Successive national water policies have had no impact

Importance of water:

  • Water is an essential building block of life. Along with being essential to quench thirst or protect health, water is vital for creating jobs and supporting economic, social, and human development.
  • In 2010, the UN recognized “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”

World Water Day:

  • World Water Day is held annually on 22 March as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.
  • The theme for World Water Day 2019 is ‘Leaving no one behind,’ which is the central promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • A new World Water Development Report is released each year on or near World Water Day, to provide decision-makers with tools to formulate and implement sustainable water policies.

Opportunity to assess India’s water policies:

  • World Water Day provides another opportunity for Indian politicians and general public to focus on the impacts of poor water management for decades on the country’s future social and economic development.


National Water Policies (NWP):

  • India was a pioneer in developing NWP in 1987, when such a policy was rather uncommon.
  • Since then the Indian NWP has been revised twice, in 2002 and in 2012.

NWPs have achieved little:

  • Successive NWPs have had no impact whatsoever on water management.
  • They have done little to help India in modifying her water management practices to achieve the desired social, economic and environmental outcomes.
  • Despite having a written NWP for more than 30 years all the problems, be it water scarcity, deteriorating quality, aquifers drying up, inter-state disputes and now even intra-state disputes, are only increasing.


  1. Unimplementable ideas:
  • Driven by a compulsion to be politically correct, while also being influenced by fashionable ideas thrown up in international water seminars, all the versions of NWPs have promoted ideas that are un-implementable in the Indian context.
  • Example 1 – Basin planning is not working:
    • All the NWPs have endorsed basin as a unit for all planning, and have recommended establishment of River Basin Organisations (RBOs).
    • RBOs are to work as the platform where all the stakeholders in a basin are represented, and where such basin planning can be done.
    • NWP 2012 went a step further and stated that comprehensive legislation needs to be enacted to establish RBOs.
    • However, after three decades of espousing basin as a unit for all planning, no basin is being planned or developed thus, and there isn’t even one inter-state RBO.
    • Inter-state water sharing principles contradict basin planning:
      • Inter-state river water disputes are resolved by specially constituted Tribunals which allocate water shares to various states.
      • The Tribunal awards are based on juridical principles of riparian rights, prescriptive rights, and equitable distribution.
      • Each of these principles, though a valid legal principle, divides the basin and its water resources in several independent parts, and therefore contradicts the idea of basin planning.
  • Example 2 – IWRM has not case of successful implementation anywhere:
    • Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is another such grand idea that India sought to adopt from international seminars but the idea remains on paper.
    • IWRM has been around as a enticing concept for at least 70 years, but during this period not even one single moderate size river has been planned in an integrated manner anywhere in the world.
    • The entire NWP text is strewn with senseless words, and suggestions that are sound but not specific and therefore of no real use.
  1. Just making of policies but no action:
  • This lack of commitment to the policy is often seen.
  • For example, NWP 2012 says that the availability of water resources and its use by various sectors in various basin and States in the country needs to be assessed scientifically, and it is entirely within the jurisdiction of ministry of water resources (MoWR) to do it.
  • However, MoWR has not done any scientific assessment.
  1. Policies not based on policy research:
  • A policy statement has to emerge out of, and has to be backed by, sound policy research.
  • But the NWPs have consistently contained ideas that were clearly not based on policy research.
  • Example of PPPs:
    • Clause 13 of the NWP of 2002 backed Public-Private Partnership (PPP) in the water sector, recommending all models of PPP.
    • But after 10 years, there wasn’t a single irrigation project in PPP mode.
    • The water bureaucracy had no answers to important questions like how the private sector operator will be prevented from gaining undue control of water at source, or who will decide tariffs etc.
    • Later, the NWP 2012 quietly removed this emphatic support for PPPs.


Ideas to improve the next NWP:

  • NWP 2012 is now seven years old.
  • The next revision of NWP, whenever it is taken up, needs to make certain specific improvements to be more successful.
  • Policies must be realistic and implementable:
    • All those who are party to formulating the NWP, need to accept that policies are a set of guidelines for decision making, to steer outcomes towards some stipulated objectives.
    • Therefore policies have to be realistic, and not merely a lofty statement of how a nation wishes things to be.
    • For this, the next NWP must also be based on policy research.
  • Policies should be specific about skakeholders, their responsibilities and goals:
    • The language of the policy should be more assertive.
    • It should clearly stipulate what is necessary, how it will be achieved, who exactly will do what, within what time frame, and what preceding actions are a prerequisite to do it.



  • India’s water management has been on an unsustainable path for decades.
  • Water management mostly has been for short-term electoral gains and not for long-term benefits of the country.
  • It is now facing a water crisis in terms of quantity, quality, magnitude and severity which no earlier generation ever had to face.
  • If the current trends continue, India’s water crisis will only worsen with time.
  • Leaders must realise the severity of the situation the country is facing and are take some hard decisions.



GS Paper III: Economy

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