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India’s First Water Body Census

Context: The Ministry of Jal Shakti has released the report of India’s first water bodies’ census.

India’s First Water Bodies Census

  • Need for the Census: The Union Government earlier maintained a database of water bodies that were getting central assistance under the scheme of Repair, Renovation and Restoration (RRR) of water bodies.
    • In 2016, a Standing Committee of Parliament pointed to the need to carry out a separate census of water bodies.
  • Aim: The census aimed to collect information on all important aspects of the water bodies including their type, condition, status of encroachments, use, storage capacity, status of filling up of storage, etc.
  • Objective: The census provides a comprehensive inventory of India’s water resources, including natural and man-made water bodies like ponds, tanks, lakes, and more, and to collect data on the encroachment of water bodies.
  • Coverage: It covers all the water bodies located in rural as well as urban areas that are in-use or not in-use.
  • Types of Water Bodies: The census also took into account all type of uses of water bodies like irrigation, industry, pisciculture, domestic/ drinking, recreation, religious, ground water recharge etc.

What is a ‘Water Body’ in the Census?

  • Water Bodies Included in the Census: According to the First Census Report, “all natural or man-made units bounded on all sides with some or no masonry work used for storing water for irrigation or other purposes (e.g. industrial, pisciculture, domestic/ drinking, recreation, religious, ground water recharge etc.)” are considered as water bodies.
  • Water Bodies Excluded in the Census:
    • Oceans and lagoons;
    • Rivers, streams, springs, waterfalls, canals, etc. which are free flowing, without any bounded storage of water;
    • Swimming pools;
    • Covered water tanks created for a specific purpose by a family or household for their own consumption;
    • A water tank constructed by a factory owner for consumption of water as raw material or consumable;
    • Temporary water bodies created by digging for mining, brick kilns, and construction activities,
    • Pucca open water tanks created only for cattle to drink water.

Key Findings in the Census

  • High Number of Water Bodies:  Top 5 States in terms of number of water bodies are West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Assam which constitute around 63% of the total water bodies in the country.
    • West Bengal’s South 24 Pargana has been ranked as the district having the highest number of water bodies across the country.
  • Encroachment on Water Bodies: 1.6% water-bodies out of all the enumerated ones are reported to be encroached, out of which 95.4% are in rural areas and remaining 4.6% in urban areas.
    • States with Maximum Encroachment: Uttar Pradesh accounted for almost 40% of water bodies under encroachment, followed by Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
    • States/UTs with No Encroachment: No encroachment was reported from West Bengal, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, and Chandigarh.
  • Highest Number of Ponds, Tanks and Lakes:  West Bengal has the highest number of ponds and reservoirs.
    • Andhra Pradesh has highest number of tanks.
    • Tamil Nadu has the highest number of lakes
    • Maharashtra is the leading state with water conservation schemes.
  • Water bodies drying: A major proportion of water bodies i.e., 83.7% are in use whereas remaining 16.3% are not in use on account of drying up, construction, siltation, destroyed beyond repair, salinity and other reasons.

Significance of the Water Bodies Census

  • Assessment of Water Bodies: The census is essential to assess where freshwater resources exist, how they are used, and how climate, technology, policy, and people can play important role in conservation/restoration.
  • Provide Information regarding water trading: The census may provide an opportunity to get ground information on the aspect of water trading and provide insights into farm level water trading.
  • Revealed disparities and encroachment: The census has highlighted the disparities between rural and urban areas and issues related with varying levels of encroachment.
  • Gap between demand and supply of water: Water availability is limited and the gap between the supply and demand is widening over time. Therefore, concerted efforts are needed to conserve and preserve water bodies.
  • Facilitate water management in India: India is gradually progressing towards water scarcity due to increasing population pressure and urbanization. Therefore, management of water resources has assumed great importance.
  • Better Implementation of Schemes: Information obtained from the Census will be highly useful in implementation of schemes like Atal Bhujal Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana.
  • Framing of policies: This Census will aid in laying down policy guideline and programmes for the development, conservation and management of water as a national resource.

