Opening Statement by Prime Minister at the 6th meeting of the National Water Resources Council

manmohan singhFollowing is the text of the opening statement by the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, at the 6th meeting of the National Water Resources Council in New Delhi today:

            “I am very happy to be with you for this meeting of the National Water Resources Council. This forum, which was created by the National Development Council at its thirty-sixth meeting on 14th March, 1982, was part of the vision of late Prime Minister Shrimati Indira Gandhi. It was devised not only to discuss the National Water Policy issues, but also to deliberate on administrative arrangements and regulations for fair distribution and utilization of water among different beneficiaries, keeping in view the optimum development of this scarce national resource. Our task today is to fulfill that vision so that we can assure our future generations of a water-secure future.

            Friends, the highlights of the extensive consultations preceding the formulation of the draft National Water Policy 2012 have been presented before you. It would not have escaped your attention that the draft is an effort to focus attention on the looming crisis in the water sector and to lay a roadmap for the future, based on the fundamental principles of equity, sustainability and good governance. Our deliberations today need to be guided not only by these sound principles, but also an appreciation of the fact that we are approaching a critical juncture for the future of water management in our country.

Most objective data available today point unerringly to the conclusion that water, or the lack of it, could well become the limiting factor to our social and economic growth in the future. With around 18% of the world`s population but only 4% of its usable fresh water, India already faces a scarcity of water, which is a vital and stressed natural resource. Climate change could further aggravate the distortions in water availability in our country. Receding glaciers would negatively impact flows in our major rivers and pose a major new threat to the welfare of millions of our people.

Rapid economic growth and urbanization today are widening the demand supply gap and leading to worsening our water-stress index. Our water bodies are getting increasingly polluted by untreated industrial effluents and sewage. Groundwater levels are falling in many parts due to excessive withdrawals, leading to contamination with fluoride, arsenic and other chemicals. The practice of open defecation, which regrettably is all too widespread, contributes further to contaminating potable water sources.

This situation calls for judicious management of our limited water resources and a paradigm shift in our approach to this vital issue. Planning for water use and distribution has to be done on the foundation of a national vision. Regions with sufficient water resources are already experiencing the strains that result from having water-deficient regions around them. We therefore need to rise above political, ideological and regional differences and also move away from a narrow project-centric approach to a broader holistic approach to issues of water management.

Integrated water resources planning at the basin level, conservation of water, preservation of river corridors, recharging of our aquifers and their sustainable management and improvement of water use efficiency are among the broad areas that need our urgent attention. Our irrigation systems need to shift from a narrow engineering-construction-centric approach to a more multi-disciplinary and participatory approach. Incentives need to be provided to narrow the gap between irrigation capacities created and those being utilized. We also need to move towards transparent and participatory mechanisms of pricing of water by the primary stakeholders themselves. The local communities have to be involved actively in the management of water resources.

As you all are aware, groundwater has a prominent role in meeting the requirements of water for drinking and other purposes. In spite of its vital importance, there is no regulation for its extraction and coordination among competing uses. We need to, therefore, initiate steps to minimize misuse of groundwater by regulating the use of electricity for its extraction. We also need to move to a situation where groundwater can be treated as a common property resource in a way that protects the basic needs of drinking water as also the livelihoods of our poor farmers.

The 12th Plan, which was adopted by the National Development Council yesterday, has dwelt on these and other issues confronting the water sector and called for path-breaking reform. In fact, water was one of the critical areas on which I touched upon in my address yesterday to the National Development Council.

Outlays for the water sector have been increased substantially. But these outlays will deliver only if they are matched and supported by better management and good governance. An urgent national consensus on the common denominators of water governance is therefore essential and the first critical step towards achieving water security and sustainability for all.

One of the problems in achieving better management is that the current institutional and legal structures dealing with water in our country are inadequate, fragmented and need active reform. It is in this context that a suggestion has been made for a national legal framework of general principles on water, which, in turn, would pave the way for essential legislation on water governance in every State.

Friends, I would like to emphasize the need to see the proposed national legal framework in proper perspective. The framework would be an umbrella statement of general principles governing the exercise of legislative, executive or devolved powers by the Centre, the states and the local governing bodies. The central government, I repeat, does not wish to encroach, in any manner, upon the constitutionally guaranteed rights of States or to centralize water management.

As we move into the Twelfth Plan period, the Indian economy and society will face daunting challenges in the water sector, both in terms of quantity as well as quality. There is a need, therefore, to take urgent and pragmatic decisions because water security is an issue on which we have to swim together or sink together. These decisions need your collective support. I hope this meeting will deliberate on these issues in a comprehensive manner and come out with reasoned suggestions in the overall national interest of our country.

I look forward to your deliberations with great interest.”