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Insights into Editorial: Rethinking water governance strategies

Insights into Editorial: Rethinking water governance strategies


India’s ‘water crisis’ took over social media recently. That India’s cities are running out of water, coupled with Chennai’s drinking water woes, made the ‘crisis’ viral, raising questions about the quality of the discourse and choice of water governance strategies in India.

Usually, a delayed monsoon or a drought, combined with compelling images of parched lands and queues for water in urban areas raise an alarm in the minds of the public. Similarly, episodes of inter-State river water disputes catch public attention.

India is a country which experiences both floods and droughts periodically and simultaneously too. The impact of global warming further intensifies the situation resulting in uneven distribution of rainfall, melting of glaciers and water availability.


Water Crisis became viral Information in this age of social media:

These news items could not have gained the traction but for the fact that they relied on a 2018 report of India’s own NITI Aayog, which was titled ‘Composite Water Management Index: A tool for water management.’

According to the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) report released by the NITI Aayog in 2018, 21 major cities (Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and others) are racing to reach zero groundwater levels by 2020, affecting access for 100 million people.

However, 12 per cent of India’s population is already living the ‘Day Zero’ scenario, thanks to excessive groundwater pumping, an inefficient and wasteful water management system and years of deficient rains.

The CWMI report also states that 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 six per cent loss in the country’s GDP.


Reasons for Water Stress and Water Scarcity:

  • Water scarcity is the insufficient availability of water resources to the demands of water usage within a region or a country.
  • Water Stress is a different thing than water scarcity, it is difficulty in accessing the sources of fresh water for use over a period of time which may result in further depletion of water in the region.
  • Inefficient water management and uneven distribution: In India, some regions have an excess amount of water for their needs or requirements while some regions are facing droughts or have less amount of water simultaneously.
  • Improper water irrigation: as we know India is one of the top agricultural countries in the world so they need for the water for irrigation is very high.
  • Traditional techniques of the water irrigation resulted in the loss of water due to evaporation, drainage, excess use of groundwater, etc.
  • Government several policies to farmers for providing free electricity and financial support for water extraction through tube wells and bore wells resulted in the exploitation of water.
  • Rapid urbanization, industrialization, population growth, demand for domestic use increases the demand for water in India.
  • Water pollution in the form of disposal of industrial wastes, domestic wastes into the freshwater bodies like rivers, lakes have resulted in polluting water bodies. Hence eutrophication of surface water along with coastal water will increase.
  • The most common reason is that water is not valued in India.
  • Poor water storage: During the monsoon season the desilting operations of the water bodies, dams, etc are not done at the time affecting the water storage capacity of India.
  • Poor legislation on groundwater extraction, political reasons for not valuing water, etc. enhance water scarcity in India.


Measures to improve water governance:

The new institutional structures need to be in close touch with new interdisciplinary knowledge in water science and policy.

For this, institutions of water science and policy research need to pay attention to the much-neglected social, political, economic and ecological dimensions and the schools of water engineering need to be encouraged to be at the forefront through coordinated and sustained research programmes.

The institutions should also work to build wider professional linkages with various parts of the Ministry of Water Resources and the RBOs

With limited availability of water, water security will depend heavily on technological innovations aimed at better efficiency of water use and better de-pollution from waste water.

River Basin Organizations (RBOs) with institutional authority for keeping the river basin and groundwater aquifers in good condition and productivity need to be established.

They can be responsible for allocation of river flows and ground water to competing needs and demands in the basin

This will help in a gradual and ecologically-continuous distribution of authority from the national level to the RBOs to the basin states, and further down to the towns and villages

Effective functioning of RBOs will depend on the availability of recent knowledge and quantitative scientific data on the movement of water along all the links within the hydrological cycle, for the respective basins.

Maintaining water security requires the support of a comprehensive legal structure. The urgency of the situation with respect to water needs fundamental changes in the property rights and responsibilities of the citizens supported by an effective but participatory regulatory institution.


Steps need to be taken to ensure a more useful and productive discourse about water governance challenges:

  • First, India needs to reconsider the institutional processes for dissemination of knowledge about water resource management.
  • There is a certain amount of danger inherent in the casual manner in which knowledge about water resources is legitimised and consumed, particularly in these days of ‘viral’ information.
  • Second, we need to recognise the crisis is not as much of scarcity as of delivery.
  • The challenge is to ensure an adequate access to quality water, more so in urban areas where inequities over space and time are acute.
  • We need to also realise that with the country’s rapid urbanisation, demand cannot be met by groundwater reserves alone.
    • For instance, according to the Delhi Jal Board estimates, groundwater meets just 10% of Delhi’s drinking water needs. The rest is met by surface water sources, most of it transported from outside Delhi.
  • The urban needs, which underpin much reporting on ‘water crises’, need to be met by robust long-term planning and preparation for droughts and other contingencies.
  • Cities need to stop the destruction of local water bodies and local tree cover, treat its sewage properly, harvest rainwater, and stop straightening and concretizing the rivers and encroaching on their floodplain.


Thus, water-based technologies should have higher support and visibility in the new structure. At the same time, public information and participation in related research and dissemination also needs to be ensured.


Way Forward: Responsibility lies with States too:

We need to reconsider our approaches to water governance.

We must recognise that the fulcrum of change and action is with the States.

For long, water resource departments in States have continued to follow the conventional approaches of supply augmentation. The challenge is that of reorienting themselves towards deploying strategies of demand management, conservation and regulation.

The Centre has to work with States towards an institutional change for the necessary course-shift.

The Finance Minister, in her budget, repeatedly stated that the government will work with States to address India’s national water security challenges.

Let us hope that the government intends to strengthen federal governance of water resources towards long-term water security.