Following 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
“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
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.”