Sunday, February 8, 2009


Rain water harvesting has become a fashionable topic for discussion and scores of seminars and workshops are being held frequently to persuade the general citizenry to invest in establishing the required infrastructure in their premises. In some states rain harvesting is made compulsory before construction license is issued. While conservation of water is a top priority area that calls for taking any and every conceivable action by one and all, the economic dimension of programs advocated for rain water harvesting must be critically considered. We know that despite two third of our planet's surface being covered with water, there are many places where water shortage is common place. The old saying that "water, water every where but not a drop to drink" is literally true in many places. Places abutting the Arabian sea, Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and innumerable backwater bodies, all suffer from water shortages, especially for human consumption and the technology for desalination may be investment intensive and less cost effective compared to current cost of water from other sources. Added to the misery of Indian population, the water table in many places in the country is fast receding and bore-wells, indiscriminately being drilled, are progressively getting dry necessitating deeper and deeper boring. On an average the water tables in the country are dipping by 40 cm but in many areas due to over exploitation the table is dipping further at a much faster rate.

A major portion of water precipitated through rains flow through rivers to end up in the sea though construction of dams salvage some of these run offs. Evaporation from the surface of water bodies and the ground water also result in net water loss. Use of evaporation retarding agents like long chain alcohols was advocated for some time but found impractical on a large scale. Under such a situation, with demand for water increasing daily because of population expansion, ground water conservation becomes indeed critical. Is it fair to impose the burden of water conservation on individuals when governments at the state and central levels are shirking their responsibility? In stead of planning the residential settlements providing the required infrastructure for ground water recharging, houses coming up on 600 to 2400 s.ft size land sites are forced to set up rain water harvesting facilities entailing large investment with practically no benefits to the individual. Even a small facility will cost not less than Rs 25000 which probably will provide a months supply for a family of three. The microbiological quality of water harvested and stored for months together may be an area of concern if it is to be used for potable purpose. As for ground water recharging, it may be necessary to spend at least Rs 8000 to put a recharge bore of 50 ft by each house owner for the sake of the neighborhood. Is this socially equitable? If each section of the urban settlement has storm water drains, is it not expedient to plan using this water during rainy season for local ground water recharging?

Out of the estimated 4 trillion cubic meter(CM) rain water received, less than 50% ends up in the rivers and only 35% of this is effectively utilized. Half a trillion CM of ground water available in the country accumulated over thousands of years is recklessly being exploited without allowing it to be replenished. Millions of wells, innumerable tanks, lakes and water bodies are not being maintained properly and resultant loss of storage capacity adds to the water woes. It is a sad commentary on the efficiency and commitments of the ruling class that none of the 50 and odd cities get water supply for more than a few hours a day! Rs 0.5 trillion Inter Linking of Canals (ILR) project connecting 37 major rivers through thousands of canals and many large dams, due for completion in 2016 may not be a reality because of a lack of vision and will to pursue this dream project.

While thousands of crores of rupees are spent under the guise of social equity through subsidization route, enough resources are not provided for water conservation measures. Water augmentation projects are conceived, planned, implemented at snail's space and in ordinate delays make these schemes, when they are commissioned, grossly inadequate to meet the emerging demands for water. In stead citizens, especially those belonging to low and middle income groups are unfairly being penalized through coercion to part with their precious earnings to do what the governments were supposed to do. Even if citizens have to pitch in, their involvement will have to be 'collectivized' with 100% participation. As Indians are the most patient people in the world, they will continue to take the water crisis facing the country with stoic silence! And continue to suffer in the process!


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