A new paradigm for water

A new paradigm for water

News Analysis   /   A new paradigm for water

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Published on: October 29, 2021

Water Conservation

Source: The Indian Express

Context: The author, who chaired the committee that drafted the New National Water Policy, discusses its importance and necessity.


Editorial Insights:

What’s the matter?

  • In November 2019, the Ministry of Jal Shakti convened a committee of independent experts for the first time to draught a new National Water Policy (NWP).
  • The committee headed by the author Mihir shah has submitted the draft policy recently. 
  • Over the course of the year, the committee received over 100 submissions from various stakeholders.
  • The new NWP is based on the striking consensus that emerged from these extensive discussions.


The need for a new National Water Policy:

  • In India, the demand for water supply is increasing inexorably, pushing the country from the Water-stressed to the Water-scarce category.
  • Irrigation consumes 80-90 percent of India's water, with rice, wheat, and sugarcane crops consuming the majority of it.
  • Water demand has been impacted by this biassed and indiscriminate usage pattern, affecting millions of people's basic water needs.
  • Trillions of litres of water stored in large dams are still not reaching farmers.
  • This exacerbates India's water-stressed situation.
  • At the same time, indiscriminate groundwater use has resulted in the depletion of groundwater resources and the fall of the water table.
  • The people of India have had a reverent relationship with rivers since time immemorial.
  • However, water policy has viewed rivers primarily as a resource to be exploited for economic gain.
  • This materialistic and instrumentalist view of rivers has resulted in their devastation.
  • Water quality is the most serious unaddressed issue in India.
  • At the same time, reverse osmosis is widely used in India, resulting in massive waste and a negative impact on water quality.
  • India also suffers from three types of hydro-schizophrenia: between irrigation and drinking water, between surface and groundwater, and between water and wastewater.
  • Because government departments in India work in silos, they have only dealt with one side of these binaries.

The following process occurs in India:

  1. Rivers are drying up as a result of over-extraction, reducing river base flows.
  2. In this context, dealing with drinking water and irrigation in separate silos has resulted in further degradation and drying up of water resources, as the same source is used for both.
  3. Furthermore, the separation of water and wastewater in planning resulted in a decrease in water quality.

Significance of draft National Water Policy (NWP):

  • Recognizing the issue of ever-increasing water usage, primarily due to water-guzzling crops, the policy emphasises crop diversification as the single most important step in resolving India's water crisis.
  • At the same time, it recommends expanding public procurement operations to include Nutri-cereals, pulses, and oilseeds.
  • This will incentivize farmers to diversify their cropping patterns, resulting in significant water savings.
  • Reduce-Recycle-Reuse has been proposed as the guiding principle of integrated urban water supply and wastewater management, including sewage treatment and eco-restoration of urban river stretches via decentralised wastewater management.
  • The Policy also emphasizes that all non-potable use such as flushing, vehicle washing, etc. mandatorily shift to treated wastewater.
  • The policy suggests that with the deployment of pressurized closed conveyance pipelines, supervisory control & data acquisition systems & pressurized micro-irrigation, the irrigated area could be greatly expanded at a very low cost.
  • The new policy also stresses on supply of water through a nature-based solution such as catchment area rejuvenation.
  • This must be encouraged by compensating for ecosystem services.
  • The policy also proposed specially curated blue-green infrastructure for urban areas, such as rain gardens and bio-swales, urban parks, bio-remediation wetlands, and so on.
  • The NWP also prioritises the sustainable and equitable management of groundwater.
  • Participatory groundwater management is also emphasised in the policy.
  • It believes that designating stakeholders as custodians of their aquifers will allow them to develop protocols for effective groundwater management.
  • The new policy while acknowledging their economic role, it also accords river protection & revitalization as prior & primary importance.

The new policy provides the following steps to restore river flow:

  • Re-vegetation of catchments,
  • Regulation of groundwater extraction,
  • River-bed pumping &
  • Mining of sand & boulders.
  • It also outlines the process of creating a Rights of Rivers Act, which includes their right to flow, meander, and meet the sea.
  • Recognizing water quality as a serious issue, the new policy proposes that every water ministry at the federal and state levels include water quality departments.
  • It also promotes the use of cutting-edge, low-cost, low-energy, environmentally friendly sewage treatment technologies.
  • The policy also suggests that RO units be avoided if the total dissolved count in the water is less than 500mg/L.
  • Finally, the new policy proposes the formation of a unified multidisciplinary, multi-stakeholder National Water Commission (NWC) that would serve as a model for states to emulate.


Concluding Remarks:

Water systems are greater than the sum of their constituent parts, so solving water problems necessitates understanding whole systems, deploying multi-disciplinary teams, and employing a trans-disciplinary approach.

Because water wisdom is not the exclusive domain of any one segment of society, the government should form long-term alliances with water's primary stakeholders.

It is past time for the government to fully capitalise on our people's indigenous knowledge and valuable intellectual resource on water management.

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