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By Dennis Abraham Tazhamon

Water is a natural resource, fundamental to life, livelihood, food security and sustainable development. It is also a scarce resource. In India, water problems are man-made and have become very complex. I hope with the help of the national water policy, such problems will come to rest.

People’s health conditions in any region can be directly related to the quality of water. Hence it is very important to state the availability of “safe drinking water to all”. This must be included in the national water policy.

Focusing on water utility services, the dominant policy trend has been from direct service delivery by the government towards the provision of services by corporate entities operating as local monopolies, whether publicly or privately owned. In recent years, water utilities in many countries have been restructured as state-owned enterprises subject to financial and managerial separation from the government in a process known as corporatization.

Alongside corporatization, economic regulation has gained prominence as a policy instrument in the water sector. Regulatory agencies for the water sector have been established in more than 30 countries since the 1990s, including transition and developing countries. In some countries, agencies established to regulate electricity or other utility services have had their remit extended to cover water services.

The majority of these regulators are responsible for tariff regulation and monitoring operational and financial performance and setting incentives for efficient investment. Some are tasked with promoting innovation, sustainability or water security, and play a role in shaping the structure of the sector (for example, promoting consolidation) and defining competition rules.

Regulators may also play a role in building the capacity of the regulated entities in areas like accounting and business planning, allocation of finance.

The trend to establish economic regulation in the water sector is viewed positively by many analysts, who argue that these institutions improve transparency, accountability and drive improvements in the efficiency in the sector while balancing the interests of utilities, consumers and taxpayers. However, progress towards the effective use of regulatory instruments in developing countries has been slow. Some empirical work suggests that they may contribute to improved sector outcomes. For example, there is evidence that regulation improves welfare outcomes when water services are provided under Public-Private Partnership (PPP).

Policies that are Helping India to Take the Leap Towards Water Safety
In India, water is a state-run subject. This means that each state has the sovereign authority to discuss and solve issues around water supply, distribution, storage, and infrastructure in their own way. For inter-state rivers and channels, the center holds the power to assist these respective states with water infrastructure and management. Thus, the absence of a concrete and centralized policy around water has hindered the conservation and management of water resources in India. But it looks like there is a silver lining. India is now planning to have a new National Water Policy, which will, for the first time, aim to conserve water resources through Public-Private Partnership mode and work on modalities to implement ongoing programs.

The policy is set to propagate ‘Water use efficiency’ as an element that is as important as ‘energy use efficiency’ and will also take care of the basic concerns of water-stressed states. Further, it is also set to redefine water usage in rural areas by helping them with water-efficient means of agricultural practices.

2019, which saw India reeling under big water scarcity issues, also saw some positives on the policy front. One of them is the creation of the Jal Shakti Ministry that consolidates every government water-related ministry under it- like surface water, groundwater, pollution control, river rejuvenation, and irrigation, among others. The creation of the Jal Shakti Ministry can go a long way in easing the implementation of larger water-related programs by bringing them under the purview of one framework.

To mitigate groundwater woes – the Jal Shakti Abhiyaan was also conducted in 2019 to enhance rainwater harvesting and water conservation in 225 water-stressed districts. As an important water conservation intervention, it aimed to promote the judicious use of water along with groundwater recharge through rainwater harvesting. Nal Se Jal is another government measure that focuses on providing piped water supply to every household by 2024. While the initial target was to provide potable water to 50% of rural households and piped connections to 35% of households by 2017, the government has extended the date for better efficacy. The scheme can go a long way in improving rural health and saving rural women from the drudgery of traveling long distances to bring water home. NamamiGange is another noteworthy program in India’s water infrastructure and it has been designed with the twin objective of effective abatement of pollution, conservation and rejuvenation of the river Ganga. A total of 97 towns have been identified along the main course of the river Ganga, that are generating more sewage than their capacity and water treatment agencies are working in these towns to resolve the issue.

Managing a Country’s Complex Water Resources – One Solution at a Time
While the government is envisioning mega projects to strengthen the country’s water infrastructure, the mooting question still is ‘How good will infrastructure be if there is no water?’ To attain a balance, there has to be a clear connection between water, society, and infrastructure policy. A recovery-based approach is, therefore, what is needed to assuage the water crisis in India.

Practices like rain-water harvesting, efficient use of water resources, recharging local water bodies, preventing leakage losses, checking groundwater depletion, channelizing water access to rain-fed lands, working on dam safety, and checking floods and droughts, among others are some of the practices that can support the country’s water infrastructure.

Also, the change in water practices has to happen across domestic, industrial, and agricultural use. The poor management of water in India is well evident from the fact that there is hardly any practice of treating and reusing wastewater in the country whether in households or across industries. There are many water-intensive industries that are, in fact, using freshwater. It is pertinent for the industrial sector to figure out a way in which they can transport, treat, and recycle sewage water for industrial purposes. Similarly, the agriculture sector, which faces the wrath of the water crisis every year has to redevelop its irrigation mechanism with canals and channels that do not let rainwater runoff. Open canals should be replaced with a steel pipe distribution system that can prevent water loss through seepage and evaporation and can be easily maintained. Also, the drip and sprinkler irrigation system has to be the preferred form of irrigation to ensure optimum water conservation.

Make India Water Positive
India gets a decent amount of freshwater supply from rains and rivers. This means that the water crisis situation can be managed and mitigated by tapping, conserving, cleaning, and channelizing the available water through a proper infrastructure of canals, reservoirs, dams, drainage systems, water supply systems, etc. This can go a long way in meeting state-specific and national water demands. There are many places in the country that experience surplus water at some point in the year, while some other places experience acute shortages during the same time. Also, the water that is available often gets polluted or wasted due to mismanagement and lack of good infrastructure. Much larger potential for water conservation thus lies in conserving water from the source and storing/ channelizing it effectively for efficient usage for domestic, industrial, and agricultural use.

About the Author
Dennis Abraham Tazhamon is the Managing Director of Josab India.

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