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Availability of water - a disaster in the making

By Srinivas Mudrakartha

Socio-economic processes, increasing urbanisation, industrialisation and changing lifestyles are putting tremendous pressures on India's limited water resources.

The situation in Gujarat is similar to that in most states of the country - where potable water is becoming increasingly scarce. Often, conflicts erupt over water between agriculturists, industrialists, rural and urban water users. Water riots have also become more frequent as seen recently in Falla village of Jamnagar.

Of the 18 million hectares in the state, about 49 per cent is under agriculture. Only 11.8 per cent is supported by irrigation. Massive investments in the petrochemical, chemical, fertiliser and pharmaceutical industries has led to indiscriminate extraction of ground water leading to a multifold increase in the quantum of effluents. With urbanisation reaching almost 35 per cent, and increasing demand from agriculture, industry and domestic sectors, Gujarat has a challenge to provide safe and adequate drinking water to its people.

A whopping Rs 1,18,765 crore have been invested in industry in different parts of the state since 1991. Of these, the highly water-demanding petrochemicals and chemicals, drugs and pharmaceuticals, textile, glass and ceramics and cement, account for nearly 82.5 per cent. Barring Dangs, all districts are witnessing industrial development.

Scarcity and pollution of water is manifested in the drying up of wells, tubewells, increased salinity levels in groundwater in the coastal areas of Kutch and Saurashtra, and more than permissible fluoride content in groundwater from the deep aquifers in Mehsana. There is also a tremendous increase in the costs of installation and operations of well. All this threatens the sustainability of water sources. The Regional Water Supply Schemes in Banaskantha and Mehsana under the Indo-Dutch Water Supply and Sanitation project have been reporting a rapid fall in water table (3-6 meters/year) and deteriorating quality of water (because of its fluoride) threatening the sustainability of the schemes.

Also, with no environment management system in place, the state seems to be heading towards an ecological disaster. Most schemes drawn up to tackle the crisis are mostly short-term. Efforts of dealing with the drinking water scarcity in Rajkot city is a recent case in point. Several batteries of deep bore-wells (500 metres) are drilled at a huge investment to feed into piped water supply systems. While intentions may be good, the effect on the existing well structures and the consequent water quality deterioration is ignored.

To address the problem on a sustainable basis, more holistic approaches, such as the watershed programmes implemented with support from Rural Development Department need to be intensified. Water conservation is not an activity to be done in rural areas alone. Urban areas also should follow conservation measures such as roof water harvesting to avoid transfer of water from rural areas.

Water problems are regional in nature - and hence, the river basin is the appropriate unit of management through formation of stakeholder subgroups apexing into a stakeholder forum.

The need of the hour therefore is informed stakeholder participation supported by appropriate policy instruments. This implies installation of systems of water conservation, use and management giving due cognisance to indigenous knowledge and with active involvement of different user groups. This should be backed by enabling policies related to a holistic water-energy pricing and urban conservation measures (such as roof water harvesting, waste water recycling, social audit mechanisms). Viewing water and energy as two sides of the same coin will go a long way in thwarting the danger of ecological disaster.

(The author is director of VIKSAT)

The Economic Times


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Notes on water



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