Drinking water: Key challenge this decade

Drinking water: Key challenge this decade

Representative image

India’s water crisis is mainly due to human negligence. Over the decades, the nation has not managed its huge water resources for the growth of its diverse economic activities. 

“Almost 22% of the groundwater in the country has either dried up or in the critical and over-exploited categories,” said Jal Shakti (Water Resources) Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. The water bodies across the country continue to disappear in an alarming pace amid errant real estate growth, needless infrastructure development, citizens’ irresponsibility, corruption and administrative apathy.

According to the Ministry of Water Resources, the water bodies, excluding the rivers and lakes, cover an area of about seven million hectares. The total length of rivers and canals runs around 1,84,000 km. Unfortunately, the majority of the water bodies are not performing to improve the living condition of people. 

A Legislature Committee constituted to study the encroachment of lakes in and around Bangaluru, found a vast water area of 10,785 acres out of total 57,932-acre lake area, encroached. The Centre of Science and Environment (CSE) in another study found that Bangaluru has lost 79% of its water bodies in the past four decades which has caused the water table to sink from 10-12 metre to 76-91 m deep since 1997. 

In Mumbai, 94% of the city area has been paved and concretised in the past four decades, and in the process, the city lost 60% of its vegetation and 65% of its water bodies as per a study conducted by the Indian Institute of Science. 

Co-author of the study, Professor Bharath H Aithal, IIT-Kharagpur, has this to say: “Mumbai, with one of the highest amounts of sprawl, is heading towards complete urban disaster. Basic amenities such as water and vegetation for pure air will be almost non-existent if planners do not take note and stop unplanned urbanization and outgrowth in the urban periphery”. 

A GIS survey conducted by the South Asian Forum for Environment (SAFE) showed that Kolkata had lost 46% of its water bodies since 2006. In the last 10 years, the city lost 2,204 water bodies out of 3,874 ponds. The existing water bodies are too contaminated. India Today’s Data Intelligence Unit (DIU), in its satellite imagery, shows how lakes have vanished or are critically endangered in Delhi. 

Telangana had 60,000 lakes till Independence. The lakes were the main source of irrigation and drinking water. Today, the state ranks second in farmers’ suicide mainly due to wanton destruction of water bodies. The Hyderabad Urban Development Authority (HUDA)’s master plan of 1995 had documented 169 vibrant lakes of 10 hectares and above, covering an area of about 90.56 sq km.

Real estate growth

Today, a few lakes in the city survive amid unplanned real estate growth. Between 2005 and 2016, Hyderabad lost 2,999 water bodies. The United Nations and Niti Ayog reports say 40% of India’s population will not have access to clean drinking water by 2030.

Massive migration from villages to cities attribute to job diversity loss in traditional sectors in villages like agriculture, handicraft, weaving and fishery etc. Urban-centric education, craze for consumer items, the politicisation of village institutions, bank credit diversion, lack of basic amenities, loss of interest among youth for physical work and lack of transparent marketing facilities etc, trigger migration. 

The urban population has increased from 11.4% in 1901 to 34% in 2017. Though the political economists say urban India contributes 2/3rd of the nation’s GDP, the cost of the revival of water bodies both in urban and rural India will erode much of our GDP gain. Maharashtra, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have built a maximum number of dams, reservoirs and watersheds with huge public investment and foreign aid. But these states top the list in farmers’ suicide. There is a need for a dedicated investigation to know why the water conservation method has failed in these states. There is a need for an authentic census of water bodies in each district.

Monitoring, strict implementation of environmental laws, proper garbage disposal system, instant punishment to erring officials, accurate media reporting on environmental issues and sensitive local administration etc, can prevent the water scarcity which has a negative impact on the economy. Political parties should distribute election tickets to candidates on the basis of the status of water bodies in their constituencies.

The National Remote Sensing Centre of ISRO in Hyderabad uses satellite images to prepare information on water bodies across the country on a fortnightly basis. The ISRO data can be used for monitoring the water bodies. Besides, dedicated audit, inspection and regular monitoring of water bodies will save water bodies.  

Social worker and Magsaysay award winner Anna Hazare had converted Ralegaonsidhi village in Maharashtra from a near-desert to a vibrant village by implementing water preservation techniques. He first inculcated discipline and character among villagers who were motivated to work for community development.

The nation needs honest self-motivated volunteers to address water scarcity. The availability of water will not only save huge costs but would trigger multiple economic activities across the country.