Water Security in India Explained for IAS Main Exam GS Paper III

Water security becomes equally vital for a nation as the energy security or food security is. water security for India means effective responses to changing water conditions in terms of quality, quantity and uneven distribution. The scarcity of water may arise inter-state and intra-state tensions in India, as have been observed in southern India in post-independence times.

Updated: Apr 19, 2016 18:22 IST

In spite of 75% of the earth’ surface comprising of water, fresh water constitutes only 3% of the total amount of water on the earth. In this light, it becomes imperative to understand the critical scarcity of water by defining water security. Water security implies affordable access to clean water for agricultural, industrial and household usage and hence it availability becomes an integral part of human security. Water security becomes equally vital for a nation as the energy security or food security is.

On the same lines, water security for India means effective responses to changing water conditions in terms of quality, quantity and uneven distribution. The scarcity of water may arise inter-state and intra-state tensions in India, as have been observed in southern India in post-independence times. Water touches every aspect of life, and in India uncertainty over access to and the availability of this basic resource may be reaching crisis levels. As India continues to undergo dramatic shifts caused by a growing economy and population, competing demands for this limited resource coming from households, industry, and agriculture have wide-ranging implications for the country’s future.

Following are some of the root causes of water scarcity that may aggravate in recent future:

•    Increasing population pressure and persistently decreasing per capita water availability
•     Poor water quality resulting from insufficient and delayed investment in urban water-treatment facilities.
•    Dwindling groundwater supplies due to over-extraction by farmers amidst free electricity and distorted crop cultivation

India has an abundance of water within its region, with many major and minor basins. The Ganges-Brahmaputra is the largest basin, in addition to the Indus, Godavri, Krishna, Narmada etc. of the country contributing towards water resources. The major sources of water in India are rainfall and glacial melt contributing to perennial river flows from the Himalayan region.

In spite of all these abundant resources, Indians are doomed to face severe water scarcity in the coming future owing to the factors like lack of awareness, massive inequality in water availability, unmindful and irresponsible uses of water to include a few. It becomes not only inevitable but also urgent for the various stakeholders to tackle the situation on revolutionary scale. Some of the measures to enhance water security in India can be following:

1.    The central and state governments should empower local groups with knowledge, awareness, understanding, and actual information on the status of groundwater so as to manage extraction in a cooperative way. Rural people and farmers need to be sensitised about the importance of ground water. Since groundwater is an open resource, farmers extract as much as they can. But when everyone does this, it leads to extraction above a replenishable level. This problem can only be managed by a cooperative agreement among the users of the aquifer, who should know how much should be the optimum extraction without depleting the resources. The concerned authorities can monitor and apprise people with this information.

2.    India needs to promote watershed development. Moreover, it can be undertaken at the local level all over the country and can be accomplished in a relatively short time. Rainwater harvesting and programmes to revitalise traditional tank systems present a considerable opportunity to capture and store water during periods of heavy rainfall. The reduced risk of floods, increased aquifer recharge and year round access to greater stores of fresh water are all desirable potential outcomes. Increasing traditional tank volumes and general water storage capacity in India could reduce the pressure on overexploited groundwater resources and provide safer water for human consumption.

3.    India should engage with its neighbour and work on the basis of benign partnerships for water sharing. India needs to bring about a turnaround in the overall dysfunctional relationship and invest in long-term political linkages with its SAARC neighbour. Being an upstream country, India should take care of the downstream countries’ (Pakistan and Bangladesh) vulnerabilities and then only expect its upstream countries like China and Nepal to be good.

4.    India must educate people about the necessity for dams to store water. The environmentalists and other groups who oppose dams should be engaged in a dialogue to work out alternatives and build a consensus.

5.    The government should brace state pollution control boards to enforce effluent standards. The technical and human resources currently available to the boards are inadequate to effectively monitor activities, enforce regulations, and convict violators. In addition, adequate sewage treatment facilities must be constructed. Many cities treat only a portion of the effluent. Cities need to charge a proper price for water so that local sewage work operators have the income and resources to sufficiently maintain treatment plants. If necessary, India should work with private firms to modernize urban water-distribution systems.

6.    Policy and Governance –

•    National Water Policy 2002 provides an overall participatory framework for water management in India. The creation of water user associations (WUAs) is a part of this policy, designed to encourage more inclusive management systems at the local level.

•    Farmer participation in the WUAs is essential if they are to improve the efficiency and productivity of water use and agricultural development through irrigation.

•    The National Groundwater Recharge Master Plan is another important tool for water management. Designed to assess groundwater recharge potential, the plan aims to increase the quantity of available water in urban and rural areas.

•    Policies to store water, recharge groundwater levels and increase soil moisture on the lines of recently launched Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan in Maharshtra should be encouraged.

7.    International efforts and cooperation –

•    The World Bank seeks to help countries increase their resilience to climate change by providing the tools, best practices, and funds to help support action. The World Bank is also empowering local communities in a number of states to improve the conservation of their watersheds and integrate adaptation in all rural livelihood projects. Projects are helping improve the availability of water, enabling farmers to move to higher value crops, and promoting the efficient use of scarce water resources. Such programs should be intensified with greater engagement of institutions like ADB and newly New Development BRICS bank.

Quoting our prime minister "Water is the gift of God. We need to learn how to preserve this gift," becomes the mantra amidst all the other concerns India is facing in contemporary times.

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