The government reportedly plans to ask companies to conduct a water audit of their operations in order to assess their consumption, and then evolve a policy framework for industry-wise benchmarks for business consumption. Though belated, this is a good step, given the acute water shortage that India is faced with. Such a policy must mandate disclosures on the volume of water used annually by companies. An incentive mechanism for them could be modelled on what exists for energy efficiency. A Bureau of Energy Efficiency scheme rewards firms that go green, granting them power-saving certificates that can be traded. Though water is a public good, vast volumes of it are diverted to powerful lobbies, including large corporate houses, at little cost. This results in the reckless use of this precious ecological resource. Water rationing and appropriate pricing would, hopefully, spur companies in sectors such as cement, steel, power, and coal to use water more conservatively.

A NITI Aayog report forecasts a grim future for India’s key metropolises. As many as 21 cities, including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad, will run out of groundwater by 2020. These four cities, along with Mumbai, are economic powerhouses of the country. Should those dire predictions come true, it would drag India’s economic expansion down. If India hopes to be a middle-income economy in the near future, and aims to supply piped water to every household by 2024, it must also strive to rationalize water use in agriculture, which consumes four-fifths of the country’s water resources.

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