Today, in a country where water and its perennial source, the River is worshipped as “Mother Goddess”, it has become a subject of crisis.

Water, a free gift of nature is fast becoming a precious commodity for the common man. This rapidly-depleting resource has turned out to be a matter of concern to all of us.

The acute shortage of portable water in many parts of our country during the first summer of the new Millennium has made us seriously think and introspect on the potential problem of the future.

The above quote is perfectly drafted to the state in which we are today.

We are surrounded by Seas on three sides in the South, a huge Ice— covered Mountain range in the North—the Himalayas, World’s largest Fertile Plains with abundant ground water resources, the Indus-Gangetic Brahmaputra Plains and countless rivers flowing down to the mighty seas, but still the dependency ratio is a meager 34 percent.

We regained our Freedom from our colonial rulers in 1947 and the planners under the guidance of Jawaharlal Nehru had a monumental job in hand. Nehru quoted “Dams are the Temples of Modern India”. The country had to plan and formulate a policy of managing the vast water resources, which was at its command. Considering the vastness of our Rivers and the dream of harvesting a good agriculture produce and blending the upcoming technology with Nature, our planners opted for Mega Investments-Big Dams, many multipurpose Projects with huge investments for a country that had just emerged from the clutches of Economic Drain. Dam building grew to be equated with nation building. The result is that India now boasts of being the world’s third-largest dam builder, with 3,600 dams big and small. One aspect, which our planners did not take into consideration, was ‘what are the benefits for the future generations with these Mega Projects”.

Though these mega projects promised to be saviours capable of quenching the thirst of millions of hectares of land but the associated drawbacks surfaced as the clock ticked. Drawbacks such as

  • Limited Life span of mega projects.
  • Huge and unbearable investments, once the projects got delayed.
  • Environmental controversies—many projects were planned in areas with rich flora and fauna and these areas with rich flora and fauna and these areas had to be inundated to accommodate large body of water,
  • Large-scale shifting of population.

(5) Controversies between states over distribution and usage of water. Often the disputes were blown up and politicized by opportune political parties and used as Election issues. Unfortunately, many disputes that are more than decades old await solutions.

Likewise many projects, which were envisaged as Lifeline of a State, soon turned out to become white elephants as they were trapped in the web of endless problems.

Many projects such as Upper Krishna Project of Karnataka, Sardar Sarovar Valley Project of Gujarat, Tehri Project in the hills of Uttar Pradesh, which were drafted in early 70s, are today the live examples of failed vision and policies.

These projects which were originally planned with an investment of just a few hundred crore, have today snowballed to thousand of crore for completion.

The direct victim of all these failures has been the common  man. The inability of the Dams of feed the targeted population has turned out to be the bane and issue of controversy.

Many dams that were built as joint partnership between the States, which share the Rivers, have used the water management as a tool to settle their scores.

The Krishnaraja Sagar Dam built on the Cauvery at the exit point of Karnataka into Tamil Nadu has always been an issue of controversy fuelling the narrow and parochial sentiments of people on both the sides.

Like this, our water management policy has also taken a beating with the ever-rising demand for potable water.

In the background of all these maladies, a silent killer which has taken its toll is the depleting water table in many parts of the country thanks to excessive use of technology of drilling tube wells, in many parts of the country where the benefits of dams could not be reached, people resorted to a easy way out i.e. drilling tube wells and extracting the underground water. In many areas the water table has gone to such a low level that it may take ages to restore the level of the early 50s.

Incidentally India has the second largest irrigated area in the world, but due to the rapid expansion of irrigation with its emphasis on new construction, irrigation performance and the sector’s increasing management needs have not received adequate attention.

Here are some eye-openers, which will certainly make us give a hard and serious look at water management and the crisis:

  • Only 36 percent of average runoff in the river system in the country has been utilised.
  • Per capita availability of water has reduced from about 5277m3 in the year 1955 to the present level of 1970m3.
  • According to an estimate by Central Ground Water Board, 32 percent of available ground water resources have so far been developed.
  • Out of 4272 blocks in the country, ground water resources in nearly 500 blocks have been declared as “Over Exploited or Darkie the state of ground water exploitation exceeds the annual replenishible recharge.
  • Out of about 142 million hectares of net sown area in the country, 92.6 million hectares is rain-fed.
  • Every alternate town/city in our country faces acute shortage of drinking water.
  • 45 percent of Irrigation Potential area has been covered till date.
  • 1000 Dams are under the stage of Construction.
  • One-fifth of the population i.e.-200 million people-does not have safe drinking water and two-thirds i.e.-600 million lade basic sanitation in India.
  • Chherapunji, the place that gets the highest rainfall in the world faces an acute shortage of potable water in summer.
  • The only State which has passed legislation exclusively for farmer participation in the management of irrigation systems is Andhra Pradesh. This shows the lack of Government initiative in actively involving people (end users) in Water Management.
  • The average overall water use efficiency in canal irrigation systems is estimated at 38-40 percent.
  • Waterborne diseases have continued increasing over the years in spite of government efforts to combat them. States such as Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have now become endemic for malaria on account of the high water table, water logging and seepage in the canal catchment area. There are also numerous cases of filariasis.
  • In India, dams have displaced at least 33 million people from their homes.

