Government planning water reforms by bringing in new model law
The law is likely to be called the model water resources regulatory authority bill and only Maharashtra has such a body functioning since 2005, an official said, requesting anonymity.Updated: Jul 18, 2019 06:11 IST
The Narendra Modi government is drawing up a legislative package for water-sector reforms, including a model law aimed at managing what has become the scarcest resource in over a third of the country’s districts.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has nudged citizens to be judicious with water use, as a dire scarcity takes hold in many states. Last month, he wrote to panchayats, or village administrations, across the country, asking them to conserve water. The government has identified 1,592 blocks in 256 districts as seriously water-depleted.
Discussions are on at Jal Shakti, as the water resources ministry is now called, to bring a model law on water resources regulatory mechanisms to be set up by each state government, as the onus of replenishing water resources falls squarely in the states’ domain, according to a constitutional division of jurisdictions.
The law is likely to be called the model water resources regulatory authority bill and only Maharashtra has such a body functioning since 2005, an official said, requesting anonymity.
Each state ought to have one going forward, he said. Water audits will be a key function of these authorities. Without water audits, many states don’t even know their consumption requirements, private or bulk, and patterns. “How do you then plan? If you run low on supply, audits help you turn off the tap for non-essential use or make arrangements to keep supply going,” a second official said.
Parts of Chennai have gone without piped water for several months now. The city’s crisis was aggravated when Tamil Nadu received 55% less rains during the so-called winter monsoon in December 2018, according to weather bureau data.
The government also plans to bring a second model law stipulating legal provisions for re-using and recycling water. Model laws are passed by the central government to offer a framework for states to legislate in areas where they have exclusive control, such as water.
A combination of over-drawing of ground water through the decades and changes in rainfall patterns has precipitated India’s water crisis. Per capita availability has seen a decadal fall of 14%, declining to 1,544 cubic metres in 2011 from 1,816 cubic metres in 2001, according to figures presented by Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat in Parliament this week.
With only 4% of the world’s water resources and 16% of the global population, India’s water crisis is headed towards an inflection point.
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a “Jal Jeevan Mission” in Budget 2019-20 to provide potable water to every rural household by 2024, in step with the government’s larger thrust on water conservation and providing safe drinking water to all parts of the country.
Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People said any national policy on water had to pivot around ground water because “ground water is India’s water lifeline”. Secondly, he said there was a complete policy vacuum on the urban water sector and India urgently needs a programme to regulate its urban-water footprint.
A senior official who was part of the ministerial consultations on the proposed model laws said the government’s focus would be on both demand and supply-side management.
“While supply-side management involves decentralized storage, a review of demand-side economics is also under consideration,” he said. “We will have to review things like free power, which leads to over-extraction...this is one example of the demand side of the equation,” he said.
A model law for water-sector regulatory authorities at the state level is likely to cover issues such as dispute resolution, regulating supply at the time of crisis, water entitlement rights and regulation of bulk users. Legal provisions will also apply on processes for mandatory recycling and re-use of water.