Anything related to water is the talk of the town as cities across India grapple with acute water shortage.
Chennai’s water reservoirs are parched. River Cauvery, the primary water source of Karnataka, is running out of water. The situation in Maharashtra is dire as well. Many other parts of India are no better.
If anything, these instances have put the spotlight on water and what needs to be done to resolve the issue. These instances have also set the expectations on what is in store for the integrated ministry Jal Shakti this Budget on July 5.
Samrat Basak, Director – Urban Water, World Resources Institute (WRI), told Moneycontrol, “Earlier, we had 10 different departments looking at various aspects of water such as drinking water, clean Ganga programme and sewerage.”
Now all these departments are integrated under one ministry, Jal Shakti. It would be interesting to see what kind of impetus the government will give the ministry as the country is looking at water crisis, he added.
But it is easier said than done since the situation is complex, multilayered and requires political from the centre and state to resolve, say experts.
What is the crisis we are looking at?
The most pressing issues are groundwater depletion, contamination and access to drinking water in the rural area. The groundwater is used for both drinking and agriculture purposes.
Vishwanath S, a water evangelist from Bengaluru, said India has the highest dependence on groundwater in the world. India uses 250 cubic kiloliter of water per year and has close to 33 million bore wells. Borewells continue to be dug, now at the depth of 1,500-1,800 feet.
According to a NITI Aayog report, India will run out of groundwater in the next 10 years. Close to 40 percent of India will not get access to drinking water by 2030.
“We have exploited all our groundwater resources and surface water is drying up as well. This means we are increasingly dependent on private tankers for our drinking water needs,” he pointed out.
As for agriculture, fields are parched and there is not just enough water to save crops when the monsoon is delayed.
What can be done?
The solution is better conservation of water and moving away from heavy reliance on groundwater for agriculture. Vishwanath said, “Stringent implementation of water conservation methods such as rainwater harvesting and water recycling in apartments to some extent will help conserve drinking water.”
How can the Centre play a role given that water is a state subject? Quite a lot, say experts.
The centre should lower GST for rainwater harvesting equipment such as filters to the lowest slab from 18 percent to popularise rainwater harvesting in commercial and residential buildings.
Giving tax breaks for wastewater and incentivising drip irrigation is also the need of the hour. “We also need good institutions that look at water conservation at river basin level,” Vishwanath added.
Basak from WRI said one should watch out on the Centre’s budget allocation on ‘Piped Water For all’ programme it announced in its election manifesto.
The government had also promised that it will implement recycling 100 percent liquid waste. “However there are a lot of challenges in this,” he added.
For instance, there is a question on whether there will be a sufficient market for using water that is recycled. “Before implementation, it is important to create the market ecosystem for using recycled water,” he added.