Thursday, January 3, 2013

A background to the National Water Policy 2012

The Indian government recently announced a National Water Policy (henceforth NWP), realizing the significance of the resource as well as the crisis looming in a not-so-far future. Before I present my analysis on the policy paper, a brief background of water usage in India is in order.

India has about 17% of the world's population, living in 2.6% of the total world area and having access to about 4% of the world's renewable water resources. From source or supply side, we can identify two main sources of water:
1. Groundwater
2. Surface water
Although with increasing crunch on both these resources, as well as decline in their qualities, rainwater SHOULD be the third resources in the above list, but for several reasons it is not, in spite of many cities and states having enacted compulsory rainwater harvesting legislations. More on it when we move to the analysis of the NWP.

From the demand side, we can divide water demand as either:
1. Rural (agricultural and domestic) or
2. Urban (industrial and domestic)

Both these markets for water face unique problems, technical, socio-political and regulatory. Just to give an example, I present below a flowchart that deals with problems related to groundwater in urban areas. The problems I have tried to identify are fairly simple, and only technical in nature. I have deliberately kept away from socio-economic and political issues, for the sake of simplicity in diagram, and for the reader to get an idea of how complex the water issue actually is.

Groundwater problems in urban areas

The flowchart can be understood this way: urbanization leads to the development of sewage systems, which, over time, develop leakages unless renewed (problem with most ULBs in India due to paucity of funds and non-feasibility of repair works). Through these leakages, dripping sewage water ends up recharging groundwater aquifers in urban areas. This means a greater amount of pollutant concentration entering in groundwater and thus, declining quality of groundwater. (If used, such water may and does pose serious health hazards.)

Like I said, these problems are only technical in nature. socio-political problems include the rise of water-tanker mafia, which extracts groundwater without taking care of recharge, as well as industries, which, due to cheap electricity and expensive recycled water, extract more groundwater for their usage. (In Ahmedabad, I found that the minimum price of recycled water for industries was 14 rupees per litre, while the cost of electricity for extracting groundwater was 6 rupees per litre. Which one would an industry prefer?) A huge social problem is the abundance mindset of people, which essentially means that people generally have no idea how the water situation in their area really is and automatically assume an abundance of groundwater, without attempting to calculate recharge. Of course, there are regulatory issues as well, ranging from improper water pricing to no attempt of aquifer mapping.

Such linkages can be drawn for surface water bodies such as lakes and rivers as well.

Moreover, this was just the urban areas we talked about. Rural areas have similar unique problems of their own. It is with this background that we move on to the analysis of the NWP, 2012.

I would like to bring to the readers' notice a fact before I end this post: according to a survey done by Yuva, an NGO, in Mumbai, more than 50% of Mumbai's population lives on about 18 litres of water per person per day, while people in areas like Juhu scheme use 250-300 litres per person per day! Can you imagine what sort of social problems such disparity may create? More importantly, can you think why such disparity exists in the first place?

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