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By Shilpa Singh

In India, it is notable from the Vedic times that people have been giving holistic importance to nature, environment, and Mother Earth. Since ages, Hindu stories and iconography have referred rivers, trees, forests and groves, soil, animals, and mountains as sacred. The greatest Hindu epic, Mahabharata says that ‘even if there is only one tree full of flowers and fruits in the village, that place becomes worthy of worship and respect.’ Speaking about the importance of water in the Vedas, it has been identified as ‘the first door to attain the divine order’ (Atharva Veda).

The use of natural resources has been practiced for decades in order to meet the increasing demand of humans and their changing livelihoods. But although being a country with a rich and diverse natural environment, haphazard and unplanned over‐exploitation of resources by the growing population has resulted in relentless problems by imposing pressure on the limited resources. The decreasing green cover and petroleum reserves, degrading water quality of mighty rivers, extinction of wildlife and marine species, deforestation, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, frequent natural calamities are some of the harsh impacts of the deeds of humans for creating an imbalance in nature.

In the coming times, the year 2020 may be recorded as the year of coronavirus pandemic; it also should be noted as an equally eco‐friendly year because of the nature reviving itself due to long-term lockdown. As the ‘World Environment Day’ 2020 nears with its theme as ‘biodiversity’, the following is a brief insight on how India can contribute to conserving its biodiversity through water management.

Water is available on Earth in a constant quantity but is recycled over the years through rains. Being a primary source of survival and energy for all living beings on and below the land, it should be used as aptly. Our rivers, reservoirs, lakes, and seas are degrading due to chemical waste, plastic, pollutants from industries, social and religious practices, oil spills, etc. Humans have been exploiting this natural resource to an extent where controlling its pollution has become difficult. The quantity of freshwater available for human consumption has decreased and water pollution is threatening the life of marine species. As per the figures of the year 2018, India contributes to 6.43% of global marine biodiversity and 7.01% of global faunal diversity. But, the increasing unplanned development and power plant projects have resulted in the vast coastline on the verge of getting vanished by leaving just 1% as protected. It’s time that we, as citizens of the country and government as the policy and decision-makers, should come forward to save the primary source of existence of living beings of the biodiversity circle i.e. ‘water’.

Biodiversity strengthens the ability of the environment to supply clean water. The Programme of Work under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Convention) calls for promotion and restoration of biologically diverse ecosystems in a manner that contributes to better access to water. The ‘SDG14: Life Below Water’ and ‘SDG15: Life On Land’ has actually ‘water’ as the common component for the existence of life both under and on land.

The Indian government through various acts and laws has focused on preserving and conserving water and biodiversity. The National Water Policy 1987, Fisheries act 1897, Water (prevention and control of pollution) act 1974, The Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone, and Other Maritime Zones Act, 1976 are some of them. The National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Eco-System provides assistance to the States for the management of wetlands including Ramsar sites in the country. Also, the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010 have been framed for the protection of wetlands in the States. The Integrated Watershed Management Programmes (IWMP) are undertaken for the protection and enhancement of ecosystem services and biodiversity. The Ganga Action Plan, Yamuna Action Plan, and other action plans for polluted water bodies are a few of the more initiatives.

The positive impacts of enacting acts and laws will only be seen at the state and national level when it is followed by the people. Some of the quick initiatives that can bring in a big change are protecting coastal ecosystems and wetlands, a strict ban on disposal of municipal solid waste, e-waste or bio-medical waste into the river, reduction in groundwater extraction, preserving the forest and mangroves and prohibiting deforestation, plant local flowers and trees, promote the use of environment-friendly products and awareness creation amongst the people in bringing change in daily practices that lead to pollution of environment and water.

According to a report by the National Biodiversity Authority, OECD relies on four principles for financing water resource management, namely the polluter pays principle, the beneficiary pays principle, equity, and coherence. For linking sustainable management of water for conservation and protection of biodiversity and ecosystem, all the four Principles are to be addressed with equal weightage, and policymaking should focus more on the latter two elements. Mainstreaming biodiversity in water management can be done by strengthening and expanding the potential for ecological approaches in integrated water resource management.

As David Suzuki quotes “If we pollute the air, water, and soil that keep us alive and well, and destroy the biodiversity that allows natural systems to function, no amount of money will save us.” So, now it’s time we realize that India’s rich biodiversity isn’t only diverse; but a real beauty to behold.

Shilpa Singh
India Smart Cities Fellow
Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA)
Government of India

Shilpa Singh is an Urban Planner and a Water Management expert. She has completed her post-graduation in ‘Water Policy and Governance’ from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. She is currently working as a Smart City Fellow with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) under the India Smart Cities Fellowship Programme. She has been working with her team on developing a ‘Digital Water Balance Tool’ which aims towards achieving water security in Smart Cities under the leadership and guidance of Kunal Kumar (IAS), Joint Secretary and Mission Director, MoHUA, Govt of India.

She was previously associated with Tata Trusts and Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoW&CD) as District Lead – Swasth Bharat Prerak for the implementation of the National Nutrition Mission under POSHAN Abhiyaan. She looks ahead to explore her interest areas of urban planning, water management, climate change, transportation, and housing.

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