Noting that inadequate and sub-optimal pricing of power and water are promoting misuse of groundwater, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday stressed on the need to move towards participatory mechanisms of pricing of water by the primary stakeholders themselves.
He also said keeping in mind the limitations on increasing water supply, a large part of effort to plug the demand-supply gap must focus on increasing water use efficiency.
"There is no regulation of ground water extraction and no coordination among competing uses.
"Inadequate and sub-optimal pricing of both power and water is promoting the misuse of groundwater. We need to move to a situation where ground-water can be treated as a common property resource," the Prime Minister said inaugurating the first National Water Week in New Delhi.
Singh underlined that one of the problems in achieving better management is that the current institutional and legal structures that deal with water in India are inadequate, fragmented and hence "need urgent reform."
"The planning, development and management of water resources has to keep pace with current realities.
"There is a suggestion that a broad over-arching national legal framework of general principles on water is necessary to pave the way for essential legislation on water governance in every state," he said.
Singh stressed that management of irrigation systems should move away from a narrow engineering-construction-centric approach to a more multi-disciplinary and participatory approach.
"We need to move towards transparent and participatory mechanisms of pricing of water by the primary stakeholders themselves," he said.
Singh said on the supply side, the government has been working on watershed management, rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge.
"Over the next five years, we need to give renewed vigour to all schemes that involve water. We need to address issues that come in the way of convergence and integration of programmes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Integrated Watershed Management Programme, the Programme on Repair, Renovation and Restoration of Water Bodies and the Rainfed Area Development Programme," he said.
The Prime Minister said that conserving groundwater is now an urgent priority because India depends on it for more than two thirds of its water needs.
"The decline in the water table across the country is a matter of serious concern.
"The present legal situation gives every land holder the right to pump unlimited quantities of water from a bore well on his own ground," he said.
He said as a first step towards effective management of water resources, the government needs to map the aquifers of India to obtain basic information on ground water availability.
He said this will be initiated in the Twelfth Plan.
Singh said the proposal to have a clear legal framework to govern the use of scarce groundwater resources should be examined seriously as groundwater sources of drinking water often fail due to competition over the same aquifer between public drinking water systems and private irrigation.
"In the absence of sound legal framework, drinking water systems often lose the contest.
"Our struggle against open defecation and lack of sanitation and hygiene is often frustrated by lack of water," he lamented.
Singh said our forefathers built magnificent water harvesting structures that were technologically diverse and built on sound engineering principles.
"These were built for local conditions and each water system was managed through local participation and community control. We need to call upon this ingenuity that existed among us and collaborate in finding cooperative solutions that help us to recycle, reuse and recharge," he said.
The inaugural function was also attended by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Water Resources Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.
Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh