India: reforms needed for water supply

April 10, 2012 at 11:50 AM
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NEW DELHI, April 10 (UPI) -- Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for transparent pricing of the country's water to avert the country's growing water scarcity.

Speaking at the opening Tuesday of the India Water Week conference in New Delhi, Singh said inadequate and sub-optimal pricing of both electric power and water is promoting the misuse of groundwater supplies.

Indian farmers, many of whom rely on electric pumps to draw groundwater to the surface, are boosted by farm power subsidies, in which they pay only about 20 percent of the true cost of electricity.

"There is no regulation for groundwater extraction and no coordination among competing uses," Singh said.

While India represents more than 17 percent of the world's population, it has only 4 percent of the world's renewable water resources and 2.6 percent of the world's land area. It is the largest user of groundwater.

The prime minister noted that India's National Water Mission, approved last year, aims for a 20 percent improvement in water use efficiency, particularly critical for the country's agricultural sector.

India is expected to finalize the draft of its national water policy this month.

The draft policy says that water should be regarded as an economic good that should be managed as a community resource held by the state under a public trust to achieve food security, sustain livelihoods and for achieving equitable and sustainable development.

Some of the issues the draft policy addresses include: access to safe drinking water; the inequitable and over-exploitation of groundwater as well as interstate and inter-regional disputes over water sharing.

The proposed water policy is more comprehensive in scope than the one now in place, says Sunil Sinha, head and senior economist at Crisil Ltd., a rating agency owned by Standard and Poor's, who wrote a report addressing corporate India's need to adopt sustainable water practices amid an impending water crisis, The Wall Street Journal reports.

While India previously had focused solely on augmenting the country's water resources, Sinha says, the new policy recognizes that "water is not an unlimited resource."

India's Infrastructure Development Finance Co., a non-governmental group, says that 14 of India's 20 major river basins are considered water-stressed, strained by the country's rising population and economic growth.

Nearly 25 percent of the India's population live in water-scarce areas, where per capita availability of water is less than 1,000 cubic meters per year, IDF says, and 75 percent of Indians live in areas considered water-stressed, where per capita availability of water is less than 2,000 cubic meters per year.

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