With water issues getting special attention since the beginning of the 17th Lok Sabha, there have been many initiatives and policies for water resources and their management. The three bills concerned with river water and its management are in line with the current emphasis. The three bills brought to bring much-needed reorientation in the river dispute and dam safety regime have been under the scanner due to an important constitutional value-Federalism.
Recently, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) released a draft standard for drinking water supply for inviting comments from water utilities. This comes in the aftermath of the 2019 BIS study that threw light on the poor quality of piped drinking water in major cities like Delhi. In a period when good hygiene is becoming increasingly vital- even a matter of life and death- it is high time for bringing in uniformity in drinking water supply system in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had recently launched Atal Bhujal Yojana (ABY) to promote sustainable management of groundwater resources in India. This scheme was launched on the 95th birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Water is the most valuable natural resource as it is essential for human survival and life on earth. However, the availability of fresh water for human consumption is highly under stress because of a variety of factors. This crisis of water scarcity is most visible in India as well as other developing countries.
Lok Sabha, in July this year, had passed Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in order to hasten the water disputes between the States. India occupies 2.4% of the World’s total land area and it consists of 18% of the world population with only 4% of the world’s renewable water resource. Furthermore, India’s water distribution is uneven – a situation favourable for an increase in the possibility of water-related conflicts. Due to these disputes, the local issues are prioritized of the superior issues of national importance. The sense of unity among the people of India is being jeopardized by these irksome issues. Thus, Inter-State Water Dispute (Amendment) Bill, 2019 is a need of the hour as existing Act as not addressing the issue with needed efficiency.
The 14th Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification was held in September this year. India, along with the rest of the world, is facing crisis due to land degradation and desertification. The land degradation is not only affecting India economically but is also exacerbating the climate change events in the country. This conference seeks to answer the question on how to slow down the loss of land and biodiversity that threatens the global food security and hastens the climate change. Cooperative effort to combat land degradation is essential at this juncture as it is either directly or indirectly affecting the whole of the world. Taking this into consideration, the signatories of the Paris Agreement of 2015 have requested the IPCC to study the link between the land and climate change. According to these findings by the IPCC, the land degradation and climate change are inter-linked and unified efforts must be taken by the world to resolve this issue as soon as possible.
Whether we realise it or not, the drinking water scarcity problem that we see in different parts of India today is a direct result of climate change. India is very vulnerable to climate change — melting Himalayan glaciers will produce floods in north India; erratic monsoons will create droughts in peninsular India.
Global action against climate change is not enough even if the Paris Agreement is followed in letter and spirit which is already weakening due to nations such as the US and Brazil walking away from it. Therefore India will have to assume the worst of impacts of global warming and tailor its programmes accordingly.
With the threat of floods and droughts looming in various parts of the country, there is no option but to make the 150-year-old idea, that is, Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) happen, and fast. The NDA government has always been in favour of inter-linking of rivers and it is to be hoped that the government sees ILR in the light of climate action, rather than a developmental move.