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According to available estimates, by 2030 the supply of water in India will be half its demand. If the consumption of water continues at the current pace, experts predict that our cities will be dry by 2040. The Indian Government is now moving swiftly to arrest this looming calamity by ensuring public awareness on wastage, better water management across states and bringing forth a stable irrigation policy. Rinku Banerjee reports…



With a population of over 1.3 billion people in 2018, India has retained the coveted title of being the second largest populous country in the world, next only to our neighbour, China. It is also a startling fact to remember that only 32.2 per cent of our total population is urban, leaving a large chunk still living in rural areas. Being a largely agrarian country, agriculture still remains the major means of livelihood with many rural households still being dependant on seasonal crops for their everyday living. While India holds approximately 18 per cent of the world’s total population, it has access to only four per cent of fresh water resources meant for consumption. A report by World Resources Institute, says 54 per cent of India’s total area is under high to extremely high water stress and groundwater levels are declining in 54 per cent of wells across India. A total of 330 million people in India faced water scarcity in 2016, spread across 300 districts in 13 states. The study further says that water demand in India will reach 1.5 trillion cubic meters in 2030 while current water supply is only 740 billion cubic meter.
Being one of the top agricultural producers in the world, the consumption of water for irrigation and cropping is still the highest due to factors such as small, unorganised farm


units, traditional techniques for irrigation, mismanagement of water, and little or nil awareness about water harvesting methods etc. The agriculture sector consumes the largest amount (over 85 per cent) of India’s water followed by the domestic sector and industrial sector. India receives an average annual precipitation of 4,000 billion cubic metres (BCM) which is the principle source of fresh water in the country. However, there is wide variation in precipitation across different regions of the country. This brings us to the need for growing importance on fresh water resources and management that needs to be taken up immediately and seriously to ensure a better future for our country and our people.

India is drained by twelve major river systems with a number of smaller rivers and streams. Major river systems in the north are the perennial Himalayan ones – Ganga, Yamuna, Indus and Brahmaputra.


The Ganges-Brahmaputra and the Indus systems are the largest drainers as they drain almost half of the country carrying more than 40 per cent of the utilisable surface water from the Himalayan watershed to the ocean. Over 70 per cent of India’s rivers drain into the Bay of Bengal, mostly as part of the Ganges-Brahmaputra system. The Arabian Sea receives 20 per cent of the total drainage from the Indus and other rivers. The remaining 10 per cent drains into interior basins and natural lakes.
Flow in India’s rivers is strongly influenced by monsoons, resulting in an annual peak in most rivers. The northern rivers with sources in the Himalayas see an additional peak during the spring snowmelt. Because of this, water levels increase and flooding is a common phenomenon that also leads to yearly calamities in states like Bihar and Assam. During the dry season, the flow diminishes in most large rivers and even disappears entirely in smaller tributaries and streams. Due to low rains, and dry rivers, drought is another common calamity across vast areas, especially the Deccan trap. Hence, some parts of India suffer from flooding and some parts from drought. Apart from the floods and droughts, most Indian rivers are cesspools of waste dumped from various urban and industrial centres. In 1995, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) identified severely polluted stretches on 18 major rivers in India. The pattern of destruction is similar for any river – industrial and domestic pollution, jagged urbanisation and encroachment, agricultural fertiliser and pesticide runoffs, erosion and silting, over withdrawal of water, and inconsiderate religious practices.
Another critical issue is the increasing levels of pollutants in drinking water making it unsafe for consumption. According to the data recorded by the CPCB, nearly half of the country’s 445 rivers are polluted and unfit for safe consumption without extensive treatment. The UN has ranked India 120th of 122 countries for water quality, estimating that 70 per cent of the water supply is contaminated, with high arsenic levels.

River integration is critical in making India flood and drought free, provide the necessary stimulus for Indian Agriculture to flourish. The supply and demand equation can be balanced elegantly with the integration of rivers. The pitiable state of over flooding in few rivers and extremely low water levels in another few can be avoided with rivers linkage.