Water Security in India and its Challenges

  • Concept of Water Security: Water security in India refers to the availability of adequate and clean water resources to meet the country’s growing water demand, while ensuring the sustainability of the water ecosystems.
  • Challenges in India’s Water Security:
    • Due to lack of low cost, sustainable, disruptive water management solutions, more than 70% of sewage in India is discharged untreated, polluting rivers, coastal areas and wells pouting three-fourths of the country’s water bodies.
    •  India relies heavily on groundwater. There is over-extraction of groundwater for irrigation, industrial, and domestic use.
    • Water security is hampered by water pollution, inadequate distribution, lack of proper water management.
    • Climate change has resulted in irregular monsoon patterns and increased frequency of natural disasters, causing further strain on India’s water resources.
    • With increasing water scarcity, there are growing conflict between different states, communities, and sectors over the distribution and use of water.
    • India’s demand for water is expected to increase as the population grows to 1.6 billion by year 2050.
      • Over 21% of India’s diseases are water-related, 1 in 5 children in India die before the age of 5 as a result of contaminated water.

Potential Solutions for Water Crisis in India

  • There is need for a more comprehensive and integrated Water Vision@2047, including adaption and mitigation strategies with timeline, addressing both demand and supply side needs.
  • To minimize loss of water in the water conveyance system, building of piped distribution network may be encouraged.
  • Micro irrigation may be promoted in an accelerated manner to utilize the estimated potential of about 70 million hectares fully.
  • People’s participation or Jan Bhagidari is key to sustainability of initiatives in the water sector.
  • A single regulating body is required at the State level, for groundwater as well as surface water, to regulate the water sector in a holistic manner.
  • Use of geo-sensing, geo-mapping, remote sensing and 3-D modeling may be promoted for better assessment and planning of water resources.
  • Circular economy in water sector may be promoted.
  • Appropriate cropping patterns, crop varieties, efficient water utilization may be promoted in agriculture.
  • Industry may be encouraged to become water efficient and adopt zero liquid discharge (ZLD).

Government Schemes for Water Conservation

  • Atal Bhujal Yojana (ATAL JAL): It is being implemented as a Central Sector Scheme in water stressed Gram Panchayats in  Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh for five year period (2020-25).
    • It also aims at bringing about behavioral change at the community level through awareness programs and capacity building for fostering sustainable ground water management.
  • Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY): It aims to enhance physical access of water on farm and expand cultivable area under assured irrigation, improve on-farm water use efficiency, introduce sustainable water conservation practices, etc.
  • Repair, Renovation & Restoration (RRR) of Water Bodies (WBs): This is a centrally sponsored scheme and a component of PMKSY. Under the scheme, financial assistance is being provided to the State Governments for renovation, repair and restoration of identified water bodies.
  • National Water Policy (2012): Formulated by the Ministry of Jal Shakti, this policy advocates conservation, promotion and protection of water and highlights the need for augmenting the availability of water through rain water harvesting, direct use of rainfall and other management measures.
  • Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM): It aims to connect more than 193 million rural households with functional household tap water connections by 2024.
  • Namami Gange Programme: Under this, a comprehensive set of interventions such as wastewater treatment, solid waste management, river front management, e-flow, afforestation, biodiversity conservation and Public Participation etc. have been taken up for rejuvenation of river Ganga and its tributaries.
  •  National Water Mission: It aims to ensure integrated water resource management helping to conserve water, minimize wastage and ensure more equitable distribution both across and within States.
  • Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) 2.0:  It aims to provide universal coverage of water supply through functional taps to all households in all the towns in the country and coverage of sewerage/septage management in 500 cities covered in first phase of the AMRUT scheme.
  • Catch the Rain:  This campaign aims at rain water harvesting and water conservation, enumerating, geo-tagging & making inventory of all water bodies; preparation of scientific plans for water conservation, setting up Jal Shakti Kendras in all districts, intensive afforestation and awareness generation.

Way Forward

  • The Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India has taken various initiatives for promoting water conservation through Artificial Recharge and Rain Water Harvesting.
  • With these efforts and many more schemes, India is gradually moving towards the goal of becoming a water secure nation by year 2047.
  • Against such backdrop, India can deliberate on the global best practices and ideas on water resource management through its G20 presidency.

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