India’s water crisis and CSR

India’s water crisis  Water and its management will determine India’s ability to achieve high economic growth, ensure environmental sustainability, and improve the quality of life

  • India is home to 17% of world’s population, but has only 4% of the world’s fresh water resources.If not addressed, water scarcity is also likely to affect the GDP, accounting for almost a 6% loss by 2050.
  • Around 600 million people are already facing a severe water shortage, according to reports.
  • At present, 75% of Indian households do not have access to drinking water, and close to 90% of rural households have no access to piped water.
  • India is a water-stressed country, and with 1,544 cubic metre per capita annual availability, we are advancing towards becoming water-scarce.
  • Five of the world’s 20 largest cities under water stress are in India.
  • As per the Economic Survey 2018-19, by 2050, India will be extremely susceptible to water insecurity.
  • There are some other aspects that pertain to the economic cost of environmental degradation that India is faced with.
  • A 2018 World Bank study pegged the cost of environmental degradation to India at approximately $80 billion per year, which amounts to around 5.7% of our GDP.
  • Further, an environment survey of 178 countries ranked India at 155. This is extremely worrying, especially since among the BRIC nations, India ranked last.

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Solutions :

  • Community management of water will be crucial if India is to become water secure. From State-led initiatives to local community driven initiatives, work on community engagement has begun.
  • State-led efforts to manage water have been assessed and shared by the NITI Aayog, which has developed the composite water management index (CWMI). States are ranked on the management of water and progress in 28 indicators relating to water management.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

  • But given the magnitude of the challenge in water management, corporations must play a more active role in using their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts towards innovation and conservation of water, along with the dissemination of proven practices that help conserve and harness water recharge.
  • For corporations, the community focus is often manifest in the sustainable efforts undertaken by their owners. The question remains as to whether CSR commitment and sustainability initiatives in the current scenario are effective and pervasive enough to make a substantial impact.
  • Conservation efforts among Indian and multinational corporations, and their efforts must be emulated across the board.
    • ITC’s integrated water management approach :
    • Is now extended to implement four large-scale river basin regeneration projects for achieving water balance and year-round environmental flows in select sub-basins in Maharastra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh to strengthen water security– one of the most important priorities for India.
    • Today, ITC’s integrated watershed development programme covers over one million acres spread across 15,000 water harvesting structures, benefiting over 300,000 people in 43 districts across 16 states.
    • This initiative has generated over six million person-days of employment within project villages, reducing levels of distress migration.
    • In addition, a pilot programme at scale on “water use efficiency in agriculture” is also being promoted to enable effective demand-side management.
    • This initiative has yielded water savings of 20% to 45% in crops like sugarcane, wheat, rice and banana.
  • Tata’s Water Mission aims to provide better access to pure water for six million people spread across 7,000 villages in 12 states, by 2020.
    • Key focus areas are to improve access to safe water and sanitation, and to make a difference through rigorous and technologically advanced interventions.
  • Pepsico under its 2025 sustainability agenda,  is said to aim for a global improvement in water use efficiency in high water risk areas of its direct agricultural supply chain by 15% by 2025.
  • Mahindra too is doing extensive work under its Mahindra Hariyali programme. As its climate change resistance movement, the initiative is a social upsurge where tree planting is not merely a duty, but, in fact, is termed a celebration.
    • Since 2007, this initiative has achieved a target of planting 16 million saplings. Even in water conservation efforts, the Mahindra group has managed to reduce water consumption requirements per vehicle produced by 64% since 2012.

Way Forward: 

  • Water is a critical resource and community water management is a must. This will range from corporate engagement to smaller scale community initiatives, to individual efforts.
  • Now, the entire ecosystem must work in a cooperative manner to ensure India’s water conservation efforts are forward-thinking, and leveraging synergies from the State, corporations, and the community as a whole.

PRS analysis The status of ground water

Yesterday, Members of Parliament in Lok Sabha discussed the situation of drought and drinking water crisis in many states.  During the course of the discussion, some MPs also raised the issue of ground water depletion.  Last month, the Bombay High Court passed an order to shift IPL matches scheduled for the month of May out of the state of Maharashtra.  The court cited an acute water shortage in some parts of the state for its decision.

In light of water shortages and depletion of water resources, this blog post addresses some frequently asked questions on the extraction and use of ground water in the country.

Q: What is the status of ground water extraction in the country?

A: The rate at which ground water is extracted has seen a gradual increase over time.  In 2004, for every 100 units of ground water that was recharged and added to the water table, 58 units were extracted for consumption.  This increased to 62 in 2011.[1]  Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan, saw the most extraction.  For every 100 units of ground water recharged, 137 were extracted.

