UPSC MAINS 2019 : Water Governance

Water Governance

Topic : Water Governance

Topic in Syllabus: General Studies Paper 3: Ecology & Environment



Water Governance

Individual States need to assume the responsibility for managing water resources in their territories



  • India’s cities are running out of water, coupled with Chennai’s drinking water woes, made the ‘crisis’ viral, raising questions about the quality of the discourse and choice of water governance strategies in India.
  • Indian cities are running out of groundwater
  • A delayed monsoon or a drought, combined with compelling images of parched lands and queues for water in urban areas raise an alarm in the minds of the public.



  • Niti Aayog report says that 21 major cities are expected to run out of groundwater as soon as 2020, affecting [nearly] 100 million people
  • The report’s central goal was to propose a tool, an index, to monitor the States’ water resource management strategies and provide the necessary course-shift, beyond supply augmentation approaches.
  • The report may have had a lofty goal of promoting ‘cooperative and competitive federalism’ but was, in reality, a desperate move to engage with the States, in the absence of any substantive leverage to influence their approaches to water resources management.
  • For almost two decades, the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has been reporting on the increasing number of over-exploited blocks across India, the ‘dark’ category blocks.
  • The recent annual book of CGWB has reported 1,034 units, out of the 6,584 units it monitors, as over-exploited.
  • Similarly, a recent report by the Central Water Commission, prepared in collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), asserted that India is not yet in “water scarcity condition”. But it is certainly in a “water-stressed condition”, with reducing per capita water availability.



  • India needs to reconsider the institutional processes for dissemination of knowledge about water resource management. There is a certain amount of danger inherent in the casual manner in which knowledge about water resources is legitimised and consumed, particularly in these days of ‘viral’ information
  • We need to recognise the crisis is not as much of scarcity as of delivery. The challenge is to ensure an adequate access to quality water, more so in urban areas where inequities over space and time are acute.
  • We need to also realise that with the country’s rapid urbanisation, demand cannot be met by groundwater reserves alone.
  • The urban needs, which underpin much reporting on ‘water crises’, need to be met by robust long-term planning and preparation for droughts and other contingencies.


Responsibility lies with States

  • We need to reconsider our approaches to water governance.
  • We must recognise that the fulcrum of change and action is with the States.
  • For long, water resource departments in States have continued to follow the conventional approaches of supply augmentation.
  • The challenge is that of reorienting themselves towards deploying strategies of demand management, conservation and regulation.
  • The Centre has to work with States towards an institutional change for the necessary course-shift.



‘Composite Water Management Index’:This index is an attempt to budge States and UTs towards efficient and optimal utilization of water and recycling thereof with a sense of urgency. The Index and this associated report are expected to:

Establish a clear baseline and benchmark for state-level performance on key water indicators

Uncover and explain how states have progressed on water issues over time, including identifying high-performers and under-performers, thereby inculcating a culture of constructive competition among states

Identify areas for deeper engagement and investment on the part of the states.

Major Issue: Data and centre-state and inter-state cooperation are some of the key levers that can help address the crisis. Data systems related to water in the country are limited in their coverage, robustness, and efficiency.

Limited coverage: Detailed data is not available for several critical sectors such as for domestic and industrial use, for which data is only available at the aggregate level and lacks the level of detail required to inform policies and allocations.

Unreliable data: The data that is available can often be of inferior quality, inconsistent, and unreliable due to the use of outdated methodologies in data collection. For example, estimates on groundwater are mostly based on observation data from 55,000 wells, while there are 12 million wells in the country.

Limited coordination and sharing: Data in the water sectors exists in silos, with very little inter-state or centre-state sharing, thereby reducing efficiencies.

The Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) is a major step towards creating a culture of data based decision-making for water in India, which can encourage ‘competitive and cooperative federalism’ in the country’s water governance and management.


Some other methods to reduce water usage in Agriculture

  • System of Rice Intensification (SRI) has been adopted by several farmers especially in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh as a water-conserving method of paddy cultivation. The technique needs a bigger push from the Centre to make it a universal concept.
  • Conservation techniques like zero-tillage, raised-bed planting, precision farming and drip or sprinkler irrigation have shown good results in soil and water conservation but needs further improvement in technology for wider acceptance.
  • Organic and nature based farming: Studies have shown that organic farming conserves water by requiring less water in irrigation and also helps in improving water-storage capacity of soil by improving its health.


Way Forward:

  • There is a need for a paradigm shift. We urgently require a transition from this ‘supply-and-supply-more water’ provision to measures which lead towards improving water use efficiency, reducing leakages, recharging/restoring local water bodies as well as applying for higher tariffs and ownership by various stakeholders.
  • The formation of the Jal Shakti ministry is a promising step in the right direction.
  • Aquifer recharge and rainwater conservation through community ponds and recharge wells should be promoted with involvement of gram sabhas.Lessons can also be drawn from the work of Sankalpa Rural Development Society (SRDS) which has been training farmers of Karnataka on revival of defunct borewells.
  • Participatory Governance is needed to govern water resources. India’s rivers and groundwater can be protected only if the integral interconnectedness of catchment areas.


Sample Question:

“Water Crisis in India is also a result of excessive and rampant use of water in agriculture. Analyse. Also suggest some measures to improve water-use efficiency in Agriculture.”



Water Governance infograph