Groundwater plays an important part in India’s economy and groundwater development has been rampant across the country. About 80 per cent of irrigation and 90 per cent of drinking water comes from groundwater sources. It contributes to more than 85 per cent of the drinking water requirements of rural areas, about 58 per cent of irrigation requirements and more than 50 per cent of the urban and industrial water supplies. There are 20 million users of groundwater in the country. The incessant and mindless withdrawal over the past decades has suddenly triggered off a series of crisis. Unregulated groundwater extraction has led to overuse in many parts of the country, causing the groundwater table to plummet, drying springs and aquifiers.
According to the CWG Report 2011, the annual groundwater draft is 245 BCM, which accounts for about 62 per cent of the net water available. Of this, 91 per cent was used for irrigation. However, the effects on ground water in different regions of the country have not been uniform. The situation is alarming in regions where groundwater exploitation exceeds replenishment. States like Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan now draw more water than what is annually replenished. Several places in Rajasthan and Haryana have high salt concentration in groundwater, which makes it not potable.

In February this year, the central government announced the launch of six pilot projects for clean drinking water supply in villages under ‘Swajal Project’; one each in Uttarakhand, UP, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. The project will involve locals in civil work and maintenance of the system. Piloted as a “by the people, for the people, of the people” project, the drinking water and sanitation ministry will pay 90 per cent of the cost and the panchayat concerned will bear the remaining 10 per cent. It will be extended to all 115 backward districts identified by the Niti Aayog. The first two pilots will start in Uttarakhand and in Rajasthan. The project will also seek to improve ground water levels by rainwater harvesting and other water recharging initiatives.

In October last year, the Chief Minister of Odisha, Naveen Patnaik dedicated 182 drinking water supply projects and laid the foundation stone for 555 new pipe water projects for urban areas in the State. While the dedicated 182 drinking water supply projects have been set up in 74 urban local bodies (ULBs) of the State at a cost of ₹ 157 crore, 555 projects will be set up in 101 ULBs of the State at a cost of
₹ 783.48 crore within a year.


With the functioning of 182 water supply projects, ULBs will be able to avail 33.6 million litres more drinking water and the acute water problems faced by women in urban areas will also be over.
Now, 41 lakh (62 per cent) of people in urban areas of the State are being provided safe drinking water. However, the number of beneficiaries will be increased to 66 lakh people (100 per cent) after the completion of the new projects, the Chief Minister said adding that all houses in urban areas, including slum dwellers, would benefit from these projects.

The concept of wastewater recycling in India was not much discussed about till the early 90s. The design of most Indian urban drainage systems is such that wastewater flows directly into a river or lake without treatment. Water is also mistakenly thought to be an endless natural resource, which is why its conservation or recycling was not been a part of our culture.

Irrigation projects are the lifeline of our country. India has many rivers, sub-rivers but still many parts of the country are suffering from severe drought conditions, while other parts in the same region see the rivers swell into floods! The irrigation projects help bridge the gap by holding large amounts of water which can be utilised for irrigating drought ridden areas and controlling the water levels at other areas. Many of these projects help irrigate lakhs of acres of agricultural land apart from being an important source of Hydel power.
During the inaugural session of the India Water Week in October, 2017, Union Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation, Road Transport & Highways and Shipping Minister, Nitin Gadkari said that as many as 285 new projects will be taken up to provide irrigation for 1,88,00,000 hectare of land by 2018 and 27 PMKSY (Prime Minister Krishi Sinchayee Yojana) projects were to be completed by the end of the year. He emphasised that the Government is keen to provide safe drinking water to every household and irrigation water for every farm. In this regard, Gadkari referred to the inauguration of Sardar Sarovar Project by Prime Minister Narendra Modi (in 2017). The project in Gujarat will provide water to over 4 crore people and help irrigate over 8,00,000 hectares of land. While 30 projects for river linking have been approved, work on three projects namely Ken-Betwa, Par-Tapi Narmada and Daman-Ganga-Pinjal would begin soon, he said, adding that the Government was exploring the possibility of creating a large fund for inter-liking of rivers.

This “national river linking project”—the largest such proposed water infrastructure project in the world—aims to expand irrigated agriculture by moving water from “water surplus” to “water deficit” basins. The first of the planned canals linking the Kaveri and Godavari rivers was completed on September 16, 2015. The Union Water Resources Minister said he has requested the Union Power Minister to explore the possibility of using recycled water for NTPC power plants. Also, there was an urgent need for inventing innovative methods for using 70 per cent of river water that goes into seas, he added.
The minister said that as many as 99 irrigated projects will be completed by December 2018 which would bring five crore acre land under its ambit.