In the recent past, availability of ground water per person has reduced by 15%.  In India, the net annual ground water availability is 398 billion cubic metre.[2]  Due to the increasing population in the country, the national per capita annual availability of ground water has reduced from 1,816 cubic metre in 2001 to 1,544 cubic metre in 2011.

Rainfall accounts for 68% recharge to ground water, and the share of other resources, such as canal seepage, return flow from irrigation, recharge from tanks, ponds and water conservation structures taken together is 32%.

Q: Who owns ground water?

A: The Easement Act, 1882, provides every landowner with the right to collect and dispose, within his own limits, all water under the land and on the surface.[9] The consequence of this law is that the owner of a piece of land can dig wells and extract water based on availability and his discretion.[10]  Additionally, landowners are not legally liable for any damage caused to  water resources as a result of over-extraction.  The lack of regulation for over-extraction of this resource further worsens the situation and has made private ownership of ground water common in most urban and rural areas.

Q: Who uses ground water the most? What are the purposes for which it is used?

A: 89% of ground water extracted is used in the irrigation sector, making it the highest category user in the country.[3]  This is followed by ground water for domestic use which is 9% of the extracted groundwater.  Industrial use of ground water is 2%.  50% of urban water requirements and 85% of rural domestic water requirements are also fulfilled by ground water.

IMAGE-1The main means of irrigation in the country are canals, tanks and wells, including tube-wells.  Of all these sources, ground water constitutes the largest share. It provides about 61.6% of water for irrigation, followed by canals with 24.5%. Over the years, there has been a decrease in surface water use and a continuous increase in ground water utilisation for irrigation, as can be seen in the figure alongside. [4]

 

Q: Why does agriculture rely most on ground water?

A: At present, India uses almost twice the amount of water to grow crops as compared to China and United States.  There are two main reasons for this.  First, power subsidies for agriculture has played a major role in the decline of water levels in India.  Since power is a main component of the cost of ground water extraction, the availability of cheap/subsidised power in many states has resulted in greater extraction of this resource.[5]  Moreover, electricity supply is not metered and a flat tariff is charged depending on the horsepower of the pump.  Second, it has been observed that even though Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) are currently announced for 23 crops, the effective price support is for wheat and rice.[6]  This creates highly skewed incentive structures in favour of wheat and paddy, which are water intensive crops and depend heavily on ground water for their growth.

It has been recommended that the over extraction of ground water should be minimized by regulating the use of electricity for its extraction.[7]  Separate electric feeders for pumping ground water for agricultural use could address the issue.  Rationed water use in agriculture by fixing quantitative ceilings on per hectare use of both water and electricity has also been suggested.[8]  Diversification in cropping pattern through better price support for pulses and oilseeds will help reduce the agricultural dependence on ground water.[6]  

[1] Water and Related Statistics, April 2015, Central Water Commission,

http://www.cwc.gov.in/main/downloads/Water%20&%20Related%20Statistics%202015.pdf.

[2] Central Ground Water Board website, FAQs, http://www.cgwb.gov.in/faq.html.

[3] Annual Report 2013-14, Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, http://wrmin.nic.in/writereaddata/AR_2013-14.pdf.

[4] Agricultural Statistics at a glance, 2014, Ministry of Agriculture; PRS.

[5] Report of the Export Group on Ground Water Management and Ownership, Planning Commission, September 2007, http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/genrep/rep_grndwat.pdf.

[6] Report of the High-Level Committee on Reorienting the Role and Restructuring of Food Corporation of India, January 2015,

http://www.fci.gov.in/app/webroot/upload/News/Report%20of%20the%20High%20Level%20Committee%20on%20Reorienting%20the%20Role%20and%20Restructuring%20of%20FCI_English_1.pdf.

[7] The National Water Policy, 2012, Ministry of Water Resources,http://wrmin.nic.in/writereaddata/NationalWaterPolicy/NWP2012Eng6495132651.pdf.

[8] Price Policy for Kharif Crops- the Marketing Season 2015-16, March 2015, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture,http://cacp.dacnet.nic.in/ViewReports.aspx?Input=2&PageId=39&KeyId=547.

[9] Section 7 (g), Indian Easement Act, 1882.

[10] Legal regime governing ground water, Sujith Koonan, Water Law for the Twenty-First Century-National and International Aspects of Water Law Reform in India, 2010.

Article by Roopal Suhag for PRS blog .