With the picture not so promising, it is time for us to think and act What we need today is a radical change in our policy, a fresh look at the present status and a will to contribute to the nation’s cause.

“Small is always beautiful” The successful experiments of small check dams (popularly called as barrages) in Ahmednagar District of Maharashtra is a live example of how small ideas can contribute towards revolutionizing the way water can be managed. The co-operative movement, which commenced in Maharashtra under the leadership of Anna Hazare, is worth emulating.

This is an effective mode to conserve rainwater in areas, which entirely depend on monsoon showers.

Our Geographic complexity calls for adopting region-specific policies. States such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu can certainly adopt the successful experiment of Maharashtra. They can ideal substitutes for mega projects. Some of its benefits are:

  • Less investment
  • Less shifting of population
  • No ecological imbalance
  • Strengthens cooperative movement
  • Encourages better utilization of available resources
  • States in the rich Gangetic belt must adopt a systematic plan of linking and networking of rivers. This will reduce the burden on flooding rivers and ensure smooth flow in the lesser-stressed water-deprived rivers. Though this plan appears to be challenging, a systematic and planned approach will certainly yield results

 (7) South India is often called a land of Tanks and Streams. They have always been an issue of neglect and carelessness. Many tanks which are lifeline to the areas in which they exist are on the verge of drying or dying due to excessive siltation.
Efforts must be undertaken to upgrade these vast natural tubs of water. A region specific inter-networking policy should be formulated and implemented.
(8) Policy of harnessing Under-Ground Water must be adopted. Checks and measures must be adopted in areas where the level is low compared to acceptable standards. One favourable point is that only 32 percent of available ground water resources have so far been developed.

(9) Adopt newer and nature-friendly systems such as Rain Water Harvesting. People adopting such new techniques should V f encouraged and supported. Success stories of Artificial Recharge Experiments at Mehsana in Gujarat where Well Injection Technique and Spreading Channels technique resulted in increase in water level and similar such experiments carried out at Amaravati in Maharashtra. Odakkali in Kerala and Kolar in Kamataka at very low cost should be pursued.

Subsidized Roof-top Rain Water Harvesting kits/systems with technical know how should be provided by Government to the interested citizens.

(10) Better Irrigation Methods such as Drip Irrigation and Sprinkler Systems should be given highest priority. Even though many State Governments have introduced such subsidized policies/ farmers must be encouraged with better incentives like Assured Crop Market, Standard Price and so on.

(11) In the regions where water resources are meager, farmers must be encouraged to grow crops that consume less water.

(12) An Efficient City/Town specific networking of water lines should be adopted and if necessary it must be re-laid. Private investors should be encouraged in this area.

(13) The inter-State disputes must be given a fresh look and solved in the best interests of the disputing parties. A Committee headed by Prime Minister and experts in Water Management should sincerely tackle the disputes and decisions must be acceptable to the disputing parties.

(14) Water pollution a major irritant in water management must be addressed sincerely. Industries, which polluted water resources in rivers and natural streams, must be brought within the strict purview of pollution norms. Any irritating industry should be heavily taxed and if necessary license should be withdrawn.

In many towns the drainage pollutants are discharged into rivers causing water borne epidemic diseases such as malaria, cholera. This is a problem as severe as acute water shortage. Government should ensure that International acceptable norms be followed while discharging the effluents. Industries must be compelled to use efficient Industrial Waste Water Treatment Plants and effluents can be used for social purposes such as horticulture after primary and secondary treatment.

Till now, we discussed the Policy Management, which the Governments must adopt. Bu t the end user ‘the Common Man’ has certain essential duties which are expected of him in this new Millennium, only men the well-laid policies of our Government will be successful.

People can contribute by lending their hand in cleaning all village tanks, wells and building percolation tanks and small check dams (e.g. Chikkapadasalagi Barrage in Bijapur District of Karnataka was a product of local people’s contribution and hard work).

Active involvement of Panchayati Raj Institutions in organizing awareness camps and coordinating people’s efforts is the need of the hour.


Our ancient history is the best tonic for our future deeds. The excavations at Harappa, Mohenjodaro and the tanks built by distinguished rulers of Mauryans, Pallavas, Chalukyas, Mughals are monumental illustrations of the expertise and mastery of our past generations in water management.

Today we are able to harvest 205 MT food grains, the unsung hero, which has made this possible, is Water.

The challenge is to produce more so that we can feed our future generations and this is only possible if our Mother Goddess ”Water” gives sufficient Milk (read Water) to feed her future offspring in this divine motherland. It will be a worthy tribute to our ancestors if we can join our hands and work together in conserving and efficiently using the available water resources.

The most important duty of water-affluent areas is not to waste precious drops of water when their fellow brethren are dying of thirst in Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Andhra Pradesh etc. Somehow, the modem toilets too consumer quite a big quantity of potable drinking water. Why can’t we delink these toilets from drinking water supplies and connect them with other untreated water resources. We can at least do it in new buildings. Water Harvesting is another way to augment water supplies. The most important step would be Ganga-Cauvery link up. Even desalination of sea water can be tried in drought-prone Kutch area of Gujarat. Above all, let’s restrict our multiplying numbers voluntarily.