‘We need to move to a situation where groundwater is a common property resource'
The time has come for optimal pricing of water and power to prevent an unlimited pumping of groundwater and aid better coordination amongst competing demands for the scarce resource, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said here on Tuesday.
Dr. Singh's observations come at a time when there is a debate on the pricing of water and privatisation of services in the sector. The Ministry of Water Resources is working on a reforms-oriented new national water policy, which is likely to be finalised by the end of the month.
Hinting at strict laws to regulate groundwater, Dr. Singh said every landholder had the right to pump unlimited quantities of water from borewells on his ground. “Inadequate and sub-optimal pricing of both water and power is promoting the misuse of groundwater. We need to move to a situation where groundwater can be treated as a common property resource.”
Sustainable and rational management of water resources is a challenge that will engage the policymakers in the 12th Plan, Dr. Singh said, inaugurating the India Water Week on the theme of “Water, Energy and Food Security — Call for Solutions.”
Broad legal framework
Mindful of water being on the concurrent list, the Prime Minister called for a “broad overarching national legal framework of general principles to pave the way for essential legislation on water governance in each State.”
A major problem in better management of water resources were the weak institutional and legal structures related to water. Given the limitations on enhancing supply, a large part of the effort to close the supply-demand gap would be to focus on water use efficiency. “This is particularly critical in the agriculture sector, which utilises three-fourths of our water resources and where the water-use efficiency is low compared to international standards,” he said.
Expressing serious concern at the declining water table, Dr. Singh observed that groundwater sources of drinking water often failed due to competition over the same aquifer between public drinking water systems and private irrigation.
Falling back upon the ancient technique of building sound water harvesting structures, he called for collective and cooperative solutions to “recycle, reuse and recharge” water.
More than 1,000 delegates, including 43 from abroad, are participating in the event organised by the National Water Development Agency. Amongst the participants is Afghan Water Resources Minister Mohammad Ismail, who sought, during the plenary session, “more assistance” for integrated development of water resources in his country.
Moving towards ‘private irrigation'
In an unusual reference to farmers, Dr. Singh, in his inaugural speech at the India Water Week on Tuesday, said: “Groundwater sources of drinking water often fail due to competition over the same aquifer between public drinking water systems and private irrigation.”
“Private irrigation” is a new term coined by the government as it is moving towards bringing strict laws to price irrigation water as well as control ground water.
Planning Commission Deputy Chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia, while making it clear that the government could not be expected to pick up the bill for irrigation water, said “farmers must learn to produce more with half the water.”