Tag Archive Water Crisis

Why India does not have enough water to drink


A Niti Aayog report released last year predicts Day Zero for 21 Indian cities by next year. Day Zero refers to the day when a place is likely to have no drinking water of its own.

Image for representation (Source: Reuters)


  • About half of India is facing drinking water crisis as monsoon got delayed and arrived without a brimming bucket
  • A Niti Aayog report released last year predicts Day Zero for 21 Indian cities by next year
  • The government has created a new Jal Shakti ministry to deal with drinking water crisis
About half of India is facing drinking water crisis with Chennai and Bengaluru bearing the brunt as monsoon got delayed and arrived without a brimming bucket. A Niti Aayog report released last year predicts Day Zero for 21 Indian cities by next year. Day Zero refers to the day when a place is likely to have no drinking water of its own.
According to the Niti Aayog’s Composite Water Management Index (CWMI), Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi and Hyderabad are among the most susceptible. The government has created a new Jal Shakti ministry to deal with drinking water crisis.

But why a water-surplus country is facing water crisis today?
Over-exploitation of groundwater
India is the biggest user of groundwater. It extracts more groundwater than China and the US the next two biggest pullers of groundwater – combined. Groundwater meets more than half of total requirement of clean water in the country.
In 2015, the standing committee on water resources found that groundwater forms the largest share of India’s agriculture and drinking water supply.
About 89 per cent of groundwater extracted in India is used for irrigation making it the highest category user in the country. Household use comes second with 9 per cent share of the extracted groundwater followed by industry that uses only two per cent of it.
Overall, 50 per cent of urban water requirement and 85 per cent of rural domestic water need are fulfilled by groundwater.
This kind of use has caused a reduction in groundwater levels in India by 61 per cent between 2007 and 2017, according to report by Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), presented in the Lok Sabha last year.
The report prepared under the ministry of water resources cited rising population, rapid urbanisation, industrialisation and inadequate rainfall as reasons for sharp decline in groundwater volume in the country.
According to another study by a team from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, and Athabasca University of Canada, Indians use an estimated 230 km3 of groundwater per year – over a quarter of the global total.
Based on their study of 3,907 wells across states, they found that northern India lost more groundwater than eastern parts during 2005-13 (8.5 km3/year to 5 km3/year).
Unequal distribution and availability
It is estimated that while 81 per cent of all households have access to 40 litres of water per day through some source, about 18 to 20 per cent of rural households in India have connections for piped water supply. This has created mismatch in water availability and supply.
According to the Composite Water Management Index of the Niti Aayog, 75 per cent of households do not have drinking water on premise and about 84 per cent rural households do not have piped water access.
Water is not properly distributed where it is supplied through pipes. Mega cities like Delhi and Mumbai get more that than the standard municipal water norm of 150 litres per capita per day (LPCD) while others get 40-50 LPCD.
The World Health Organisation prescribes 25 litres of water for one person a day to meet all basic hygiene and food needs. Extra available water, according to the WHO estimates, is used for non-potable purposes like mopping and cleaning.
Jal Shakti ministry mandated to deal with water issues including drinking water availability with a holistic and integrated approach. It has already set an ambitious task to provide piped water connections to every household in India by 2024. This is likely to regulate drinking water usage.
It will have another challenge, however, to plug leakage of piped water in urban areas. It is estimated that around 40 per cent of piped water in India is lost to leakage.
Wastage of water
Arithmetically, India is still water surplus and receives enough annual rainfall to meet the need of over one billion plus people. According to the Central Water Commission, India needs a maximum of 3,000 billion cubic metres of water a year while it receives 4,000 billion cubic metres of rain.
But the problem is India captures only eight per cent of its annual rainfall – among the lowest in the world. The traditional modes of water capturing in ponds have been lost to the demands of rising population and liberal implementation of town planning rules.
India has been also poor in treatment and re-use of household wastewater. About 80 per cent of the water reaching households in India are drained out as waste flow through sewage to pollute other water bodies including rivers and also land.
On the other side of the spectrum is Israel, a country that is located in desert and has learnt to deal with water crisis situation.
Israel treats 100 per cent of its used water and recycles 94 per cent of it back to households. More than half of irrigation in Israel is done using reused water.
Law regulating groundwater
It is a curious case but the Easement Act of 1882 that gives every landowner the right to collect and dispose groundwater and surface water within his/her own limits is still in operation. This law makes regulation of water usage by a person on his/her land.
Further, water falls under state list of the Constitution meaning only the state governments can frame a regulatory law. In 2011, the central government published a Model Bill for ground water management for the states.
But not all the states have passed a matching legislation which endorses the doctrine that resources meant for public use cannot be converted into private ownership.
And, finally, loss of wetlands, water bodies
Almost every single city and village in the country has lost its wetlands, water bodies and even rivers to encroachment to meet the needs of rising population.
Chennai that is facing acute water shortage had nearly two dozen water bodies and wetlands but most of them are out of use today. A recent assessment found that only nine of them could be reclaimed as water bodies.
A survey by the Wildlife Institute of India reveals that the country has lost 70 80 per cent of fresh water marshes and lakes in the Gangetic flood plains, the biggest river plain the in the country.
The Standing Committee on Water Resources, which submitted its report to Parliament in December 2015, found that while 92 per cent of the districts in the country had safe level of groundwater development in 1995, it came down to 71 per cent in 2011.
On the other hand, the percentage of districts with overexploited state of groundwater level increased from 3 in 1995 to 15 in 2011. The water security has only worsened since then.

