Put water plan into action

water crisis

The package of measures proposed by the Union environment ministry to tackle the severe water crisis that looms large over the country calls for urgent consideration and action. The proposals have been submitted to the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which has to review and approve them for implementation. This is the second time a plan is being formulated for the NGT’s consideration. The proposals notified last year were struck down by the NGT, which wanted a fresh set of recommendations. The new package outlines a multi-decadal action plan (up to 2070) to regulate the use of groundwater and conserve it. Preservation of groundwater is the key to water security because it contributes to 85% of the drinking water availability in rural areas and 60% in urban areas. The ministry’s report contains proposals to be implemented in the short term and a 45-point plan for the next five decades.  

The report proposes a ‘water conservation fee’ on industries and infrastructure projects, and for residential and commercial complexes. Making users of groundwater, especially those who consume it on a large scale, pay for it should be an element of the water use policy. That will serve as a deterrent against overuse and misuse. But it should be ensured that the payment of fee is not used for over-extraction of water. The plan also brings the agricultural sector for the first time under the ambit of groundwater regulations. Agriculture is a major consumer of fresh water, and groundwater meets over 60% of the farm irrigation needs. The proposal is to charge a fee on use of water in large land holdings. The plan also introduces the concept of water credit, earned by users through conservation of water. The longer-term plan conceives of mapping aquifers and recharge areas across the country, setting up of monitoring stations every 10 sq km and development of a ‘water alert’ system. 

The proposals are a mixture of incentives and disincentives and in any successful policy incentives should have the upper hand. The revenue generated from the proposed fees should only be utilised for water conservation projects. A comprehensive water policy should also include plans for the use and conservation of rainwater, maintenance and recovery and rejuvenation of polluted rivers and water bodies. After the NGT approves the plan, it should be implemented at the earliest. It is also important to have a public debate and discussion on the plan, which will raise awareness about the need for conservation of water. 

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