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Sunday, Aug 18, 2019

Let’s be water wise for a secure future

As per Niti Aayog, India is facing a water crisis, with around 50% population experiencing high to extreme water shortage. By next year, 21 Indian cities may run out of groundwater. Globally, India is ranked 120 among 122 countries in the world that are facing an acute water crisis.

gurugram Updated: Aug 06, 2019 08:18 IST
Shubhra Puri
Shubhra Puri
The dried up Bendsura Dam near Bheed in Marathwada. Globally, India is ranked 120 among 122 countries in the world that are facing an acute water crisis.
The dried up Bendsura Dam near Bheed in Marathwada. Globally, India is ranked 120 among 122 countries in the world that are facing an acute water crisis. (Satish Bate/ Hindustan Times)
         

A couple of months ago, when India cricket captain Virat Kohli’s household was fined by the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram for washing cars with running water from a pipe, one of my friends could not believe that this was an offence liable for penalty. Her reaction was obviously based on the assumption that water is a free commodity or a gift of nature to be used willy-nilly by all.

Not anymore.

The alarm bells are ringing loud and clear. As per Niti Aayog, India is facing a water crisis, with around 50% population experiencing high to extreme water shortage. By next year, 21 Indian cities may run out of groundwater. And by 2030, if proactive water management steps are not undertaken, 40% of India would have no groundwater and no access to drinking water.

Globally, India is ranked 120 among 122 countries in the world that are facing an acute water crisis.

It’s not very difficult to understand why we have reached this situation. With average decline in rainfall in most regions of the country year-after-year and reckless extraction, groundwater has been falling drastically. Rivers, lakes and wells have been drying up. The fact that forests are being cut does not help either. Besides, there is no water management. India does not store even one-tenth of its annual rainfall, neither is there any focus on recycling grey water and rejuvenating water bodies. What is worrisome is the fact that there are growing inequalities in water availability—people in villages in Marathwada walk for several miles to get a bucket of water, while in cities some continue to pilfer and waste it.

Cut to Gurugram. The story is the same except that it is heightened manifold. Groundwater is falling drastically—by 1 to 3 metres every year—and faster than the Indian average due to rampant extraction for construction, industrial and residential use through illegal borewells. Groundwater table in the city has fallen from 15 feet in 1990 to 80 feet in 2010. Because of heavy concretisation, rainwater is neither absorbed nor does the run-off get accumulated in water bodies, which, too, are disappearing.

Buildings have been built on top of dried water bodies or else water bodies have been reduced to waste dumps and then encroached upon. Natural drains have been concretised. Storm water drains are clogged and their carrying capacity limited. The water supply infrastructure is faulty and has leakages leading to loss of substantial volume during distribution. There is next-to-negligible recycling of grey water. Overall, there is no focus on conservation, restoration, recharge or reuse.

Water efficiency alone can reduce water demand by a significant 25%.

At the residential level, putting waste RO water to use in gardening, not using pipes to clean cars or to water plants, opting for bucket bath instead of a shower bath, using water more judiciously in cleaning utensils, installing rainwater harvesting systems and maintaining them, not allowing water tanks to overflow and using water efficient fixtures and appliances are some of the measures to save water.

These solutions will now be reinforced with greater vigour by the centre and local municipalities. Nationally, the government has launched Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA) to rejuvenate the water sector, much on the lines of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Covering water-stressed blocks in 255 districts across the country, the JSA focuses on a) rainwater harvesting, b) reuse of treated waste water, c) rejuvenation of water bodies, and plantation.

The National Urban Sanitation Policy 2008 mandates reuse of at least 20% treated waste water. Besides, each city must initiate action to revive at least one water body under JSA. Plantation near water bodies, public spaces, parks and on roadside to improve green cover needs to be undertaken. The focus will be on citizen’s participation and funds are being allocated by the Centre to the urban local bodies (ULBs)—in-charge of execution.

Gurugram has had a headstart in launching its water restoration programmed titled “Gurujal” under the aegis of JSA. A helpline number 18001801817 to register water-related complaints, suggestions and feedback has been launched. Data collection for all borewells in the city is underway. Teams have been formed to check illegal extraction of water and compliance of rainwater harvesting systems. Awareness drives with RWAs, schools, NGOs, panchayats, builders and corporates are also being planned.

Interestingly, in one of the manuals of Jal Shakti Abhiyan, Garden Estate Colony of Gurugram features as a case study for best practices in rainwater and surface-run off harvesting. The colony has captured 46% of its rainwater harvesting potential and improved its water table by 1.7 metres. If Garden Estate can do it, other too can. All it takes is willingness.

In 2016, Gurugram’s water table reached a low that it was declared a dark zone. It’s high time we become water-wise. It will take effort from everyone to turn the tide.

(Shubhra Puri is the founder of Gurgaon First, a citizen initiative to promote sustainability in Gurugram through workshops and research books)

First Published: Aug 06, 2019 04:46 IST

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