives at stake.