India needs to stop free supply of water: Montek

India needs to stop free supply of water: Montek

New Delhi: India needs to end the free supply of water to resolve a water crisis the country is facing, representatives from both the government and the private sector said at the World Economic Forum’s India Economic Summit in New Delhi on Sunday.

Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia said the water crisis was a more serious problem than the energy crisis.

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“If water is a scarce resource, it will have to be priced," Ahluwalia said, identifying pricing as the main issue in dealing with India’s water problem.

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Poorer people could receive a subsidy from the government or the rich could cross-subsidize their consumption, he said. The important thing, he added, is to use price as a signal to impress upon consumers the fact that water is a scarce resource.

While the central government is at the forefront of rationalizing water usage, states too have an important role to play. A solution to the crisis requires political leadership to play an active role, Ahluwalia said.

Ajit Gulabchand, chairman and managing director, Hindustan Construction Co. Ltd; Sanjeev Chadha, chairman and chief executive officer, PepsiCo India Holdings Ltd; Arjun Thapan, special senior adviser to Asian Development Bank’s president for infrastructure and water; and Harish Manwani, president, Asia, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, Unilever also participated in the discussion.

In the next 10 years, India would have 1,000 cubic meters per capita of water compared with a minimum requirement of 1,700 cubic meters per capita, Thapan said.

Unilever’s Manwani said the crisis requires a political solution as much as an economic solution. “When you start with something that is free, it is difficult to price it," he said.

Agriculture accounts for about 80% of India’s national water usage. All the participants said cropping patterns are not in sync with water availability. The only way to bring about sustainable agricultural practices was to stop subsidizing water, they said.