With a ₹ 15,999 crore allocation, the Water Resources Department is hoping to implement 14 new projects, mainly in North Karnataka, including the Salapura lift irrigation project to release water to 46 tanks of Ramadurga taluk in Belagavi district at a cost of ₹ 540 crore and the Sasalatti lift irrigation project in Bagalkot district at a cost of ₹ 210 crore.
The Government has also made a ₹ 137 crore budgetary provision to fill 17 tanks of several villages of Athani taluk with water from the Krishna River. While the Budget plans to conduct a feasibility study for building a balancing reservoir near Navile, 46 tanks of Jagalur are proposed to be filled with water from the Tungabhadra river at a cost of ₹ 250 crore. Also, modernisation of the Narayanapur right bank canal has been allocated ₹ 750 crore.

In January 2018, 10 new irrigation projects were announced by the Chief Minister Raghubar Das. An official press release said that the State has sent a proposal to the central government requesting for financial assistance for 10 large scale and medium scale irrigation projects. They included Budhai Reservior scheme of Deoghar, Sona and Kanhar pipeline projects of Garhwa district, Dugni Barrage scheme of Saraikela, Tilayia irrigation project of Koderma, Domni Nala Barrage and Kanhar barrage of Garhwa, Sona pipeline project of Palamu, Tardih Barrage and Sadhpur Dam project of Godda district and Radhu reserviour scheme of Ranchi district. The Chief Minister said that irrigation of agricultural land would be accorded more priority with the execution of the current irrigation projects in the state and the new projects which would be carried out in the future. He said that in the last three years approval for constructing 1307 check dams, 36 dams and 34 irrigation schemes having a combined investment of ₹ 950 crore have been approved.

As per the Union Minister for Water Resources’ announcement in September 2017, 40 per cent of the land under cultivation in Maharashtra will be irrigated for which the Centre will try to make available ₹ 55,000 to ₹ 60,000 crore. in the next two years. Gadkari also announced that the state will have two river linking schemes from the ambitious, nation-wide river linking project which will permanently solve the water issues of Marathwada and north Maharashtra.


The total expenditure for these two projects is likely to be ₹ 10,000 crore.
The Union Minister added that Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and he had reviewed 26 pending irrigation projects under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana. The completion of these projects will clear the irrigation backlog. All these 26 projects will bring five lakh hectares area under irrigation. A special package of ₹ 10,000 crore for irrigation in districts suffering from farmer suicides will also be given which will increase the area under irrigation. “At present, the total area under irrigation is 22 per cent and the state has the potential to grow till 49 per cent. We are hoping to take the percentage to 40 per cent which will also curb farmer suicides by ensuring water to farmers,” Gadkari said.

Recycling and reuse of treated waste water are an important part of the sanitation cycle and critical in an environment such as urban India with decreasing freshwater availability and increasing costs for delivering acceptable quality water, often from far distance.

India generates 61,754 million litres of sewage per day and only 22,963 million litres is treated properly. The rest, which constitutes around 62 per cent of the total sewage, gets discharged directly into nearby water bodies, contaminating all sources of water. Though these statistics are from a 2015 environment report, even today the situation has not changed much.
Though low compared to global standards, India has been investing in wastewater treatment since 2004. With increase in both rural and urban sanitation coverage under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan since 2014, a number of private corporations are taking increased interest in the sector of sanitation and wastewater recycling. The World Bank estimates that India’s total water and sanitation sector is worth US$ 420 million, with an annual growth rate of 18 per cent. Investments in this sector by private corporations could see the growth of small organisations associating themselves with wastewater collection, redirecting of wastewater to treatment plants and transportation of wastewater from remote locations to treatment plants. Doing so would strengthen both the entrepreneurial outlook in rural and urban India, as well as

address the issue of wastewater management.
The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has played a crucial role in addressing the issue of wastewater treatment. The mission has laid stress on the development of indigenous technologies and has roped in experts from Gujarat Technological University and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) to conduct research on how low cost technologies to treat wastewater can be developed. The mission has also stressed on Radiation Hygienisation, a process in which wastewater from households is hygienised using gamma radiation and the water is made fit for industrial or household usage other than consumption.
Consumption of water would escalate further with pressure from industrialisation and urbanisation that are booming in our cuntry. It has been estimated that by 2050, more than half of India or an estimated 800 million people will be living in urban India. It is time that we as a nation take cognisance of the huge challenge posed before us and get serious about saving every drop.

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