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World Environment Day: India’s water crisis is dirty, damaging

Hindustan Times, June 5, 2017

According to this photo feature with commentary, being the second most populous nation in the world, roughly half of India’s population still practises open defecation and 80% of sewage flows untreated directly into the rivers, polluting the main sources of drinking water. With high levels of contamination in the water bodies, many cities in India are likely to face a serious shortage of clean water in the years to come.

THE PROBLEM

While there is no disputing the fact that water pollution and the shrinkage in clean water sources is a longstanding problem, necessitating substantial work, the feature and its accompanying commentary do not account for the work being done and what has already been achieved in tackling the hazards of water pollution and open defecation. There is only a passing mention of the fact that the government is working to improve the situation, but without any data pertaining to the same.

THE FACTS

Several measures have already been taken to improve conditions. Here are some of these:

  • The Centre has allocated Rs 20,000 crore till 2020 for Namami Gange, a project for the rejuvenation of the Ganga.
  • The Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation has circulated a model bill among all the states and Union Territories to enable them to enact suitable ground water legislation.
  • The “Clean Ganga Fund” has been created to invite funds from resident Indians, NRIs, PIOs, institutions and corporates.
  • Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has prepared a conceptual document construction of 1.11 crore rain water harvesting and artificial recharge structures in the country at an estimated cost of Rs 79,178 crore to harness 85 BCM of water.
  • Department of Land Resources is currently implementing 8,214 watershed development projects in 28 states covering an area of about 39.07 million hectares under the Watershed Development Component.
  • Smart Ganga City Scheme initiated in Haridwar, Rishikesh, Mathura-Vrindavan, Varanasi, Kanpur, Allahabad, Lucknow, Patna, Sahibgunj and Barrackpore.
  • The Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation has advised all states to adopt water conservation measures, such as rooftop rainwater harvesting, erecting sustainability structures for water conservation, etc.
  • “Mission Water Conservation Guidelines” are to be implemented by all states for scientific planning and execution of water management works with the use of latest technology.
  • Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) has been constituted under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 for the regulation and control of ground water development and management across the country.

Main Achievements:

  • So far, 15 states & UTs have adopted and implemented the ground water legislation on the lines of the model bill.
  • Rs 132 crore has been received as of August 2016 through the “Clean Ganga Fund”.
  • Currently, there are 2,01,921 villages declared open defecation-free under the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin).
  • 4,274 villages declared open defecation-free in Namami Gange
  • Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim have been declared open defecation-free states.
  • Among 35 distilleries near the river, 17 have achieved Zero Liquid Discharge.

The facts above show that India’s water contamination and open defecation issues are being mitigated and at a fast pace, with substantial improvements made through constructive problem-solving and action. Moreover, a lot of strategic planning and implementation has gone into improving the clean water situation. While some of the results are readily visible, the improvements ought to be markedly sharper in the long run, going by the evidence.

In fact, the water ministry has been renamed the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation to reflect the significance attached to Namami Gange and other water and river action plans. A large-scale project like Namami Gange is meant to help India recover from water pollution and also improve its water conservation standards. The Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban and Rural), too, helps address the problem of water pollution indirectly and that of open defecation directly.

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