Come summer, two news stories find front-page mention without fail every year: first, the monsoon forecast by the Met department and second, the impending water crisis unfolding across the country. This year too there has been no change in this yearly routine: while the monsoon is said to be on course, the water crisis is upon us bringing with it all the familiar woes. According to a report by McKinsey & Company — India’s Urban Awakening: Building Cities, Sustaining Economic Growth — by 2030, urban Indian towns could well turn into ‘dry, stinking holes’.
The water crisis, especially the drinking water crisis, is nothing new to India, but the pace at which it is spreading is alarming. It’s just the beginning of another scorching summer and already there are reports that private security guards are being put on duty in parts of Rajasthan to guard sources of water. Even animals are not being allowed to drink from these water bodies. In Chennai and Bangalore, queues of women with colourful plastic buckets are only getting longer with each passing day. Way back in 2005, a World Bank report, and there have been several more after that from different sources, warned that the country will face a severe water crisis in 20 years if the government didn’t act to find solutions. The report blamed the lack of a proper water management system, excessive extraction of groundwater and pollution of the river bodies for this crisis. Another report by the Arlington Institute suggests there has been a “distinct lack of attention” to water legislation, water conservation, efficient water use, recycling, and infrastructure. Historically, the report adds, water has been viewed as an unlimited resource that did not need to be managed as a scarce commodity or provided as a basic human right.
This complacency about water must change. But the management of water cannot and must not be left to the State alone because it is as much a socio-cultural issue as it is an environmental and technical one. While the colossal waste of water that takes place in the urban areas of the country must stop, politicians must also desist from announcing populist measures like free power which encourages the excessive use of water. India can avoid a dark and dry future only if citizens actively participate in the conservation and reuse of water, set up effective disposal mechanisms for human and industrial waste and also regulate how much water can be drawn from the aquifers. But for now, the term home and dry has taken on frightening connotations.