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Niti Aayog calls for wastewater recycling, more water storage

New Delhi : Recycling of wastewater, augmentation of water storage capacity and participatory approach to encourage behavioural changes and community engagement in groundwater management are among the recommendations of the NITI Aayog in its recently unveiled comprehensive national strategy for 2022-23.

Industries should be encouraged to meet a major share of their demand through recycled water. Besides, programmes for smart water meters and tradable permits for use of recycled water may be launched, said NITI Aayog in ‘Strategy for New India @75’.

Wastewater discharge from industrial units into rivers and other water bodies should be reduced to zero and stringent civil penalties to strengthen enforcement of environment-related acts were also recommended in the national strategy, which defines clear objectives for the country till 2022-23.

The strategy document is a detailed exposition across 41 crucial areas, and recognizesthe progress already made, identifies binding constraints, and suggests the way forward for achieving the clearly stated objectives.

Noting that By 2022-23, India’s water resources management strategy should facilitate water security to ensure adequate availability of water for life, agriculture, economic development, ecology and environment, the strategy document calls for enhancing the water storage capacity from the current level of 253 billion cubic metres (bcm) to 304 bcm by completing on-going projects on time.

With the country generating 140 bcm of wastewater annually, a pilot scheme to irrigate 10 lakh ha with treated wastewater by 2020 also may initially be taken up, said NITI Aayog.

Annual precipitation in India, including snowfall, which is the main source of water, is about 4000 bcm. About 53.3 per cent of the total precipitation is lost due to evapo-transpiration, which leaves a balance of 1869 bcm water in the country. Of this, the available utilizable water resource potential is 1137 bcm, comprising 690 bcm of surface water and 447 bcm of groundwater.

Efforts should be made to create additional water storage capacity to ensure full utilization of the utilizable surface water resources potential of 690 bcm and also ensure long-term sustainability of finite groundwater resources, the strategy document said.

On agriculture, the NITI Aayog underlined the huge gap between the irrigation potential created (112.5 million ha in 2012) and the irrigation potential utilized (89.3 million ha in 2012). Apart from the underutilization of the potential, the efficiency of the irrigation systems is low at 30 per cent to 38 per cent for surface water and 55 per cent for groundwater.

Despite clear evidence of rising water stress, water is still used inefficiently and indiscriminately, particularly in agriculture. Poor implementation and maintenance of projects, absence of participatory irrigation management, non-alignment of cropping patterns to the agroclimatic zones, and absence of field channels (CAD works) are some of the challenges, it said.

"A coordination mechanism at the field level may be set up for PMKSY to find the reasons for delays in the completion of projects and corrective measures undertaken project wise to ensure speedy implementation. The Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) may draw up an action plan to complete CAD works in 317 identified projects to reduce the gap between the irrigation potential created and utilized", the strategy document suggested.

According to the NITI Aayog, to mitigate conflicts and achieve equitable distribution of water, an integrated river basin management approach needs to be adopted. The setting up of river basin organisations for major basins may be expedited.

"NITI Aayog has developed a concept note on revitalization of rivers, which may be implemented on a pilot basis before being expanded across major states".

Participatory aquifer management initiated in the 12th Plan National Aquifer Management (NAQUIM) under PMKSY should be strengthened through a network of partnerships to control unbridled, competitive extraction of groundwater since it is virtually impossible to police more than 30 million groundwater structures through licences and permits, NITI Aayog noted.

"PMKSY – Har Khet Ko Pani – envisaging enhancement of food production more than two-fold in 96 prioritized most ‘deprived irrigation districts’ in 12 states by creating irrigation facilities through tube wells, dug wells, bore wells and dug-cum-bore wells, should be expedited. This will facilitate assured irrigation in tribal and backward areas that traditionally have been deprived of canal irrigation".

At the same time, special focus should be placed on the quality of rural drinking water supply in arsenic and fluoride affected areas by tapping multiple sources through conjunctive use of surface water, groundwater and rain water harvesting. All new, piped water supply schemes should have mandatory provisions on operation and maintenance involving local communities and stakeholders, the document said.

"There is need for a scheme on medium term measures for flood management. This should include completion of incomplete works in the states of Assam, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal. Besides, long term measures for Bihar, UP and North East states should be explored to achieve permanent protection from floods. The formation of North East Water Management Authority (NEWMA) in North East states will comprehensively address the flood issue in the region".

A water regulatory framework should be established for water resources in all states, said NITI Aayog, adding that an action plan should be drawn up to improve water use efficiency (with 2017 as the base year) by 20 per cent in all sectors by 2022.

NITI Aayog said the overarching focus of the strategy document, for which 800 stakeholders from with the Government (Central, State and District level) and 550 external experts were consulted, is to further improve the policy environment in which private investors and other stakeholders can contribute their fullest towards achieving the goals set out for New India-2022.

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