Water crisis: Getting the priorities right


Water crisis: Getting the priorities right

More than piped water connections to all rural households by 2024, the imperative is adequate and safe drinking water supply and institutional mechanisms to ensure that

Photo for representation
In 2018, the Niti Aayog declared that India was staring at the worst water crisis in its history with 600 million people facing high-to-extreme water stress and about 200,000 people dying every year due to inadequate access to safe water. As many as 75 per cent households lacked supply of water in their premises.
It warned that the crisis would worsen with demand outstripping availability by a factor of two by 2030, which would lead to 6 per cent loss of India’s GDP. A 2018 World Bank report also said there was a direct link between the availability of water and poverty, quoting a study in India which estimated poverty rates to be higher by 9-10 per cent in districts where groundwater tables were below 8 metre.
A year after the alarming Niti Aayog report, the Central government has announced a new Ministry of Jal Shakti for an integrated approach to water conservation and management with the aim of providing piped water to every rural home by 2024.
This is a marked departure from its 2017 mission of providing tap water on a sustained basis in every household by 2030 and that of the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) of 2009 which promised to provide safe and adequate water…to every rural person on a sustainable basis by 2017.
Past experience: Lack of planning and delivery mechanisms
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) did a performance audit of the NRDWP and observed (in 2018 report) that lack of necessary focus and prioritisation keeping in view the deliverables that were to be achieved by 2017 resulted in their non-achievement.
The report said the overall coverage of rural habitations increased only by 8 per cent at 40 litre per capita per day (lpcd) and 5.5 per cent at 55 lpcd after incurring expenditure of Rs 81,168 crore during 2012-17. Portable piped water could be provided to 18.4 per cent rural households (against a target of 50 per cent) and household connections to 16.8 per cent (against a target of 35 per cent).
One of the critical observations of the CAG was that 4.67 lakh habitations (17.26 lakh total habitations ) had slipped from fully covered’ by provision of safe drinking water to partially covered’. The reasons being excessive extraction of ground water, inadequacy of efforts to address quality related aspects, lack of sustainability of water sources and inadequate/non-maintenance of water supply schemes.
As much 98 per cent of water-related schemes, including piped water schemes, continue to be based on ground water with little attention being paid to use surface water. The ground water is depleting fast. The Central Ground Water Board data shows water levels fell in 61 per cent of wells in the country between 2007 and 2017.
The Niti Aayog too, in its 2018 report, drew attention to a growing national ground water crisis with 60 per cent states performing poorly in recharging aquifer. The low performers are the northern states of UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Haryana and others with a population of 600 million people. Contaminated water is another worry as it affects three-fourth of the population, contributing 20 per cent of the country’s disease burden.
More than half of India’s districts are threatened by ground water depletion or contamination, said a 2019 World Bank report.
As for the CAG report on NRDW, it blamed the programme’s failure to lack of planning and delivery frameworks.
It said, 21 states did not frame water security plans and the annual action plans of the states did not bother about stakeholder and community participation. Institutions critical to planning, execution or coordination, like the National Drinking Water and Sanitation Council, State Water and Sanitation Mission, State Technical Agency, Source Finding Committee, Block Resource Centres etc. were either not set up, remained dormant or did not perform their assigned functions.
Water is a state subject and the NRDWP is a centrally sponsored scheme funded by both centre and states.
Primacy to water harvesting, adequate and safe water supply
Chennai is a classic case of mismanagement of water resources. Taps have gone dry here, and other parts of Tamil Nadu, as it faces one of the worst summers this year. While this is not new, Chennai has also witnessed catastrophic flooding due to heavy rain in 1943, 1976, 1985, 1998, 2002, 2005 and 2015. Among other things, a CAG report of 2017 found laxities in planning and water management, including failure to harvest rainwater, for its predicament.
Going by the CAG’s findings on the 2009 NRDWP and the Niti Aayog’s 2018 report on water crisis a similar fate may befall for the entire country if the priorities go wrong.
The NRDWP’s objectives and goals were to provide adequate and safe drinking water on a sustainable basis, to achieve which the CAG advocated institutional frameworks for planning and delivery and water security plans and annual action plans prepared with community participation to ensure that schemes are aligned to community requirements and ensure optimum and sustainable utilisation of water resources.
The National Water Policy of 2012 and other Central government policies from time to time have put a premium on rain water harvesting, conservation of water, judicious use of ground water and efforts to recharge of aquifer, among others, to augmenting availability of adequate water.
Reliable and adequate data
The key to overcoming the impending water crisis is adequate and reliable data, which remains a big challenge. The Niti Aayog says data systems related to water in the country are limited in their coverage, robustness and efficiency. While detailed data is not available for domestic and industrial use, the data that is available can be of inferior quality, inconsistent and unreliable due to outmoded methodologies in data collection.
The task for the Ministry of Jal Shakti is, therefore, cut out: a collection of reliable data, putting a premium on ensuring adequate and safe drinking water and institutional mechanisms to achieve those goals.