– by Shruti Syal
Recent public discussions on water resource management were pondered over through the lens of the National Water Policies of 2002 and 2012, and it was decided it might make a good post on ACWUS.
Articles in the popular dailies have largely focused on issues that have been in light for decades: quality of water supply and water-borne diseases, sanitation concerns, agricultural runoff, and irrigation. Science and urbanism-related online publications however, delve into more issues of equal significance but probably smaller readership. From serious discussions on latest rainwater harvesting and artificial groundwater recharge strategies, to effluent reuse, data decentralization and local and regional governance moves, energy concerns, water pricing, livelihoods, water-based ecosystems like wetlands, all in addition to the subject matter discussed in the popular dailies.
Other than skepticism regarding the prescribed increase in privatisation of water services, editorials in papers like The Hindu and TOI have largely echoed the goals iterated in NWP 2002 and 2012- equity, prevention of transboundary conflicts, quality concerns, industrial and agricultural use mediation. And the specific policy stipulations in the NWP for these goals have clearly reflected the latest policy framers’ consideration of ‘water as an economic good’.
It is noticeable that barely any of the policy recommendations from 2002 found their way into the public forum in terms of even local implementation. The only mention of privatization, recommended briefly even in NWP 2002 in terms of investment, was in an editorial in The Hindu that reviewed the draft of the latest NWP, where it has been expanded to include institutional partnerships for service management. However, there has been no mention of on-ground tactics for use-economy strategies in irrigation and urban usage, water footprinting efforts, positive and negative incentives, new projects, or any sort of data collection or inventories that could help implement water volume-based use charges, tariffs, subsidies, and in general achieve some sort of sustainable water use behaviour amongst consumers. This general goal has been on the mind of policymakers since 2002, so it is unfortunate that no headway has been made yet. And it has the same kind of potential for urban water resource management that was brought in by implementing the Polluter Pays principle. Perhaps the environmental activism that yielded judicial decisions that gave us well-framed legislations, not in the least being ‘polluter pays’, is needed yet again. A cursory look over news articles over the last year only revealed Public Interest Litigations (PILs) for pollution issues.
It is not just the economics of water resources that hasn’t found a footing in the public discussion forum. The several technologies in rainwater harvesting (RWH), groundwater recharge, prevention tactics for salinity-related issues, and evapotranspiration and soil moisture loss prevention are also excluded, probably because of their technical component. Since energy is a frontrunner in environment and urbanism-related issues, The Hindu featuring an opinion piece on the Mullaperiyar dam debate, that was featured in other publications as well, wasn’t strange. The remaining significant policy stipulation left out of the news is that of community stakeholders and the community-level arrangements, be they institutional, or education, supply, sanitation, water body protection, or project planning-related. Hopefully, projects like ACWUS could help break that mold being this public about their plans.
But expanding into specialty publications– online mostly- like India Water Portal and Aarghyam, offers a better view into the decision-making happening locally– the actual realization of some policy suggestions, both before and after such recommendations found their way into the NWP documents. There was mention of a study in Kullu, about the climate change consequences on agriculture from the point of view of water use, and work on the kinds of regulations required for community preparedness for adaptation. The latest technologies by firms, like Sincerus for water recycling and Varsh-Jal for RWH, even traditional water harvesting tactics from Thar, receive mention. But the efforts of non-governmental organizations extends beyond environmental engineering firms developing new technologies, to those holding lectures and workshops on water safety and hygiene, RWH, water-borne diseases and other issues for citizens, and those organizing forums implementing community management of water resources like one in Bundelkhand about general issues and one in Kashmir for irrigation management.
There were discussions on the Mullaperiyar dam conflict between Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and news on unjustifiable environmental clearance being granted to another project on the Lohit river in Arunachal Pradesh that violates wildlife protection considerations. This draws attention to another section that has been nonexistent even after its mention in NWP 2002, that of flood and drought management, and resettlement and rehabilitation news. Possibly the 2011 Land Acquisition and Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill had something to do with both their absences. There has been discussion on the LARR Bill; surprisingly in the past six months, the news has had to do with food security rather than anything else. As with the LARR Bill and food security, there have been opinion articles on other research, like on NEERI’s proposition on using treated wastewater for groundwater recharge, Greenpeace India’s study on nitrates from chemical fertilisers in Punjab’s many water bodies, encephalitis deaths in India, use of ‘zero discharge toilets’ in Indian Railways, and a few general water management issues relevant to the regional newspapers where they were first published. Besides these, several national and international events/forums/conferences on water management were publicized.
Another noticeable trend is that while there were news articles from all over the country, the largest number of urban water management-related articles was published for Bangalore city and its surroundings. The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board is very active, organizing sessions to batter out the mechanics of RWH implementation with other municipal bodies and the citizens, and there’s also the employment of a property tax rebate for those with RWH installations. News has not always been positive, as indicated by a study by the Public Health Initiative that found suspended solids to increase turbidity and reduce water quality in a supply unit for the Tippagondanahalli reservoir, rendering water unfit for drinking. But organizations in the state seem to be very active with regard to drinking water, sanitation, and community rights over water resources. EcoSan is also a widely understood and explored technology here. Also, a study profiling the condition of Bangalore’s lakes was published, so the city seems to be on top of the NWP’s goals on water pricing, regulations, RWH, groundwater recharge, citizen involvement and community-level decision-making, education, water quality and sanitation issues, innovation, database and information systems, and training needs. It should serve as a model for other cities needing a revival in their water management systems.