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India’s Water Crisis

Piped water supply to every household By 2024 could prove to be pipedream

A severe water crisis looms large over India. The Niti Aayog has forecast that the country could be declared ‘water stressed’ by 2020. India will be among the countries where per capita availability of water is less than 1,000 cubic metres. Despite abundant water resources India is ranked at 120 among 122 countries in quality of water. A Niti Aayog report in June 2018 grimly forecast that water demand will be twice the present supply which could lead to India losing up to 6 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product. The Niti Aayog report has said 60 crore people face high-to-extreme water stress, 75 per cent of households do not have drinking water on premises and 84 per cent rural households do not have access to piped water. The country’s water crisis is attributed to factors such as rapid climate change and over-extraction of groundwater, mainly for agriculture. Also contributing to the water crisis are factors such as lack of government planning, unscientific and management of industrial and human waste, deforestation and corruption in government agencies dealing with water resources and supply.

Reports from several parts of the country are already pointing to the serious economic and human costs of water crisis. The shortfalls in monsoon rainfall make the current situation worse, but the problem is of the overall water resources and is related to fundamental causes. Faced with a grim situation and grimmer forecasts the Union government has announced a grand plan to supply piped water to every house in the country by the year 2024 under the Jal Jeevan Mission. The announcement was made by Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman in the Lok Sabha during the presentation of her budget. The scheme would be implemented by the newly created Jal Shakti (water power) Ministry which has been formed by merging ministries of water resources, river development and Ganga Rejuvenation with the Drinking Water and Sanitation portfolio. The announcement came at a time when India is only a few months away from being formally categorized as a ‘water stressed’ country. The action plan of the Jal Jeevan Mission should start with the households in rural areas that do not have access to piped water and then take up the households that do not have drinking water on their premises.

It is an irony that though India has huge water resources a substantial part of its population is deprived of regular supply of water. Water scarcity in India is expected to worsen as the overall population is expected to increase to 1.6 billion by 2050. The Jal Jeevan Mission must take steps for water conservation throughout the country so as to ensure that not only is the present generation is supplied enough water but future generations have enough of it. There is the usual problem of water supply in drought- prone areas. However, even areas with high rainfall face problems. Even Goa, a small state with abundant rains and water sources, has not been able to supply piped water to every household. The announcement made by Union Finance Minister Seetharaman might therefore look like a fantasy, considering the inadequate steps in the past. Taking water pipeline to every household in rural areas would be a gigantic task.

A large number of water resources are contaminated due to release of human, industrial and chemical waste into them. Safeguarding a vast network of pipeline from sabotage and illegal tapping is another big task for the authorities. Erratic rainfall, which has been recurring over the years, and overdrawing of ground water could pose its own huge problem as it is difficult to replenish ground water levels to its original state. The government needs to undertake a comprehensive plan for conservation of water by involving the panchayati raj institutions and the citizens. Corruption and red tape in water conservation, water resource development and water supply projects should be curbed with close involvement of the people. India can also exploit the potential of desalination of sea water to supply it for domestic use on the lines of Israel. The government can encourage entrepreneurs in this field with a policy and subsidies.

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