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The NITI Aayog’s Composite Water Management Index, which ranks States on water management on the basis of nine parameters, once again reminds us that India is in the grip of a water crisis that needs to be addressed on a war footing. The report flags a few factoids that point to how life-threatening the situation is:

  • 600 million people face high-to-extreme water stress;
  • 75 per cent of the households do not have drinking water
  • 84 per cent do not have piped water access
  • 70 per cent of our water is contaminated. 

“When water is available, it is likely to be contaminated, resulting in nearly 2, 00,000 deaths each year.”

Even as India relies increasingly on groundwater for its irrigation and livelihood needs, with rivers running dry or being reduced to sewers, it has recently come to light that uranium contamination is common.

With water levels dropping to 1,000 feet in dry regions of peninsular India in particular, fluoride contamination too is on the rise. The report assesses States on restoration of surface and ground water, development of watersheds, participatory irrigation, sustainable farming and urban water supply and sanitation and places Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra in the top five. The Centre expects a new groundwater management regime as well as a technology partnership with Israel to make a difference.

Twenty-one cities, including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people, the study noted. If matters are to continue, there will be a 6% loss in the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2050.

Moreover, critical groundwater resources, which accounted for 40% of India’s water supply, are being depleted at “unsustainable” rates and up to 70% of India’s water supply is “contaminated”.

Increased population pressure along with competing demand for water from different sectors (drinking, agriculture, industry and energy) are putting a huge stress on water resources in India. The data published by the Central Water Commission indicate that agriculture alone accounts for about 85 per cent of all water use, mostly drawn from groundwater.

A growing population, lack of adequate planning, crumbling infrastructure, indiscriminate drilling of bore wells, large-scale consumption of water, and a false sense of entitlement in using water carelessly are causing water shortages.


The water scarcity is mostly man made due to excess population growth and mismanagement of water resources. Some of the major reasons for water scarcity are:

  • Inefficient use of water for agriculture. India is among the top growers of agricultural produce in the world and therefore the consumption of water for irrigation is amongst the highest. Traditional techniques of irrigation cause maximum water loss due to evaporation, drainage, percolation, water conveyance, and excess use of groundwater. As more areas come under traditional irrigation techniques, the stress for water available for other purposes will continue. The solution lies in extensive use of micro-irrigation techniques such as drip and sprinkler irrigation.
  • Reduction in traditional water recharging areas. Rapid construction is ignoring traditional water bodies that have also acted as ground water recharging mechanism. We need to urgently revive traditional aquifers while implementing new ones.
  • Sewage and wastewater drainage into traditional water bodies. Government intervention at the source is urgently required if this problem is to be tackled.
  • Release of chemicals and effluents into rivers, streams and ponds. Strict monitoring and implementation of laws by the government, NGOs and social activists is required.
  • Lack of on-time de-silting operations in large water bodies that can enhance water storage capacity during monsoon. It is surprising that the governments at state levels have not taken this up on priority as an annual practice. This act alone can significantly add to the water storage levels.
  • Lack of efficient water management and distribution of water between urban consumers, the agriculture sector and industry. The government needs to enhance its investment in technology and include all stakeholders at the planning level to ensure optimization of existing resources.

The problem has been compounded with increased concretization due to urban development that has choked ground water resources. Water is neither being recharged nor stored in ways that optimizes its use while retaining the natural ingredients of water. In addition, the entry of sewage and industrial waste into water bodies is severely shrinking the availability of potable water. Marine life is mostly lost in these areas already. This is the genesis of a very serious emerging crisis. If we do not understand the source of the problem we will never be able to find sustainable solutions.

India’s water problem is being caused by several factors — increase in population, reduced rainfall, encroachment of water bodies, poor handling of industrial waste water, exploitation of natural resources, change in food consumption pattern etc. have all come together to deplete the amount of water available. Let us see how the change in food consumption increases the demand for water.


We need to look for new paradigms to obtain usable water from various sources coupled with technology.


Today, Israel is the most efficient to handle water crisis by adopting innovative technologies, dedicating its greater resources and social consciousness to the water crisis.

