A Quick Glance at India’s Looming Water Crisis

Reading time: 3-4 minutes.

Water crisis is not a new notion in the Indian subcontinent. However, the water crisis of 21st century differs in its nature. The calamity which earlier appeared to be miles away, imminent yet far, has finally arrived at our doorstep.

The word crisis connotes the gravity of the issue. According to a 2018 report by policy think tank NITI Aayog, 21 cities in India will run out of their groundwater supplies by 2020. In fact, NITI Aayog has enunciated that by 2030, forty percent of India’s population will have no access to drinking water.

The water crisis will affect our country in ways we cannot even imagine. India holds 4% of global fresh water and is home to 16% of world’s population. From the very outset, one can comprehend the stark difference between the obvious and the necessity.

A great chunk (13%) of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) comes from agricultural exports. Water intensive agricultural practices and growing demand of water in industrial sector is stressing on the depleting water resources of India. If this pattern continues and the government fails to counter the impending crisis, India faces a 6% loss in its GDP by 2050, according to NITI Aayog report.

Can water resources be managed at the national level?

The prima facie question which surfaces in our minds is whether India has a national regulatory body overlooking the management of water resources. Or is there a regulatory body looking after the implementation of water-related laws?  

The answer to this question is not that simple. Water regulation falls under state list of our constitution, rendering exclusive power to the state governments to formulate laws in this regard. The tussle between the centre and states renders formation of coherent body regulating the water-laws virtually impossible.

However, the government’s proposal to form a Jal Shakti ministry is a beacon of hope for the helpless poor. The Ministry of Jal Shakti has been earmarked 28,261.59 crores in 2019’s annual financial statement (Budget). Hopefully, the ministry will be able to address the impending water crisis by forming a coherent body concerning water-laws.

Is purifying sea water a solution?

The Chennai water crisis raises a lot of questions. The most important is regarding the future sources of drinking water. For the past few days, the only source of drinking water that has been consistent in Chennai even in the times of scarcity is purified sea water.

Earth is mostly covered by sea water, and hence, it is obvious that we look that way for supply of usable water. It is interesting to note that about one fourth of drinking water supply in Chennai is currently met by two plants which purify sea water. On these lines, Gujarat government is also looking forward to set up such plants.

However, this solution of using sea water is not as clean as it sounds. It solves the problem of water supply, but it is not good for the environment. This is because after separating salt for potable water, what is left behind is highly concentrated salt water (brine).

This brine is disposed into the sea which greatly disturbs aquatic life. Also, very powerful pumps are used to suck sea water into the plants. A great number of small fish and other aquatic beings are pulled into it and crushed to death.     

The waterways ahead…

India is on a fast track to run out of its water resources. It is clear that some immediate steps need to taken to avoid the approaching water crisis. Firstly, there is a need to form a body at national level to coordinate water resources and enforce water-laws. It is yet to be seen whether such a body will be formed under the Jal Shakti ministry.

Secondly, we need to use the available water resources in a sustainable manner. Even individual efforts matter. And if sea water is to be made a bigger source of usable water in the future, it must be made sure that it is done in a more environment friendly manner.

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