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Large population a strain on India's water resources: Ansari

Pune : Stating that India’s huge population is stressing its available water resources, Vice President M Hamid Ansari has asked for optimal, economical and equitable use of the country's water resources on an urgent basis.

India’s proverbial poverty amongst plenty is related to results from the hydro-meteorological conditions, inequitable spatial distribution, non-utilization and ill-planned utilization of water resources, said Ansari, adding that the biggest concern for the country's water-based resources in the future was the sustainability of current and future water allocation as the resource becomes more scarce.

Addressing the Centenary celebration of Pune-based Central Water and Power Research Station earlier this week, Ansari said the country was facing an acute water crisis due to three main reasons.

The first was that India’s large population had strained available water resources. Secondly, poor water quality was resulting from insufficient and delayed investment in urban water-treatment facilities. Thirdly, there were dwindling groundwater supplies due to over-extraction.

The Vice President pointed out that the country was facing an acute water crisis. India's total usable water has been estimated to be 700-1200 billion cubic meters (bcm). With a population of 1.2 billion according to the 2011 Census, India has only 1,000 cubic meters of water per person, even using the higher estimates.

Also, water in most rivers in India is largely not fit for drinking. "Industrial effluent standards are not enforced for a variety of reasons. The plight of Yamuna, as it crosses Delhi, starkly reflects this mismanagement. For only two per cent of its river length that Delhi occupies, 75 per cent of its pollutants are added here", he said.

According to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), urban India’s sewage generation for 2015 was estimated to be 62,000 million liter per day (MLD) while our sewage treatment capacity was only 23,277 MLD, with 816 sewage treatment plants.

The other issue needing urgent attention, said Ansari, was over-extraction of groundwater. India has been extracting more groundwater at an ever increasing rate. It is estimated that we extracted 251 bcm of groundwater in 2010 compared to 90 bcm in 1980.

"As water becomes more scarce, the importance of how it is managed grows vastly. Water stress has a bearing on various sectors of Indian economy including the agricultural, industrial, domestic and household, power, environment, fisheries and transportation sectors. The interplay of various factors that govern access and utilization of water resources need to be considered and it becomes incumbent that we look for holistic and people-centered approaches for water management", said Ansari.

For water as a resource, this is particularly difficult since sources of water can cross political boundaries and the uses of water include many that are difficult to assign financial value to and may also be difficult to manage in conventional terms.

The 12th Five-Year Plan (2012–17) document had detailed attention on several of these issues. It had put great emphasis on aquifer mapping, watershed development, involvement of civil society and NGOs, and efficiency in developing irrigation capacity.

"Because water is a state subject under our Constitution, state governments are expected to play a large role in these efforts. At the same time, many active NGOs are now able to enforce compliance with environmental obligations through the Right to Information Act, active and competitive media, and growing awareness on water issues", Ansari added.

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