PM says lack of water could limit India's social, economic growth in future

New Delhi, December 28, 2012

PM chairs Water Resources Council Meet in New Delhi

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said that most objective data available pointed unerringly to the conclusion that water, or the lack of it, could well become the limiting factor for India's social and economic growth in the future.

"With around 18% of the world's population but only 4% of its usable fresh water, India already faces a scarcity of water, which is a vital and stressed natural resource," he said at the 6th meeting of the National Water Resources Council here.
Dr Singh said climate change could further aggravate the distortions in water availability in the country. Receding glaciers would negatively impact flows in the country's major rivers and pose a major new threat to the welfare of millions of our people, he said.
He said rapid economic growth and urbanization today were widening the demand supply gap and leading to worsening of the water-stress index. 
"Our water bodies are getting increasingly polluted by untreated industrial effluents and sewage. Groundwater levels are falling in many parts due to excessive withdrawals, leading to contamination with fluoride, arsenic and other chemicals. The practice of open defecation, which regrettably is all too widespread, contributes further to contaminating potable water sources," he said.
Dr Singh said the situation called for judicious management of the country's limited water resources and a paradigm shift in its approach to this vital issue. 
"Planning for water use and distribution has to be done on the foundation of a national vision. Regions with sufficient water resources are already experiencing the strains that result from having water-deficient regions around them. We therefore need to rise above political, ideological and regional differences and also move away from a narrow project-centric approach to a broader holistic approach to issues of water management," he said.
The Prime Minister said integrated water resources planning at the basin level, conservation of water, preservation of river corridors, recharging of aquifers and their sustainable management and improvement of water use efficiency were among the broad areas that needed urgent attention. 
"Our irrigation systems need to shift from a narrow engineering-construction-centric approach to a more multi-disciplinary and participatory approach. Incentives need to be provided to narrow the gap between irrigation capacities created and those being utilized. We also need to move towards transparent and participatory mechanisms of pricing of water by the primary stakeholders themselves. The local communities have to be involved actively in the management of water resources," he said.
Dr Singh said that groundwater had a prominent role in meeting the requirements of water for drinking and other purposes. 
"In spite of its vital importance, there is no regulation for its extraction and coordination among competing uses. We need to, therefore, initiate steps to minimize misuse of groundwater by regulating the use of electricity for its extraction. We also need to move to a situation where groundwater can be treated as a common property resource in a way that protects the basic needs of drinking water as also the livelihoods of our poor farmers," he said.
Dr Singh recalled that the National Water Resources Council was created by the National Development Council (NDC) at its thirty-sixth meeting on 14th March, 1982, and it was part of the vision of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. 
"It was devised not only to discuss the National Water Policy issues, but also to deliberate on administrative arrangements and regulations for fair distribution and utilization of water among different beneficiaries, keeping in view the optimum development of this scarce national resource. Our task today is to fulfill that vision so that we can assure our future generations of a water-secure future," he said.
Earlier, the meeting was given a presentation on the highlights of the extensive consultations preceding the formulation of the draft National Water Policy 2012.
"It would not have escaped your attention that the draft is an effort to focus attention on the looming crisis in the water sector and to lay a roadmap for the future, based on the fundamental principles of equity, sustainability and good governance. Our deliberations today need to be guided not only by these sound principles, but also an appreciation of the fact that we are approaching a critical juncture for the future of water management in our country," he said.
Dr Singh said the 12th Plan, which was adopted by the NDC yesterday, had dwelt on these and other issues confronting the water sector and called for path-breaking reform. 
He said outlays for the water sector had been increased substantially. "But these outlays will deliver only if they are matched and supported by better management and good governance. An urgent national consensus on the common denominators of water governance is therefore essential and the first critical step towards achieving water security and sustainability for all," he said.
According to him, one of the problems in achieving better management is that the current institutional and legal structures dealing with water in the country are inadequate, fragmented and need active reform.
"It is in this context that a suggestion has been made for a national legal framework of general principles on water, which, in turn, would pave the way for essential legislation on water governance in every State," he said.
Dr Singh emphasized the need to see the proposed national legal framework in proper perspective. 
"The framework would be an umbrella statement of general principles governing the exercise of legislative, executive or devolved powers by the Centre, the states and the local governing bodies. The central government, I repeat, does not wish to encroach, in any manner, upon the constitutionally guaranteed rights of States or to centralize water management.
"As we move into the Twelfth Plan period, the Indian economy and society will face daunting challenges in the water sector, both in terms of quantity as well as quality. There is a need, therefore, to take urgent and pragmatic decisions because water security is an issue on which we have to swim together or sink together. These decisions need your collective support," he added.

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