  • Drip Irrigation — growing crops even in the dessert

70% of the total available fresh water is used by agriculture. So it’s time to revolutionize the farming method to use less water and Israel is creating wonders in this area. Drip irrigation, an Israel invention in the area of irrigation process is the modern technique which is a type of micro-irrigation that has the potential to save water and nutrients by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots of plants, either from above the soil surface or buried below the surface. The goal is to place water directly into the root zone and minimize evaporation. Drip irrigation systems distribute water through a network of valves, pipes, tubing and emitters.

  • Waste water recycling

In many countries waste water is not treated at all, polluting rivers and oceans. Whereas in Israel, nearly 85% of the sewage water is recycled and reused for agriculture.

  • Extracting water from the air

Water-Gen Ltd., an Israeli company whose technology captures humidity in order to make drinking water out of air.

  • Desalination — the process of removing salt from sea water

Israel, one of the driest countries on the earth with 60% dessert now makes more freshwater than it needs.


  • Fog Catcher

It is an invention which traps water drops from fog. In desert areas like the Peruvian coast there is lack of water and rain, but there is a lot of fog. The aim is to capture the micro droplets suspended in the air and trap them in the mesh. The little water drops caught by this mesh are collected and passed through an organic filter into a tank. From this tank fresh water is derived.


  • A simple addition of a ‘water free’ urinal in our homes can save well over 25,000 liters of water, per home per year. The traditional flush dispenses around six liters of water per flush. This must be made mandatory by law and followed up by education and awareness both at home and school.
  • The amount of water that is wasted during dish washing at home is significant. We need to change our dish washing methods and minimize the habit of keeping the water running. A small step here can make a significant saving in water consumption.
  • Every independent home/flat and group housing colony must have rain water harvesting facility. If efficiently designed and properly managed, this alone can reduce the water demand significantly.
  • Waste water treatment and recycling for non-drinking purposes. Several low cost technologies are available that can be implemented in group housing areas.
  • Very often, we see water leaking in our homes, in public areas and colonies. A small steady water leak can cause a loss of 226,800 liters of water per year! Unless we are aware and conscious of water wastage we will not be able to avail the basic quantity of water that we need to carry on with our normal lives.
  • The government needs to come up with solutions like changing the cropping pattern which requires less water and rectify the mistakes that are being done over years.
  • There is great awareness now about air pollution, however, India’s water crisis need to get that kind of attention. We need to be more responsible, sensible and prudent when it comes to the use of water and in understanding the sentiments of the people.
  • The government must give higher MSPs to less resource-intensive crops and fix its procurement policy.
  • It must tell states that it will procure from their farmers if they keep water-productivity in mind; For instance central procurement in Punjab should shift from paddy to, say, maize, while paddy should be procured from states like Assam and Bengal.


  • Recognizing Right to Water for life
  • Graded pricing system for domestic water supply
  • Proposes comprehensive governance structure
  • National water quality and footprint standards
  • Rejuvenation of river systems: by ensuring Aviral Dhara (continuous flow) and Nirmal Dhara (unpolluted flow) and Swachh Kinara (clean river banks).
  • Proposes basin Level development of rivers
  • Establishment of River Basin Authority for each Inter-state river basin.


The government has come up with a Rs. 6,000-crore World Bank-aided Atal Bhujal Yojana with community participation to ensure sustained groundwater management in overexploited and ground water-stressed areas in seven States.

There needs to have a multidisciplinary approach involving various scientists and ecologists to devolve various water management techniques so that effective solutions are created than building dams and canals. We need to connect with nature to help rebalance the water cycle in a sustainable and cost-effective way by planting new forests, reconnecting rivers to floodplains and restoring wetlands. Governments, communities, the private sector, and researchers must collaborate.

Conscious efforts need to be made at the household level and by communities, institutions and local bodies to supplement the efforts of governments and non-governmental bodies in promoting water conservation. Sustained measures should be taken to prevent pollution of water bodies, contamination of groundwater and ensure proper treatment of domestic and industrial waste water. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle must be the watchwords if we have to handover a liveable planet to the future generations.

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