09/07/2015 8:25 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

A Solution For India's Ailing Groundwater Governance

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YUCATAN, MEXICO - UNDATED: Pottery dated between 500 and 2000 years old have been been recovered and preserved in Yucatan, Mexico.Don't look now! An underwater Indiana Jones explores the grizzly remains of a 100 foot deep Mayan TEMPLE. Face-to-face with the skulls of dozens of human sacrifice victims these brave researchers were scuba diving complex of underwater tunnels, known as 'the door of the underworld'. These were sacred places which the ancient Mayans of Yucatan, Mexico believed was a portal for ghosts of the dead to pass into the afterlife. The Yucatan Peninsular of Mexico has over 10,000 cenotes, which are natural wells also called sinkholes that join a network of underground rivers - many of which are still unexplored. Like the nine levels of hell in the Christian religion this portal to the afterlife has also has nine levels. Instead of the Devil the god of death, Cum Hau was in charge. Researchers found carvings on the stones of the underwater temple they believed to represent worship of the death-god Cum Hau.The archaeology team from the University of Yucatan were surveying the cenotes around the city of Merida accompanied by photographer, Don Crouch, 46, from Austen Texas. The Maya were an ancient civilization that ruled the Yucatan Peninsula before the arrival of Spanish conquerors in the Sixteenth Century. It is thought the gruesome human remains range from 500 to 2,000 years-old. Much of their culture was destroyed by the European invaders but some of their temples and legends remain. The Mayan calendar is famous for predicting the end of the world in December 2012. (Photo by Don Couch / Barcroft Media/Getty Images)

In a bid to alleviate Delhi's water concerns, the AAP government on 25 February announced a scheme to provide 20,000 litres of water per month to each household with existing metered connections, and a waiving of sewerage charges. Such an effort is commendable, but there are a few questions that arise in every citizen's mind. Firstly, how does the Government plan to arrange the extra annual outflow of Rs 250 crore for this subsidy on a regular basis? Secondly, this scheme will only benefit metered households (12.8 lakh connections) -- what is in store for homes that lie outside the water supply distribution network? Supplying free water to houses and waiving sewerage charges does not seem to be a long-term solution to the water crisis of Delhi. It is the governance of water distribution that needs to be assessed and improved.

According to a 2012 study called "Excreta Matters" by the Centre for Science and Environment, only Chandigarh and Mumbai have 100% city-wide coverage. In terms of water losses through infrastructure shortcomings, the best performers are Jamshedpur (12.8%) and Mumbai (13.6%) while the worst performers are Delhi (52%) and Nashik (59.6%).

The pictorial representation below of litres per capita per day (LPCD) water supply in different parts of Delhi clearly highlights the issue of unequal supply through leakage and pilferage.


Figure 1: Capital inequity in Delhi (in LPCD)

Source: Excreta Matters: Citizens' Report On The state of India's Environment, CSE

According to Global Water Intelligence, India is blessed with groundwater reserves to the tune of 433 km; there is sufficient water available for each and every citizen of India. Yet, India's urban citizenry, especially those living in slums, have to pay five to 10 times more for each unit of water than people with access to piped water supply according to a UNDP report.

"According to Global Water Intelligence, India is blessed with groundwater reserves to the tune of 433 km; there is sufficient water available for each and every citizen of India."

People's confidence in municipal bodies for adequate water supply in Delhi and elsewhere in the country has deteriorated significantly. Today, they divert their water-related expenditure towards alternatives such as packaged drinking water containers and tanker services. In order to safeguard their water requirements, builders and homeowners have even gone a step further and illegally tapped into the city's groundwater by installing personal bore wells without any regard for losses to nature. What is more worrying is that extraction from these bore wells is not even monitored. This kind of illegitimate extraction in and around Delhi has led to receding water tables and salinity intrusions in some areas.

What clearly emerges is that not only Delhi, but many other state water boards are dealing with significant inefficiencies.

Some measures could be adopted to monitor groundwater supplies.

1) Currently India's water laws are heavily state biased; different state and central legal and regulatory provisions do not coincide and may in fact be in opposition in certain cases. The Union government, according to the Inter-state Water Disputes Act of 1956, can only legislate on matters relating to inter-state water disputes and has no say in a state's day-to-day household water supply policy.

Hence there is a need to advance a national water framework that presents a roadmap for the Centre, state and local governing bodies to work collectively, similar to the Water Framework Directive (WFD) of the European Union (2000). The overarching directives commit European Union member states to achieve a certain high qualitative and quantitative status of all water bodies by 2015. To safeguard this idea from rejection, the Union should ensure that it proposes this 'framework law' in a way that doesn't appear to strengthen its control over states.

2) Under the above suggested framework, the Central Ground Water Board could strengthen its existing role by adopting a groundwater monitoring system like the one installed by the German government (as shown in the figure below). According to this system, in order to comply with the European Commission's Directives, the state governments have been directed by the central government to develop a number of groundwater monitoring networks to assess the quality and quantity of groundwater. Regular inspections are conducted by these networks and the data is sent to the European Union and the European Environment Agency (EEA) for evaluation.



Figure 2: Ground Water Monitoring Networks in Germany

Source: Water Resource Management in Germany, 2010

Such mechanisms should be considered after a careful analysis of the current challenges between central and state laws governing groundwater reserves is conducted. In order to ensure that a major hydrological imbalance is avoided, it will be beneficial for us to customise the European Union's water management strategies to the Indian context.

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