New delhi: The Planning Commission has prepared a draft report for an integrated water management policy aimed at easing scarcity for irrigation, industrial, municipal and drinking purposes.
The preliminary report, viewed by Mint, suggests setting up a regulator to allocate and price water for farmers, improved data collection, recharge of water through check dams, ponds, etc., and timely completion of projects. It also recommends that states set annual commitments to provide irrigation for farm land.
“The Prime Minister wants the policy to be ready by November,” said a Plan panel official who did not want to be identified.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to hold a National Development Council meeting once the policy is ready so that issues related to water shortage are discussed with the states, he said.
The council, headed by Singh, is a forum for chief ministers and their chief secretaries to discuss with cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats on issues concerning both the Centre and the states.
India’s total water resource is 4,000 billion cu. m (bcm) and another 400 bcm comes from neighbouring Nepal and Tibet, the draft report says. Of this, only 1,125 bcm is potentially usable after allowing for evaporation, run-off and absorption into underground aquifers.
“This draft report was prepared under the supervision of Kirit Parekh, former member of the Planning Commission. This will provide the base for integrated water management policy, which we are currently working at,” said a government official familiar with the matter who declined to be named. This official said recharging water through check dams, ponds and the like can add to net usable water by 3.5%.
The draft report says 18-20% of potentially usable water can be created by linking rivers. Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in the south, and Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in the north are negotiating sharing waters from the rivers flowing through their territories.
The report notes wide gaps in the government’s database on water resources and availability, as well as on potential and utilized irrigation potential.
For instance, only 74% of the total potential of 76.8 million ha of surface irrigation in India had been developed till March 2008.
To assure timely completion of projects, the report says states should provide annual commitments on using irrigation area for each project before any Central assistance is given.
Y.K. Alagh, agricultural economist and a former Union minister, says water conservation needs multiple strategies. “What works for rain-fed areas does not work for areas that don’t get enough rainfall; then different strategies are needed for irrigation and drinking water,” Alagh said. “Between the 1980s and 2008, a handful of reports have been commissioned by the government. It is a good idea that the PM wants to have a national policy on water and I feel the best recommendations of these reports should be integrated to come out with a policy.”
The priority should be on drinking water and a systematic user charge policy, he said.