LESSON 2. National Water Policy, 2002


Water is part of a larger ecological system. Realising the importance and scarcity attached to the fresh water, it has to be treated as an essential environment for sustaining all life forms. Water is a scarce and precious national resource to be planned, developed, conserved and managed as such, and on an integrated and environmentally sound basis, keeping in view the socio-economic aspects and needs of the States. It is one of the most crucial elements in developmental planning. As the country has entered the 21st century, efforts to develop, conserve, utilise and manage this important resource in a sustainable manner, have to be guided by the national perspective. Availability of water is highly uneven in both space and time. Precipitation is confined to only about three or four months in a year and varies from 100 mm in the western parts of Rajasthan to over 10000 mm at Cherrapunji in Meghalaya. Rivers and under ground aquifers often cut across state boundaries. Water, as a resource is one and indivisible: rainfall, river waters, surface ponds and lakes and ground water are all part of one system. Hence a common policy is required for the country. This lecture presents the National Water Policy in India from recent reports under the following units.

2.1 Need for a National Water Policy

Water is a prime natural resource, a basic human need and a precious national asset. Planning, development and management of water resources need to be governed by national perspectives.  As per the latest assessment (1993), out of the total precipitation, including snowfall, of around 4000 billion cubic metre in the country, the availability from surface water and replenishable ground water is put at 1869 billion cubic metre. Because of topographical and other constraints, about 60% of this i.e. 690 billion cubic metre from surface water and 432 billion cubic metre from ground water, can be put to beneficial use.

Floods and droughts affect vast areas of the country, transcending state boundaries. One-sixth area of the country is drought-prone. Out of 40 million hectare of the flood prone area in the country, on an average, floods affect an area of around 7.5 million hectare per year. Approach to management of droughts and floods has to be co-ordinated and guided at the national level.

Planning and implementation of water resources projects involve a number of socio-economic aspects and issues such as environmental sustainability, appropriate resettlement and rehabilitation of project-affected people and livestock, public health concerns of water impoundment, dam safety etc. Common approaches and guidelines are necessary on these matters. Moreover, certain problems and weaknesses have affected a large number of water resources projects all over the country. There have been substantial time and cost overruns on projects. Problems of water logging and soil salinity have emerged in some irrigation commands, leading to the degradation of agricultural land. Complex issues of equity and social justice in regard to water distribution are required to be addressed. The development and overexploitation of groundwater resources in certain parts of the country have raised the concern and need for judicious and scientific resource management and conservation. All these concerns need to be addressed on the basis of common policies and strategies.

2.2 National Water Policy 2002

 India had revised the NWP in 2002 with the following salient features over NWP 1987 (Government of India, 2009):

  • Establishment of National  and State level data banks to monitor the demand and supply;

  • Facilitation for transformation of  available water resources into utilisable water;

  • Non-conventional methods for efficient water use;

  • Supply of water from water surplus areas to water shortage areas;

  • Judicious allocation of water for different uses  and pricing of water to ensure sustainable development;

  • Regulation on ground water exploitation and close monitoring of water table using modern scientific techniques;

  • Sustainability of existing water bodies, involving all the stakeholders and local communities;

  • PPP for water resource development and distribution;

  • Master plan for flood control, by linking different rivers and promoting soil conservation measures;

  • Development of drought prone areas through watershed development, afforestation and sustainable farming practices; 

  • Interstate water sharing policy and timely addressing of disputes. 

Over the last 10 years, the situation has changed drastically and the progress in the water sector has not been keeping up with the expected target.  It was therefore felt necessary to bring further changes in the policy, particularly in the following areas:

2.3 Water Allocation Priorities

In the planning and operation of systems, water allocation priorities should be broadly as follows:

  • Drinking water

  • Irrigation

  • Hydro-power

  • Ecology

  • Agro-industries and non-agricultural industries

  • Navigation and other uses.

However, the priorities could be modified or added if warranted by the area / region specific considerations.

2.4 Changes proposed in the National Water Policy:

  •  Agriculture Sector
    • Improvement in water usage efficiency;

    • Adoption of rainwater harvesting and watershed management techniques;

    • Reduction of subsidies on power supply particularly for pumping water;

    • Prevention of  ground water exploitation by introducing differential pricing, rewards and punishments;

    • Implementation of National River Link project which aims to connect 30 rivers and canals to generates 175 trillion litres of water.

  •  Industrial Sector
    • Encourage recycling and treatment of industrial wastewater through regulations and subsidies;

    • Encourage introduction of new technologies which consume less water.

