ET View: Focused, forward-looking water policy needed

A recent ministry of earth sciences (MoES) report says that large parts of the country, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, have been witnessing “significantly decreasing trends” in rainfall patterns over the last three decades. It suggests pressing need to boost proactive policy to better manage water resources both at the Centre and in the states.

The way ahead is to step-up recharge of aquifers and groundwater resources, even as we better allocate resources for surface irrigation systems and their maintenance. We are increasingly dependent on groundwater for irrigation, which is clearly unsustainable. But the maintenance and upkeep of surface irrigation systems is also neglected across states. There are also steep falls in the water tables nationally, and the long-term drop in rainfall in major agriculture states can make matters worse on the water front sans a policy revamp.

Policy action is required to quickly bridge the growing gap between irrigation potential creation and that actually utilised with path-breaking command area development. The rational pricing of water for irrigation brooks no delay. In parallel, the reasonable rational pricing of urban water supply is required to modernise and augment the network.

Further, we need to shore up resources for water treatment and reuse. Note that only about 2% of urban centres have both sewerage systems and sewage treatment plants. This need to very substantially change going forward.

The rejuvenation of rivers, as envisaged in the National Water Framework Bill, needs legislating. The destruction of catchment areas and river flood-plains have adversely affected river flows nationally, which needs reversing.

We need concrete steps to reverse the build-up and consequent destruction of catchment areas and river flood-plains, to augment discharge channels and boost water flow to effectively prevent flooding, including in urban areas.

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