TheNational Water Policy NWP) was conceived by the Ministry of Water Resources inSeptember, 1987. The policy was revisedfor the first time in the post-liberalization era in 2002. The 1987 policy was a very brief andgeneralized with very broad objectives in twenty sub-headings which seemed tobe a cradle for the policy that would be updated 15 years later. There was no drastic change to the policy in2002 with no review and comment on the implementation of the first policy.
Thepolicy was restructured again in 2012 with core issues highlighted and theprinciples based on which State Water Policies have to be drafted clearly laiddown. The long awaited clause regardingthe Implementation of the NWP was found in the 2012 policy. The most striking feature of the policy isthe acknowledgment of the fact that water is essential to achieving foodsecurity in its third update, 25 years after the first. The policy’s propensity towards equitableseparation of water and the basin being the basic hydrological unit forplanning remain the same across all three. A review and comment on these policies is long due and the same isattempted under various heads which is found in the policy.
Avague specification to develop a standardized national information system witha network of data backs and data bases in1987 policy didn’t see a greataddition despite the development of technology over a decade and a half whenthe policy was reviewed. The updatedpolicy mentions standards that should be adopted for coding, classification andprocessing of data which would have expected commonality in the analysis ofdata while the policy in 2012 calls for the establishment of National WaterInformatics Centre to do the same. Thepolicy to put hydrological data on public domain in the latest policy will bevery useful to farmers, officials and researchers alike. This would also solve the problem ofimplementation of the earlier policy of free exchange of data between variousagencies which has remained only in letter. Aprogressive policy making is observed when it comes to solve the issue ofimproper maintenance of water resource structures. The first policy states annual provisions tobe provided in the budget for maintenance while the 2002 policy highlights thereason for neglect as it falls under non-plan budget.
The concern under this head in the 2012policy is that grossly inadequate maintenance of infrastructure has led tounder-utilization of resources and in order to resolve the crux at the source,the latest update specifies to have an inbuilt provision for proper maintenanceof structures for longer periods in the Contracts of projects. Thus, narrowing the gap between irrigationpotential created and utilized. The formationof Water Users’ Association (WUA) is mentioned in the second policy and theyare encouraged to exercise vested authority and responsibility in the samehead.Whilethe objective of International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation DecadeProgramme (1981-199) was to provide adequate drinking water facilities to 80%of the urban population and 25% of the rural population, a policy was framed in1987 to provide the same for the total population of India by 1991. The revamped policy of 2002 remains silent onthe implementation of the same but adds an important term “safe” and mentionsit is adequate safe drinking water should be provided to the entirepopulation.
The failure of the implementationof this ambitious plan is evident when the policy in 2012 admits the bittertruth that access to safe water for drinking and other domestic needs continuesto be aproblem in many areas having the potential to cause social unrest. Another concern mentioned is the lack ofaccess to water for “sanitation” – the word remained obviated in the first twopolicies. Looking to solve this issue,the policy strongly states that the Centre, States and the Local Bodies “must”ensure access to a minimum quantity of potable water for health and hygieneavailable within the easy reach of the household. Inthe 1987 policy, it was stated to set-up special multi-disciplinary units ineach state to prepare comprehensive plans to put optimum use of available waterresources while the improved policy gives powers to the basin states themselvesto decide the scope and powers of the river basin organizations. Though Tribunals for each river basin arealready in existence, there is a more honed approach in the institutionalmechanism in 2012 by stating to form a permanent Water Disputes Tribunal at thecenter while also calling for an amicable dispute solving mechanism betweendifferent states. While accepting thefact that large parts of India are water-stressed, it stresses the need to planresources projects as per the efficiency benchmarks.
In order to solve the issue of holistic andinter-disciplinary approach lacking in water related problems, the planning,development and management of the same be based on the principle IntegratedWater Resources Management (IWRM) concept – a long due one in NWP. Allthe policies indifferently have put a price on water. In this aspect, it is to be mentioned thatthe Constitution of Indian has got right to water covered under Right to Lifeunder Article 21. The first NWP policydoes not mention the basis to charge water whereas the next update emphasisesto ensure water charges be fixed to cover at least the O and a part ofthe capital costs to give physical and financial sustainability to existingfacilities. The 2012 policy calls forthe charge on water on to preferably be determined on volumetric basis to meetthe principles of equity, efficiency and economy. The practicality of the implementation of thesame in the Indian villages is highly challenging. In the clause 7.
4 of the same policy, thereis a reference to ‘principle of differential pricing’ and ‘pricing on economicprinciples’ which raises serious questions whether water is considered as aneconomic good. Inone of the principles in 2012 policy, it is considered that demand managementof water needs to be given priority by evolving a system which uses watereconomically in both agriculture and other uses. The aforesaid principle is implementedthrough water footprint. The policyadmirably states that EIA and project appraisal of industrial projects shouldinclude analysis of water footprints for the use. This can be inferred that it will help prioritiseindustries which have less water footprint.
This is clearly visible when thepolicy holds that industries in water short regions be allowed to withdraw onlythe water able to be returned back to the hydrologic system. In declaring that the availability of waterbeing limited whilst its demand is increasing rapidly, it stresses forscientific assessment of the water resources available and its use at fiveyears interval. This is in greatimprovement to the earlier policies which mention non-structural measures suchas catchment area (2002) treatment to maximize water availability.