Prof. Dr. P. K. Jena* in Bhubaneswar, December 15, 2020: Water is the most important natural resource next to air for all living beings. The world though has got a large amount of water resource but about 97.5% are saline in nature. Out of the rest 2.5% of fresh water, 1.7% is frozen in the form of glaciers and snow and 0.75% is available as ground water and the rest 0.05% is available in rivers, lakes etc. With increasing population along with growing agricultural and industrial activities, at present nearly 32.3 pct. of people on the planet are either under water stress or water scarcity.

Unfortunately, India falls under the category of water stress region of the world. A developing country like India with increasing population, urbanization and rapid industrialization, is bound to fill the pain of acute water shortage during the years to come. At present, nearly 70% of the total water available both on the surface and ground is being utilized in agricultural sector, about 10% for meeting domestic requirements and the rest 20% is being consumed by industries.

In three major sectors i,e agriculture, domestic and industries, the water consumption is in rise without any control and judicious management. In recent years, industrial developments are being affected very much due to dearth of water. Further, the fresh water reserves in India are not only dwindling due to various human activities, but also a large amount of water in rivers and other wetlands is being polluted due to rakeless release of sewage of human settlements and effluents of industrial and agricultural activities. By consuming polluted water, a large number of our population particularly the children and senior citizens are being affected by various water borne diseases and every year a large number of them are dying prematurely.

It may be mentioned here that, in India, because of limited amount of surface water resources, in many states irrigation is mostly done by extracting the ground water resource which result in rapid decrease of water level in aquifers. This has posed a very serious problem for the country. Especially in the arid and semi arid regions where water scarcity is acute, the ground water mostly meets the irrigation as well as domestic demand. In such areas, to meet the demands for both the sectors, intensive rain water harvesting particularly artificial recharging of aquifers, has to be adopted in a systematic and massive way.

It has been estimated that, in India the food grain production by the year 2050, is going to be doubled of the present figure to about 420 million tons. For this, the projected water requirement is 1180 km3 compared to the present requirement of around 800 km3. Similarly, the domestic as well as industrial water requirements are expected to be doubled or tippled.

In view of this, serious efforts are to be made to have an integrated fresh water management programme. Some of the important factors, responsible for polluting the surface as well as ground water, are poor land use practices and direct pollutant discharge to surface water bodies as well as to the aquifers. Further, inefficient water management is reflected in poor patterns of water delivery and water losses through seepage, leaks and evaporations. About 47% of the water being supplied is lost in distribution system before it reaches consumers.

In India, the mismanagement of fresh water in various sectors includes misuse and wastage of water. For example, over irrigation is converting the land less productive. Unscientific method of water transportation is causing a lot of water loss. In view of careless disposal of domestic, sewage and effluents of industrial units as well as agricultural fields, most of our rivers and lakes are getting polluted very fast. In some areas, due to these solid wastes and effluents, the ground water has also been polluted. In addition, due to various human activities most of our wet lands are vanishing at a fast rate. Because of all such abuses, the good quality fresh water is becoming more and more scarce in our country. Unless immediate actions are taken to augment the fresh water resource, the socio economic developments of the country will be very much affected.

Water resource potential of India as assessed by the Central water Commission in the year 1993 is 1869 km3. However, with the limitations of physiographic conditions, socio-economic environment and the available technology, the utilizable water resources of the country have been assessed at 1123 km3 of which 690 km3 and 433 km3 are surface and ground water respectively. Harnessing of most of the utilizable surface water is possible only if matching storages are built as required. However, if the trans-basin transfer of water as proposed under the National Perspective Plan is taken into account, the quantity can be enhanced by another 200 km3. Similarly, the Central Ground Water Board has estimated that, it is possible to increase the ground water availability by artificial recharge of rain water to the aquifer by another 36 km3.

In view of the above situation in the country, the available water resource has to be managed scientifically in agricultural, domestic and industrial sectors. Some of the immediate remedies towards integrated development and conservation of our fresh water resources are summarized below.

1) Rain water harvesting on surface as well as charging to aquifers should be carried out in a scientific manner without any contamination.
2) Adoption of efficient irrigation system like sprinkle and drip irrigation and encouraging farmers for producing crops which consume less water
3) Loss in water transport in agricultural, industrial and domestic sectors has to be minimized by adopting improved technology.
4) Treatment of sewage, industrial effluents etc. before discharging the treated water to the rivers and other water bodies, has to be carried out properly.
5) Programmes for development of wet lands and creation of new ones to harvest more rain water and recharging aquifers along with developing aquatic wealth have to be undertaken.
6) Industries should have captive rain water harvesting programmes to meet their water requirements and also should recycle their waste water.
7) Measures to minimize the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in agricultural fields and instead using organic manures and organic pesticides have to be undertaken to keep the agricultural effluents and nearby water bodies free of the pollutants.
8) Pricing of water has to be done in a rational manner in different sectors to conserve and utilize this valuable resource judiciously.
9) Arrangements have to be made to provide portable water to all sections of people both in rural and urban areas throughout the year and
10) Regular monitoring of water quality (both surface and ground) needs to be carried out both in rural and urban areas for different purposes.

The central and state governments in India, at different levels, should gear up their machinery to implement the above prorgammes using modern technology so that the people in the country while getting enough portable water should lead a healthy life and achieve sustainable socio economic developments both in agricultural and industrial sectors.

• Former Director General, CSIR, India

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