Whither India’s water harvesting, groundwater recharge plans?

By Pulkit Sachan*

Water is the most widely available resource on the planet, the story for clean water is however poles apart. The current water crisis evolved post industrialization era, when humans’ civilizations started putting more pressure on water resources than they can handle. And now we are on the verge of acute water shortage in several parts of the world. Several cities in the world are now facing chronic water shortages and many others are on the verge of falling into that category.

India is a land where rivers and lakes are often considered deities, and even after that it is ironic that water resources in India are one of the most polluted water bodies in the world. India, currently, has no central or unified policy for water management and this has led to mismanagement of resources and efforts to make our water bodies as pristine as they were a hundred years ago. Absence of unified policy has also led to the severe pressure and extreme overutilization of existing resources.

To understand more about water resource management in India, we reached out to Himanshu Thakkar, a social activist and an alum of IIT Bombay, an apex institute for technical studies. He started his social excursion with Narmada Bachao Andolan and has since been active in various Andolans and movements across India aimed at conserving rivers and other natural water bodies. He also works as a watchdog for various water related infrastructure projects in India and says that with construction of every dam a river dies slow death. A lot of Indian rivers have dried up, or flow seasonally, some rivers don’t even flow into the ocean. Another ironic feature that can be observed in Indian context, the reason for most of the pollution is upper and upper-middle class population of the country however the consequences for the same are quite extreme for lower class population of the country.

India’s water supply, its continuity, is largely dependant on ground water and Indian government and water management authorities fail to recognize this reality. Plans for water harvesting and replenishing of groundwater are almost non-existent. Himanshu adds that government departments have not even recognized the problem, let alone acknowledging it. Lack of acknowledgement of the problem has further exacerbated the problem. There is growing need of transparency and accountability from central government. The growing numbers of dams is also a growing reason for concern in Indian context, since 1991 dams have had a negative contribution to Indian agriculture. The entre purpose of the dams has shifted from being a significant push to agricultural irrigation to being simply used for government publicity. Dams are now being constructed only for political agendas and to satiate the needs of industrialists and not for the development of local populace.

India’s water policy needs to include more serious norms for industries overutilizing water resources and pollution norms also need to be more comprehensive. Another concern is lack of awareness among the average citizens of the country, people are unaware of the stress they are putting on water resources and they are also unaware of the consequences of the over utilization of resources. We need to educate people and spread awareness about the natural resources present in their vicinity.

According to Mr. Thakkar one of the most difficult parts of his work is gathering of accurate and reliable information, which is scarce because of the extreme lack of transparency in the country. Central water commission has put n several laws at place but they have, currently, been reduced to a fraction of what they were supposed to be.

We need a unified policy for water management and cleaning out the existing water resources. We also need to focus on central initiatives for water harvesting and recharging of ground water. Implementation of these laws in the Indian context, rampant with corruption, is also a major challenge.

*IIM Ahmedabad | PGP in Management | Class of 2021

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