The Central government on Monday gave in principle approval to the National River Basin Authority with powers to approve major projects on Indian rivers aimed at balancing water needs for agriculture and protecting environment.
“There was an in-principle approval,” said Water Resources minister Salman Khurshid, after a meeting with Plan panel deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Environment minister Jairam Ramesh. PM Manmohan Singh has already been briefed on the tenements of the new policy.
A plan panel member Mihir Shah had proposed the authority as part of a policy for better water management considering that the demand will be more than the supply by 2050. India has 1,123 billion cubic meter (BCM) of water as against the demand of 634 BCM, which is expected to increase to 1,180 by 2050. However, independent scholars describe the present situation precarious saying there is just adequate water to meet the demand.
The panel had suggested there should be a river basin approach on the maximum amount of water that can be sustainably drawn, while meeting needs of drinking water and the environment.
The authority as envisaged will draw plans for each river basin such as Brahmaputra, Godavari and Krishna, on how much water would be available for agriculture and drinking in the coming years. Based on this assessment, major dams and hydel projects would be approved.
Environment minister Jairam Ramesh emphasized on a need for a scientific basin management plan for sustainable management of rivers. Already, the government has constituted a National Ganga River Basin Authority having experts and state chief ministers as members.
Khurshid, however, emphasised that the water policy cannot be finalized without taking the state governments, who manage water resources, and the people, the users, into confidence. “We have to do indepth consultation with all stakeholders,” he said.
An important element of the new water policy is that people should pay a price for extracting underground water to ensure its rational use. A study using NASA Grace satellites in 2009 said large quantities of underground water in northern India was being used than it can be replenished.
The proposed policy also recommends building pathways for the return of all overdrawn ground water and surface water systems to environmentally sustainable levels of extraction. The Central Underground Water Authority will determine the level through a scientific study.
Shah, in his presentation to the ministers, said that the water user associations should be empowered to ensure that price for water is charged and people deploy water-harvesting systems to replenish fast depleting underground water.
The new policy will be implemented from the 12th five year plan starting from the financial year 2012-13.