  •  Domestic Sector
    • Introduction of a policy for mandatory rainwater harvesting in cities;

    • Propagation of efficient water usage;

    • Creation of awareness about water conservation among common public.

2.5 Augmentation of Water Resources

While the consumption of water in India will increase by over 50%, the supply will increase only by 5-10% during the next 12-15 years.  This will lead to water scarcity situation and most of the people, particularly those who are dependent on agriculture and living in poverty will suffer the most.  Water scarcity will affect the food production, biodiversity and the environment.  Environmental degradation will accelerate global warming, which in turn will accelerate water crisis.  This is a vicious cycle.  The only solution is to tap all the possible water resources and make them available for sustainable use, while improving the water use efficiency.  This can be done by addressing various concerns and initiating suitable actions for development of new water resources, augmentation of available resources, prevention of water pollution and improving the efficiency of water use in all the sectors.   For creating additional water resources, the following activities should be initiated:

2.5.1 Increasing Water Storage Capacity: Activities such as farm ponds, percolation tanks, water reservoirs and construction of small and medium size dams and rivers can retain more surface water, while increasing the ground water recharge.  Series of contour bounds particularly in undulating areas will facilitate percolation of water in the soil and improve the ground water table, while reducing soil erosion.  Gully plugging, construction of series of small dams on rivulets will help in storing water in reservoirs.

In the absence of harnessing rainwater in the forests and denuded hilly terrains, inadequate soil and water conservation measures are leading to severe soil erosion, silting of rivers beds and reservoirs and frequent flooding across the country.  Presently, over 40 million ha are prone to floods in the country.  Invariably, 8-10 million ha are affected by floods over year.  During the year 2007-08, floods in India have caused 3689 deaths, loss of 1.14 lakh livestock and damaged 3.5 million houses, causing huge losses to the people, society and the Government.  One of the major reasons for soil erosion and silting of rivers is severe deforestation.  As a result of soil erosion, many of the rivers have been changing their courses almost every year damaging fertile agricultural lands.  Brahmaputra is a good example where the width of the river during summer is 3-4 km which increases to 10-12 km during the rainy season.  This highlights the extent of flooding of the river and harassment to the people living along the river.  Due to poor management of this river, only 22 billion m3 of water is utilisable while over 607 billion m3 water is wasted.  Similar situation is prevailing with respect to other rivers such as Ganga, Godavari, Mahanadi, Narmada, etc. 

Interlinking of rivers will help in preventing floods while improving water distribution in the country.  Control of water flow and floods will prevent soil erosion.  Presently, billions of tons of fertile soils along with precious nutrients are washed out of our fertile agricultural lands and forests.  In fact, the amount of nutrients lost due to soil erosion is almost equivalent to the chemical fertilisers produced in the country.  This highlights the impact of soil erosion control on the food production.  Reforestation of degraded forests and development of wastelands through afforestation will help in soil and water conservation (IDSA, 2010).

Judicious distribution of water for different uses can help in preventing water scarcity.  The water distribution for different purposes is influenced by powerful lobbies and vested interests. Many sectors receive more water than what is needed at the cost of others.  Even within the same sector, like irrigation for agriculture, the locations for infrastructure development are often influenced by those who are politically powerful, with vested interests, while depriving others in needy regions.  To overcome such inefficiency and wastage of resources, a suitable investment mechanism should be developed based on the needs and return on investments.  A transparent programme implementation mechanism and regular monitoring for quality can improve the speed and quality of the projects.

2.5.2 Efficient Irrigation Practices: Efficiency in irrigation is most essential, if the country wants to face the challenge of water crisis.  As most of the crops are watered through flood irrigation, over 70% of the water used for irrigation is wasted.  Furthermore, as the water supplied is not measured, farmers have a tendency to flood the field with excessive water without any additional cost.  Such a practice has been creating a negative impact by way of increased cost of leached nutrients, pollution of ground water, increase in soil salinity and increase of pests and diseases.  It is high time that India compels the farmers to adopt micro-irrigation systems, which will not only reduce the water requirement but also bring down the cost of production, while increasing the area under irrigation.  The Government of India should consider enforcing a ban on flood irrigation in the country.  Simultaneously, metered supply of irrigation water, recovery of water cost, promotion of micro-irrigation systems and involvement of water users’ group for water distribution would significantly help in improving the water use efficiency and reducing the cost of agricultural production.

