By Guest Author Rohit P. Singh
India, in spite of being surrounded by bodies of water on three sides, being crossed by 13 major rivers, and being home to the place with the world’s highest rainfall (Cherapunji) and largest river island (Majuli), is suffering from an acute water crisis. Even as there have been great advances in the fields of science and technology, people in India are still exposed to health hazards because of water, which itself is the reason for life on our planet.
It is time that we start looking for answers rather than stating the problems and waiting for someone else to solve them. The solution to water scarcity does not lie in making policies and agendas with no intention of executing them. Each person in every community across India needs to start playing a specific role in alleviating the current and future suffering caused by lack of access to clean water.
Apart from the issue of water not being available where and when we need it, there is also the severe problem of managing the available resources. The water supply and sanitation sector in India is currently suffering from a large demand-supply gap, inadequate sanitization processes and poor financial management. Talking of the right to drinking water, which essentially is the right to a “dignified life,” the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) puts an obligation on India, which is one of its member states, to gradually realize this right. The Tenth Plan, which was in force from 2002 to 2007, outlined the measures that need to be taken to improve the drinking water scenario in the country. They are: participation by all people, awareness of the need to use water economically, the involvement of the private sector, the integration of the drinking water supply with sanitation programs, and the promotion of traditional methods of water conservation.
It is both alarming and unfortunate that although India receives an average of 4,000 billion cubic meters of rainfall every year, only 48 per cent of this rainfall ends up in the country’s rivers and, due to lack of storage, only 18 per cent of it is used. These figures surely are cause for ignominy for any country and should exhort everyone to turn to better ways of rainwater harvesting and clean water storage. Doing so will also combat the food scarcity that is also prevalent in India; what’s more, these are methods that can be implemented at a household level.
Another important issue that should be addressed here is the involvement of the private sector in order to ease the burden of responsibility on India’s government. The notion that water is the private property of the individuals using it must be dispelled. The majority of people feel that water is a common resource and that anyone can dig a bore at the back of their house to pull out as much underground water as they feel like. Policies need to be formulated to restrict this unchecked appropriation of water. The division of responsibilities between the state and the private sector should be clearly defined, and the state should seek the help of the private sector both in terms of resources and technology which execution of such a scale requires. In a nutshell, there should be a mutual understanding between the two in order to cope with the management and financial implications of such a step towards progress.
People in general are interested in receiving clean water and sanitary services but are extremely reluctant to pay for such services. There is a negative attitude towards the recycling of waste water, and, for political reasons, towards the involvement of private parties; therefore, the public sector refrains from imposing any regulations on water use or increasing its prices. It is only through the so-called “commercialization” of water and its resources that we will be able to attract private sector investment, not only from those in India but from players across the globe, as India is today one of the most sought-after markets. So the time has come for people to start thinking of the water supply, sanitation services and waste water management in a structured and integrated manner. There is a need to develop an effective institutional framework which can develop and manage services that the country both expects and deserves from the government.