Looming Water Crisis: But there is a way out

Cauvery delta drought

Every year there is shortfall of rain in South India, Karnataka & Tamil Nadu which share Cauvery river water, go into crisis mode. The dispute is primarily because the total water demand exceeds the total water available in the Cauvery basin. Each year, with less water available and increasing demand, the demand-driven dispute becomes more fierce.

Beyond Cauvery

India, with 18% of global population and 4% of global fresh water, is already severely water-stressed. Water demand is increasing due to growing population, thoughtless industrialization and demand-driven water policies, while water resources (quantity and quality) are dwindling due to environmental degradation and global warming (GW). This double-whammy threatens India’s water and food security.

Several states are already in water crisis. With this monsoon below normal, more states will suffer water crisis. Water crises are “discussed” in out-of-focus-with-reality legislatures, with opposition legislators simply demanding water and government offering piped supply to villages and interlinking rivers as solutions in a situation of steadily depleting water resources.

Water crises

Reality is that perennial rivers are dying due to forest and green-cover destruction and sand-mining for tourism, trade and construction. Many rivers are seasonal, flowing only when there is rainfall. Much of river flow is industrial effluent and municipal sewage, with Yamuna in Delhi a show-piece of a dead river.

Thoughtless urban expansion and rural neglect is destroying water-bodies, which are encroached by real estate mafia, or filled with building debris or municipal waste.

Ground water is exploited with abandon. Open wells are dry, and borewells are sunk ever deeper as water-mining exceeds ground water recharge. Deforestation and green cover loss causes huge rainwater run-off, topsoil erosion and flood. Increasing urban paving also prevents recharge.

Water availability in 1950 which was 4,000 cu-m per capita per year is now 1,000 cu-m, due to demand growth (domestic, agriculture, industry) and shrinking resources (deforestation, glacial melt, water-mining, sand-mining, urban expansion, pollution). These average figures conceal extreme water-stress as rural women walk over 10-km per day for a 15-litre pot of polluted water and rows of empty pots at urban water points, and wasteful, profligate or polluting use by urbanites and industries.

Apex Planner NITI Aayog makes the ominous prediction that 21 Indian cities may go dry by 2020, even as Chennai is already in crisis. [“India faces worst water crisis: NITI Aayog”; Jacob Koshy; <https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/india-faces-worst-water-crisis-niti-aayog/article24165708.ece>; The Hindu; June 14, 2019. (16)].

Water crises are as serious in rural areas, which remain out of focus of governments located in urban areas and run by urban-centred persons. R.K.Laxman’s cartoon showing an official at a Rural Development Office telling poor rural people: “You must think on progressive lines and ask for railways, electricity, telephones, and not demand drinking water all the time … !”, holds true even today. [Cartoon ATTACHED(2)].

Urban monstroCITY ?

Bengaluru is typical of urban areas country-wide. Every metro/city/town demands more and more water from outside, instead of cutting loss and wastage, conserving water, harvesting rainwater and protecting water resources. A study shows that Bengaluru’s annual domestic water demand of 18.34 TMC (at a lavish 135-lpcd) can be met from annual rainwater yield of 14.80 TMC plus 16.04 TMC from treated domestic waste water, and actually provide 12.5 TMC (14.80+16.04–18.34=12.5) annually for industrial/commercial use.

These figures are quoted by people in the Sharavathi river basin agitating against government’s proposal/plan to annually draw 30 TMC water from Linganmakki dam for Bengaluru. [“Plan to supply Linganmakki water to Bengaluru is senslesss”; Deccan Herald; 17 June 2019; <https://www.deccanherald.com/state/top-karnataka-stories/plan-to-supply-linganamakki-water-to-bluru-senseless-740996.html>(15)].

The negative synergy of the following factors is not understood because of the demand-driven-supply fixation of planners and legislators:

# Reduced water in Sharavathi due to deforestation,

# Less power generated at Linganmakki due to 30 TMC water withdrawal, and more power generation required to pump 30 TMC water 400-km to Bengaluru, and

# Environmental destruction for pipeline construction exacerbating GW with reduced rainfall state-wide.

In addition to Sharavathi water, there are also proposals to import water from Tungabhadra, Aganashini and Kali rivers, to supply water to Bengaluru, characterized by activists as a thirsty monster, a “monstroCITY”. However, the “monster” is demand-driven-supply, not Bengaluru or other urban area.

Present water policy aggravates water-stress

National Water Policy and Karnataka State Water Policy negatively impact water quantity and quality due to:

# Shift from government as service provider to service facilitator,

# Commodifying water and encouraging water trading,

# No control on wasteful use,

# No control on pollution of surface or ground water sources,

# Demand-driven-supply, e.g., long-distance mass-transport of water and linking rivers.

Demand-driven-supply with no pretensions of demand-management, may be the most damaging. Planners have no consideration for the needs of people who live in the areas from which water is to be sourced, and make no attempt at optimum utilization of existing water sources (especially rainwater) in the area of water demand through integrated water resource management.

The combination of demand-driven-supply with commodification of water favours those who can afford to pay. It results in huge wastage or profligate use due to payers’ arrogance of “unquestionable-right-to-use-as-much-water-as-I-like-and-as-I-wish-when-I-pay-for-it”. That such persons resist increase in water tariff is another matter.


Without going into details, suffice it to say that apart from extreme weather events, GW is predicted to cause reduced rainfall and desertification of peninsular India.

In the particular context of water, India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) is flawed because it remains explicitly committed to economic growth, which is responsible for the double-whammy of increasing carbon emissions responsible for GW on the one hand, and deforestation and river bed sand-mining on the other.

Last resort

Radical, urgent reform of governance both at state and national level, for policy and legislation to protect, preserve and conserve water and water sources can have positive effect on survival of societies and people. People’s pressure groups can and should bring hard facts to the notice of those who actually wield political power. Only urgent and substantative changes in water politics with appropriate ground-level implementation can prevent large-scale social chaos.

Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere retired from active military service and settled in Mysuru. His areas of interest are development and strategic issues. He can be contacted at <sg9kere@live.com>.



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