2.5.3 Watershed Development: Development of watersheds is an important programme to make best use of the rainwater for agricultural production while improving soil conservation and biodiversity.  Fortunately, the Government of India has given top priority for watershed development to provide assured water supply of agriculture in rain fed areas.  Under the watershed development programme, the catchment area of a basin is considered as a unit and efforts are made to harness rainwater by treating the land from the ridge to the valley.  It is estimated that over 63% of the cultivated lands in the rain fed areas need to be brought under watershed development to conserve soil and water, which in turn would improve the crop yields as well as ground water table.  Watershed development programme introduced almost about three decades ago, had covered over 51 million ha by the end of the Tenth Five Year Plan.  Additional 36 million ha were being developed under the watershed development programme during the Eleventh Five Year Plan.  However, a large number of watersheds are still subjected to heavy soil erosion, due to poor quality soil conservation work undertaken in the past and lack of convergence with other agricultural development activities.  Therefore, there is scope for developing over 125 m ha under the watershed.  Out of these areas, 85 m ha are rain fed agricultural lands and 40 m ha are wastelands.  The watershed development programme is presently focussing on contour bunding and gully plugging, as the budget provided by the Government of India is just adequate to carry out these activities.  Additional funds are required to support the farmers to adopt improved agricultural practices.

2.5.4 Control of Water Pollution:  Excessive use of water for agriculture, industries and domestic uses is leading to water pollution, because such excess water is transformed into saline water, sewage or effluent.  Thus, rewards and punishments should be introduced for persuading people to make optimum use of the precious water.  Discharge of sewage and affluent into water bodies and rivers must be banned and recycling of waste water must be pursued and enforced. This will help in keeping the water sources clean and reducing the future demand for water. Treated sewage and effluent can be used for agriculture and industrial production.

2.5.5 Desalination of Sea Water: Over 70% of the global water resources being saline, economic desalination of sea water is an excellent option to meet the future shortage of sweet water particularly to meet the human consumption.  Presently, desalination of sea water is expensive and non-popular.  However, with solar power, desalination can be a viable alternative to meet the water needs in coastal areas.

2.5.6 Research and Development: There is a need for investing in research related to ground water monitoring, weather forecasting, breeding water efficient and drought resistant crops and varieties which can cope up with the changing climatic conditions, arising due to global warming.

 2.6 Priority areas for Action

As the time is running out, it is necessary to act on priority in the following areas:

  • The irrigation projects should be well planned and different activities such as relief and rehabilitation of project affected population, micro level land use planning and capacity building of farmers, should be initiated simultaneously;

  • Afforestation on degraded forests, wastelands as well as river banks should be promoted on priority to facilitate soil conservation, recharging of ground water and preventing flooding of rivers and siltation of water reservoirs. 

  • Increasing irrigation efficiency from the current level of 35% to 50% in surface irrigation systems and 65% to 75% in ground water irrigation systems, can be easily achieved if careful planning and distribution of water through water meters, judicious pricing of water to recover the investment and investment in micro irrigation facilities are carried out, while improving the capabilities of the farmers.  Farmers should be enlightened about the importance of water conservation and judicious uses, which are needed for achieving sustainability.

  • Development of wastelands which are spread over 80 million ha and accelerating soil erosion and run off surface water, as improving the productivity of these barren lands, will help in conserving water while contributing to food production and biodiversity enrichment.

  • Development of local capabilities by grooming new generation water management technicians and managers to implement various innovative projects with greater efficiency.  There is also a need for promoting multidisciplinary researchers to study various aspects of water resources, conservation, efficient storage, reduction of losses and sustainable utilisation.

  • Public Private Partnership, including civil society organisations and stakeholders in water resources development and conservation.  So far, the State Governments were responsible for developing necessary infrastructure and managing water distribution, which lacked people’s cooperation. It is also necessary to organise small farms to enable them to get their due share of water, as the poor are excluded from most of the development projects due to their ignorance and inability to make necessary investments.  Civil Society Organisations as well as Farmers’ Organisations can help small farmers in adopting modern technologies and for establishing forward and backward linkage, required for increasing their income.

  • Convergence of various developmental programmes can help in increasing the outputs.  There are many development programmes implemented by the Ministries of Water Resources Development, Agriculture and Rural Development, which are coordinated by a single agency at the grassroot level to ensure effective utilisation of the resources while creating better impact.

  • Review of the National Water Policy to enforce a ban on flood irrigation, discontinuation of free power supply to pump underground water and prevention of untreated sewage and effluent into rivers should be taken up immediately, as these practices do more harm than help the community. Realistic pricing of water based on the investment, followed by awareness and education for farmers, introducing reward and punishments for maintaining discipline in water management, would help in ensuring sustainable development.
Last modified: Wednesday, 4 December 2013, 12:02 PM