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The 'Costly' Free Gift
Though believed to be the God’s ‘Gift’ to the mankind, not so far in the future, people will have to pay for the same as the services that would be required to reach this gift of nature to the people will consumes dollops of money. A B Pandya, Member, Central Water Commission & Exoffi cio, Addl. Secretary to the Govt. of India, Ministry of Water Resources shares his views on the ailing Indian water sector and discusses the commissions’ plans with Mittravinda Ranjan. Excerpts...

Water is one of the vital assets which is critical for industrial and economic growth of any country, says Pandya who has dedicated fairly large part of his career to water sector and been at the helm of affairs in executing several key infrastructure projects in this field. Post the announcement of water policy under the 12th Plan which envisages reaching clean water to the rural areas and meeting the growing domestic and industrial demand in the country, Central Water Commission (CWC) has chalked out its roadmap to address the issues for holistic development of water sector in the country.

Though India is rich in having fresh water resources, inequitable geographical distribution of water is the biggest hurdle to meet the burgeoning water demand. Rapid urbanisation, industrial growth and reducing ground water levels are the other concerns. "Achieving equitable water distribution by all possible means is the foremost priority for CWC," revealed Pandya. He further emphasised on the need to keep the assets up and running and further upgrade it from time to time. Pandya noted that India is still far from the supply side management and insists that there is a dire need of demand side management to provide extra water as there is larger number of people who cannot be stretched out by just improving efficiencies. He was of the opinion that having a programme which would encourage building storages in water deficit areas that are still not getting assured water supplies in National Water Policy would have a far greater impact on the efforts that are currently being put for enhancing storage capacities. Building dams are an effective way to manage the water resources, and according to Pandya, this is one of the key areas under the radar of CWC. Like all other sectors, the field of construction has seen advent of far superior technologies, advanced materials of constructions, chemicals etc. which he feels, is great specifically for assuring safety of dams, which is on CWC's priority list.

Borderline Politics
Water has been a bone of contention in the past, and it is no different situation today as geo political issues of water have continued to be a point of disagreement between the nations and even between the Indian states. Pandya explained that under entry 51, with the consent from State Government, the Central Government can adjudicate and try and resolve the differences between the states or create enabling mechanisms to reach amicable solutions. He informed that there are plans in the pipeline to have some facility to adjudicate over the interstate basins. He noted that earlier, the River Board Act was used for limited purposes and now a committee has been formed under (Retd.) Justice T S Doabia, "The committee members have debated over the river port act and suggested some modifications, which are currently under review before being presented in the Parliament for revising the act," he added. The committee also aims at developing a participatory mechanism for the river basin authorities for all the co-basin states to come together and take collective decisions in the interest of nationĘs benefit.

"This particular act will become a facilitating mechanism for the states to utilise water as per their requirement. The interstate issues need to be resolved for making judicious use of water," he added.

He also endorses the idea of ratifying the irrigation acts that have become obsolete and irrelevant in today's context and implement a proper framework to manage the water resources in totality. He opined, "Introducing a framework where individual states can fill up their requirements and regulations can go a long way in securing water supplies in water deficit areas."

India is a signatory to many treaties for the transnational rivers and has been able to address various issues to a great extent. However, the geo political issues need to be addressed constantly to maintain the progress of projects at smooth pace, which otherwise may be a challenge. He cited the example of Indo- Bhutan cooperation on developing hydroelectric water projects which has enabled Bhutan in generating revenue throgh power productions and India in meeting the power supplies.

Escalating Demand
Rapid urbanisation is one of the trends that India is witnessing at the moment thus creating compelling demand of adequate quantities of raw water, appropriate quality and adequate distribution network. Water Ministry, CWC and Urban Development Ministry have been working cohesively towards meeting the growing water demand in the urban areas.

"CWC & Water Ministry are responsible for making raw water resources to ensure adequate water quantity, and Ministry of Urban Development & Sanitation play a very active role in distribution of proper quality water to the users," he commented.

"We try adjudicating water wherever possible as we have already done in case of Yamuna, which supplies water to Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh," Pandya said. "And we are currently implementing Daman Ganga interlinking project which aims at providing water supplies to Greater Mumbai and likewise under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Program (AIBP)," he added.

Managing Water Resources
"Depleting ground water resources have been a major concern as the existing capability to use ground water is far outstripping the natureĘs capacity to recharging ground water back to the aquifers,‰ Pandya expressed. Encroachments and sitting have been resulting in constant deterioration of small water bodies serving as community resources, which the government is trying to control through various community programs. In pursuit of increasing awareness amongst the stakeholders, government is currently running some experiments in Andhra Pradesh which would be replicated in other states based on their success, informed Pandya.

Climate change is a greater threat, since India being a monsoon fed country; it is likely to see increase in skewness in rainfall distribution. In such scenario, India will still get a good quantum of water but at an inappropriate time, he noted "To address this challenge, we will have to build up strategic storages with which certain bounty is harvested and kept in place and used when required. Ground water is a non-replenishable resource and unless adequate surface water supplies are provided, people will have the tendency to exploit ground water. The Government has also undertaken aquifer mapping and is likely to introduce Groundwater Act & Laws which will further delink the indiscriminate exploitation of ground water."

Scope for Technologies
"Managing ground water is a very difficult choice, which will come only through adequate supplies of surface water," he said. „However treated water can definitely supplement the water requirement to a certain extent for domestic as well as industrial purposes," he asserted further.

Pandya said that Israel, Singapore, Middle East are some of the countries which do not enjoy abundant fresh water supplies but have very successfully met the demand of water in respective countries. He emphasises on the fact that India is a big market for water treatment technologies as there is a crying demand of cost effective technologies to produce high quality water.

Pandya acknowledged the dire need to work on parallel enabling mechanisms to penalise the polluters to save the existing resources from further destruction. "India needs to adopt an all-encompassing holistic approach involving - conservation of existing water resources involving all the stakeholders, building storage capacities, increasing surface water supplies and move on a fast track towards adopting new technologies and emulate some of the success stories to meet the growing demand," he concluded.