Rethinking water management issues (The
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Q.1) With reference to the Public Interest Litigation (PIL), consider the
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
Q.1) What are the strategies that the NITI Aayog must follow to improve water