THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 09 october 2019 (Rethinking water management issues (The Hindu))

Rethinking water management issues (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 2: Governance
Prelims level: National Water Policies
Mains level: Addressing the water management issues


  • In December 2018, NITI Aayog released its ‘Strategy for New India @75’ which defined clear objectives for 2022-23, with an overview of 41 distinct areas.
  • In this document it is mentioned for the strategy for ‘water resources’ is as insipid and unrealistic as the successive National Water Policies (NWP).

Three essential requirements for effective strategic planning:

  • One, acknowledge and analyse past failures;
  • Two, suggest realistic and implementable goals; and
  • Three, stipulate who will do what, and within what time frame. The ‘strategy’ for water fails on all three counts.

No new vision

  • The document reiterates two failed ideas:
  • First one is adopting an integrated river basin management approach, and
  • Second one is to setting up of river basin organisations (RBOs) for major basins.
  • The integrated management concept has been around for 70 years, but not even one moderate size basin has been managed thus anywhere in the world.
  • And 32 years after the NWP of 1987 recommended RBOs, not a single one has been established for any major basin.
  • The water resources regulatory authority is another failed idea. Maharashtra established a water resources regulatory authority in 2005.
  • But far from an improvement in managing resources, water management in Maharashtra has gone from bad to worse.
  • Without analysing why the WRA already established has failed, the recommendation to establish water resources regulatory authorities is inexcusable.
  • The strategy document notes that there is a huge gap between irrigation potential created and utilised, and recommends that the Water Ministry draw up an action plan to complete command area development (CAD) works to reduce the gap.
  • Again, a recommendation is made without analysing why CAD works remain incomplete, that too despite having a CAD authority as an integral component of the ministry.

Major goals

  • Goals include providing adequate and safe piped water supply to all citizens and livestock;
  • It providing irrigation to all farms; providing water to industries;
  • ensuring continuous and clean flow in the “Ganga and other rivers along with their tributaries”, i.e. in all Indian rivers; assuring long-term sustainability of groundwater;
  • safeguarding proper operation and maintenance of water infrastructure;
  • utilising surface water resources to the full potential of 690 billion cubic metres;
  • improving on-farm water-use efficiency; and
  • ensuring zero discharge of untreated effluents from industrial units.

Who is accountable?

  • A strategy document must specify who will be responsible and accountable for achieving the specific goals, and in what time-frame.
  • Otherwise, no one will accept the responsibility to carry out various tasks, and nothing will get done.
  • Take one goal: “Encourage industries to utilise recycled/treated water”. Merely encouraging someone to do something, is not a “goal”.
  • That apart, NITI Aayog does not say who will do this encouraging, and how?
  • Should the State Water Ministries do this by restricting or even withholding recalcitrant industry’s access to fresh water?
  • Should the Environment Ministries cancel clearances for industries which do not practise recycling?
  • Or should the Finance Ministries do this through monetary incentives and disincentives? No one knows.

Issues listed under ‘constraints’, only one

  • The Easement Act, 1882 which grants groundwater ownership rights to landowners, and has resulted in uncontrolled extractions of groundwater, is actually a constraint. The remaining are not constraints.
  • These are: irrigation potential created but not being used; poor efficiency of irrigation systems; indiscriminate use of water in agriculture; poor implementation and maintenance of projects; cropping patterns not aligned to agroclimatic zones; subsidised pricing of water; citizens not getting piped water supply; and contamination of groundwater.
  • These are problems, caused by 72 years of mis-governance in the water sector, and remain challenges for the future.
  • On the contrary, the strategy recommends promoting solar pumps. These are environmentally correct and ease the financial burden on electricity supply agencies.
  • However, the free electricity provided by solar units will further encourage unrestricted pumping of groundwater, and will further aggravate the problem of a steady decline of groundwater levels.

Reforms overlooked

  • The document fails to identify real constraints.
  • For example, it notes that the Ken-Betwa River inter-linking project, the India-Nepal Pancheshwar project, and the Siang project in Northeast India need to be completed.
  • A major roadblock in completion of these projects is public interest litigations filed in the National Green Tribunal, the Supreme Court, or in various High Courts.
  • Unless the government has a plan to arrest the blatant misuse of PIL for environmental posturing, not only these but also other infrastructure projects will remain bogged down in court rooms.

Way forward

  • India’s water problems can be solved with existing knowledge, technology and available funds.
  • But India’s water establishment needs to admit that the strategy pursued so far has not worked. Only then can a realistic vision emerge.
  • It is unfortunate that NITI Aayog has failed to admit this and has prescribed only a continuation of past failed policies. Far from solving our water problems, this helps India to continue walking on the unsustainable path it has pursued for decades.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the Public Interest Litigation (PIL), consider the following statements:
1. The new Supreme Court roster allows top 5 judges to hear Public Interest Litigation (PIL) matters.
2. A new era of the PIL movement was heralded by Justice P.N. Bhagawati in the case of S.P. Gupta v. Union of India, 1981.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
A. 1 only
B. 2 only
C. Both 1 and 2
D. None

Answer: C
Mains Questions:

Q.1) What are the strategies that the NITI Aayog must follow to improve water resources conservation?

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