On World Water Day, a virtual round table session organised by India Today brought together some of the best minds working to resolve the daunting water crisis facing India.
“Water is the world’s most replenishable substance,” said Sunita Narain, kicking off the India Today Water Round Table on a positive note. “It is not necessary that India will face water shortages or a water war,” added the director general of Centre for Science and Environment.
Moderated by Raj Chengappa, Group Editorial Director (Publishing) at the India Today Group, the virtual session had on its panel experts like Narain working in the field of water conservation. The session was held on March 22, observed as World Water Day. It also explored innovations and tech-based solutions which can be utilised to address India’s water crisis.
Harvesting and utilising every drop of rain water India receives was something every speaker stressed on. “Every roof in India needs to be a catchment area. Every drain needs to be worshipped and every tank and pond has to become a temple,” said Narain.
According to Arumugam Kalimuthu, programme director, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Institute, the decreasing water table level is a major concern. “As per the water resources ministry, in 1955, the fresh water availability in India was 52 lakh litre per person per annum. This had come do
wn to 22 lakh litres by 2000,” he said. As a result, the country looked to groundwater for its needs, but the presence of fluoride and arsenic has made ground water potentially dangerous. The variation in rainfall over the past 10 years, though, adds Kalimuthu, has not been significant. Thus, the answer to India’s water woes lies in water harvesting and conservation.
According to Narain, the big challenge comes from urban India since cities use clean water and give back waste. And, as India industrialises further, more water will be needed for this sector. To combat this, Narain advocated a shift in the way water supply is managed in urban areas, especially in the treatment of sewage and waste water. “What makes me feel good, though, is that over the past few years, governments, both at the Centre and state levels, have come to recognise the need to make changes in our strategy for water management,” she said.
Amit Chandra, managing director and chairman, Bain Capital India, believes the country’s approach to water needs to be based on “common sense”. “India has 4 per cent of the world’s fresh water and 16 per cent of the world’s population…our water usage has to be sensible,” he said.
The Centre and state have been stepping up their conservation efforts too. According to Bharat Lal, additional secretary, Jal Shakti ministry, and mission director, Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM), the Union government’s flagship programme is different from the programmes of the past. “The JJM’s focus is on functionality of tap water, to provide adequate, clean and regular supply,” Lal said. “Use of technology is a major feature of the JJM.” As per Lal, when JJM was launched, 32.3 million of the 191 million rural households had tap water connections. Within 15 months, JJM had ensured there was a tap water connection in 31 million additional households. The water for these connections is being provided for using treated and grey water to reduce the stress on fresh water sources.
Apoorva Ajay Oza, CEO, Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India), listed four reasons behind the success of programmes such as the JJM. “Decentralisation in decision-making processes helps the community take responsibility and enter mutually respectful partnerships with professionals. Technology for monitoring and scaling up and setting up special purpose vehicles is crucial,” he said.
Using technology as a conservation tool was something Divyang Waghela, head, Tata Water Mission, also stressed on. It helps communities understand and plan their own consumption patterns, he said, adding that farmers should be encouraged to adopt low-cost tech innovations as well. “Unless there is data, issues of wastage cannot be addressed,” he said.