Vishwa Mohan| TNN | Jun 16, 2017
NEW DELHI: Simply improve governance or push for a national law on water? The debate on the best way to manage India’s multiple water crises is likely to gain currency again with PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel in early July. Cooperation on water issues -conservation, desalination, urban sewage treatment to name a few -is likely to be an important point of discussion.
Israel, one of the world’s most water-starved nations, has a national water law, like South Africa and Australia, that has helped it manage its scant resources. “The country’s water resources are public property , controlled by the state and designated for residents’ needs and the country’s development,” says Tami Shor, senior deputy director (regulation) of the Israeli Water Authority.
In India, water resource management has been the states’ prerogative. Rivers drying up, polluted rivers, depleting groundwater, shrinking lakes, zero access to potable water on the one hand, and unseasonal floods, contaminated groundwater and inter-state river disputes on the other, have made India’s water woes a hydra-headed monster. In this, states’ divergent laws often clash with neighbours’ requirements -a factor driving the long-standing demand for a national water law.
Several water experts, however, insist that an ample bundle of laws exists to govern water resources efficiently with no need for an over-arching central law.
The Water Pollution Act 1974, Interstate Water Disputes Act 1960, Riverboard Act 1956, Environment Protection Act 2006, Easement Act 1987 for Groundwater (although insufficient), the Wildlife Protection Act and draft Groundwater Model Act, to name a few, can be employed better to improve water governance.
Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, says, “The Centre has enough power under different existing laws to manage and conserve water across the country . Instead of going for a national law, it should focus on governance and go for more and more decentralisation”.
But government argues that the absence of a central regulatory regime has led to over-exploitation and misuse of resources at all levels -domestic, industry and agriculture in the surplus regions. Most states’ laws are not comprehensive and few regulate for efficient use of treated water.
“We need a national law. Water must be managed as common property, recognising public rights. Equitable distribution of water is possible only through a central law,” says former Union water resources secretary Shashi Shekhar who, along with water policy expert Mihir Shah, was instrumental in compiling the Centre’s draft national policy framework bill last year. Shekhar told TOI that India, on the threshold of a major water crisis, cannot afford to manage its resources the way it’s been done for years.
The framework lays down guide lines for states to manage and conserve water and talks about how to adopt a water security plan via legislation. “We expect states to adopt it through legislation or as a policy document. But there’s no substitute to a national law,” says Shekhar.
It will be a while before there’s any movement on this. A constitutional amendment is required as the Centre does not have powers to legislate on water since it is a `state’ subject.
Both the Centre and states can frame laws if water is made part of the `concurrent’ list.To move water from the state list to the concurrent one, the Centre needs two-thirds majority in Parliament, a task which at present is politically difficult.
Plants that alert of thirst: India eyes Israeli tech
NEW DELHI: Israel’s expertise in precision agriculture is well known and its leadership in drip irrigation is recognized world over. But what would excite India more during PM Narendra Modi’s farm visit there would be the arid country’s efforts to take the concept of irrigation to a new level by developing a unique artificial intelligence system.
The new system, which has been in commercial use for nearly one-and-a-half-year, analyses data generated from crops through sensors and translates it into irrigation commands. It helps farmers get real-time alert on the actual water needs of plants in their fields.
Though drip irrigation has already transformed the water efficiency measures in agricultural operations in Israel and elsewhere in the world including India, the new sensor-based system will further revolutionise the irrigation concept.
Obviously, such technology may help India if adopted in water-starved regions of Maharashtra (Marathwada), UP, Madhya Pradesh (Bundelkhand) and Rajasthan.
The Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute had organised farm visits for international journalists last month and demonstrated how the new technology has successfully been used in farms growing fruits, vegetables and flowers.
The technology, developed by the Agro Web Lab (AWL), uses plant, soil and environment sensors to monitor stress levels in the plant and sends actionable feedback to farmers indicating the best time for applying agricultural inputs, including water, for irrigation. SupPlant, the AWL Group brand, claims the results are constantly showing an increase of average 5%-10% in yields and 20%-30% savings in irrigation water in a vast range of crops in different climates.