The Centre plans to ensure safe drinking water to all habitations by 2012. It has also set a target of covering rural India under the ‘Total Sanitation Campaign’ by 2010.

For this, the government is working with States and non-governmental organisations, Union Minister for Water Resources Pawan Kumar Bansal told the “Closing Plenary of World Water Week” in Stockholm, Sweden, on Friday.

The National Water Policy, Mr. Bansal said in a release issued here, allocated first priority to drinking water in planning and operation of water resources systems.

The Minister complimented this year’s recipient of “Stockholm Water Prize,” India’s Bindeshwar Pathak, on his achievement in promoting low-cost sanitation.

Against the backdrop of the drought situation, Mr. Bansal pointed out that as a consequence of “high variability” in annual monsoon rainfall, India suffered either from drought or floods, including the flooding of coastal areas from the impact of cyclones.

Noting that the per capita availability of water was about 1,700 cubic metres, Mr. Bansal said growing populations, coupled with industrialisation and urbanisation, presented enormous challenges in the form of reduced per capita availability of water, deterioration in the quality of water and overexploitation of groundwater resources, leading to decline in water table.

Varying demands

In view of the varying demands on water, the government was focussing on conservation of surface and groundwater, including through traditional rainwater harvesting measures. It had undertaken projects for transfer of water from surplus basins to deficient basins and undertaken studies for diversion of surplus floodwaters to deficit regions. This was with the twin objectives of providing relief to the people from floods and at the same time utilising the surplus floodwater for meeting the basic requirements in water-deficient regions.

Calling for an “immediate, concerted” effort to deal with the likely impact of climate on water resources, Mr. Bansal said this had to be done with the realisation that efficient management of water resources was the key to economic growth and poverty alleviation. “This is so because about 70 per cent of India’s population is dependent on agriculture and about 83 per cent of the water is utilised for irrigation.”

Complex issues

The Minister pointed out that large variations in the availability and requirement of water resources had made water-related issues “complex.” Therefore, any efforts to apply uniform policy prescription in respect of planning strategies, development techniques or allocation and regulation of water was not likely to work effectively.

The evolution of water management technology and practices was a continuous process. “When resources are aplenty, little efforts are made to change or improve upon the practices. It is now realised that water resources, particularly in developing countries including India, are no more in plenty. Obviously, India has to adopt better alternatives for management. It is [thus] necessary to have a broader outlook and examine the water- related issues at different levels including the cluster of people, villages, districts, States and then of course, at the national level,” Mr. Bansal said.

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