A few weeks back, on this blog I took objection to a post which ascribed “failure as usual” to India’s state of affairs in water sector. I understood it as that, because the post had very little to suggest otherwise. While acknowledging the intellectual liberty of a person to interpret the affairs in any way that may seem reasonable to him, I found that there was more to the story that was being missed. The missing element is the “context” which largely comes from one’s experience living in a country as a citizen and at the same time using its infrastructure services that form the essential part of civic life and country specific information.
On whether India has one of the worst water governance or not needs to be analyzed in relation to other factors like the country’s laws, regulations, institutions, politics and socio-economic patterns. Therefore, success or failure gets relative! It is relative to whether the assessment is with respect to its own course of development over the past or it is being done in relation to some internationally (or arbitrary?) set of standards. While it is true that a generally accepted method must be followed in the interest of understanding how each nation fares with respect to the others globally, it is equally true that no assessment can be absolute. Caution must be exercised here as these assessments tend to shape common views.
Now, there are numerous reasons why water governance in India today is better than ever.
- This week while I write this, the Planning Commission of India conducts a nationwide consultation with various regional organizations, civil society groups and members of general public on the key challenges across 34 sectors of the economy that the commission has identified. Water is one among them. The regional consultations are an innovative approach to make the 12th five year plan (2012-17) align with the citizens’ requirements and achieve a greater inclusion of all the sections of the society.
- Until the National Water Policy of 2002, drinking water as the first priority was normative and priority order was urban domestic, power generation, industry, irrigation and drinking water in that order. Drinking water is now the first priority and must be adhered to by the water supply boards.
- Among the most successful is the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority’s mandatory rainwater harvesting program in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The state made rainwater harvesting mandatory in all the buildings, by an ordinance introduced in July 2003. By the end of October 2003, a total of 4,811,325 non-government buildings in urban areas had rooftop rainwater harvesting installations.
- Water management through community participation in rural areas has had a tremendous impact in terms of making water sharing transparent and equitable. These referred to as Pani Panchayats or Water User Associations are supported by state governments and today exist in almost every state.
- On an advanced level involving concerted efforts of various departments of the government, the western state of Gujarat has quite innovatively regulated its groundwater resources by regulating power supply. The state has separated electricity supply lines meant for domestic use from that of high power lines used for running water pumps which irrigate the fields. With this the state has developed a proxy switch to regulate pumping of groundwater while at the same time enhancing farm management by helping farmers irrigate their fields to an optimal level.