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PM calls for judicious management of water resources

Posted on Dec 28, 06:02PM | IBNS

The 6th meeting of the National Water Resources Council organized by the Ministry of Water Resources on Friday began with a call from Prime Minster Manmohan Singh for a judicious management of countries limited water resources and a paradigm shift in our approach to this vital issue.

Singh was chairing the one-day long meeting at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi.

"Rapid economic growth and urbanization today are widening the demand supply gap and leading to worsening our water-stress index. Our water bodies are getting increasingly polluted by untreated industrial effluents and sewage,' said Singh.

"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.

Singh said 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.

Speaking on the highlights of the extensive consultations preceding the formulation of the draft National Water Policy 2012, the PM said this 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.

"Integrated water resources planning at the basin level, conservation of water, preservation of river corridors, recharging of our aquifers and their sustainable management and improvement of water use efficiency are among the broad areas that need our 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.

Referring to the depletion of Ground Water resources, Singh emphasized the need of initiatiting 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.

The Prime Minster referred to the 12th Plan, which was adopted by the National Development Council on Thursday and said it has dwelt on these and other issues confronting the water sector and called for path-breaking reform.

Referring to the problems in achieving better management, he said: "The current institutional and legal structures dealing with water in our 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 hoped that 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.

Singh reiterated that central government does not wish to encroach, in any manner, upon the constitutionally guaranteed rights of States or to centralize water management.

Earlier welcoming the Prime Minster, Union Water Resources Minster Harish Rawat said a number of challenges have emerged in the water sector.

Access to safe water for drinking, 7 other domestic needs, continues to be a problem in many part of the country, he said.

Rawat said studies have indicated that India would need around 450 billion Cubic Metres (BCM) of water storages in the country by 2050 to meet the water requirements of various sectors. "As on today, we have only 253 BCM storage capacity available."

Rawat also referred to the exploitation of Ground Water and poor maintenance of irrigation infrastructure, and the widening gap between, the irrigation potential created.

He stressed for a common integrated perspective, governed by certain basic principles, so that concerns get addressed uniformly, in different part of country, ensuring equity and social justice.

"Water needs to be managed as common pool community resource in the larger interest of food security and sustainable development." The minister said water needs to to be allocated in a manner which maximises its value.

Rawat said the draft policy 2012, while emphasising the basin management concept to promote integrated water resources management also looks at the adaptation policies, needed to cope with the impact of climatic change.

He said the policy stresses the need for differential pricing of water, based on economic principles, while securing the basic needs of the people.

Rawat hoped that deliberations in two days' meeting 'will enable us to adopt the National Water Policy that meets the emerging challenges in the water sector'.

Friday's meeting was attended by several chief ministers and state water resources ministers along with senior officers from state as well as central ministries.